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Efficiency Experiment - Week 7. Planning

We’ve finally arrived at week 7, one week to go and time to finally talk about planning and in particular the subject of to-do lists, which people seem obsessed with whenever I’ve talked about this project.

Just to tease this out a little further, let me start by talking about estimations and time management. We will get to to-do lists I promise.

I’ll Get That Over in 30 Minutes

A massive problem with all planning and the biggest mistake in time management is underestimating how long things take. This happens for a number of reasons.

  • People are generally optimistic rather than realistic

  • People get distracted, you rarely get to focus on the one task without interruption

  • You forget how to do stuff, so you don’t factor in getting up to speed!

The key to good time management is understanding these things will happen and planning for them. I actually have a general principle that the work I plan for a day adds up to just half a day. This allows me to be disturbed, get sidetracked or actually take breaks!

Not only does this help you plan more realistically, but you can also get the mental lift of completing a list and picking up an extra task. It frustrates me that people build a list for the day and never complete it. This means you never get that joy of ticking off that final task and feeling like a king or queen for the day. You have succeeded AND then get more satisfaction by picking up another task, meaning you are ahead for the week.

It’s 2021, Put Down That Pad

This might be a little controversial but this is my opinion at the end of the day - stop writing up to-do lists with pen and paper. I cannot describe how frustrating it is to watch someone start a new sheet of paper each day, writing out a load of the same tasks that were there before, but with a few crossed off and a couple of new ones added.

I am not going to advocate one technological planner over any other, they all do a job and people have preferences (I use OneNote, but it has pluses and minuses like them all), but I am advocating that you move your planning online, for so many reasons...

  • Save the planet. Not a terrible reason to start with

  • It’s tidier, you don’t have stuff all over the place

  • It’s more efficient. Stop rewriting things, just delete completed tasks and add new ones

  • You can access them on any device at any time. Get an idea at 10 pm, add a note via your phone

  • It’s linked to all your other work, so you can copy and paste anything, share ideas quickly etc…

And for anyone that says they miss the joy of putting a line through something and seeing how many things they have completed, I totally get that I’m the same, but just use a strikethrough online, you don’t have to delete the task immediately.

Plan For the Week, Not the Day

One reason people put too much against their task list for the day is because they are not planning ahead and can see when things will be done. I like to plan out a week, then I will see much more of my jobs getting done and when. This also helps you with expectation management with others.

People always feel pressured when asked when they will complete a task. But planning out your week, you are less likely to commit to an unrealistic date. When you make that mistake, you end up giving yourself a headache to solve and often you move things around and become inefficient in the process.

I also build in time during my weekly planner to do stuff that’s not on the ‘immediate list’, the stuff that must get done. Unless you schedule in less urgent tasks, they will never get done, until it’s too late, they become urgent and you do a bad job of them.

So, maintain a list of the longer-term projects and work through them in your allocated slots. If you know those slots exist, then you are less likely to fill your day with other tasks and overall you’ll feel better about completing tasks that will benefit you in the end.

Finally, on the planning front, add in routine slots. For example, 30 minutes at the start of every day is left for by social media checks. I’ll read my LinkedIn feed, check messages, reply to tweets and answer questions on Quora. I like the routine of this, it frames my day and I know that I can plan around this and never let these key jobs drop.

Meeting Rant

I couldn’t write a blog about planning without discussing meetings and my pet hate - AOB. Any Other Business. You might as well as call it - I couldn’t be bothered or totally disorganised.

All meetings should have an agenda. People should have the option to add to that agenda in advance. Then stick to the agenda.

If something genuinely world-changing has happened that you desperately need to have a chat about it at the END of the meeting, I suspect you should have raised it earlier. I’m not against the idea of emergency topics that have come to light, but if something is that important, bring it up early so people have time to discuss it properly. Personally, I found people raise things at the end in the hope that others are tired of the meeting and will quickly agree with the point raised so they can get out of the meeting!

If you want to hear me rant about this very subject, please download the latest episode of our Ruthlessly Efficient Marketing podcast.

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