Daily Planning for Success

Much of the time spent reacting to crises reflects an inability to plan. Taking ten minutes at the end of the day to plan what you want to achieve the following day is the cornerstone of effective daily planning. More typically they seek inspiration in their diaries or seek refuge in routine tasks like reading their email, and wait for the first meeting or interruption to set them on a path for the rest of the day.

This lack of planning doesn’t only apply to day-to-day activities. Few people have a monthly plan, long-term goals or a vision for the future. However planning nearly always tops the list when managers are asked what they need to make more time for.

People frequently refer to the sheer volume of interruptions that they suffer when trying to justify their lack of achievement. With an interruption occurring, on average, every 7 minutes, managers have to do their work between distractions. Whilst each interruption may not seem to take up much time, they can typically account for 25% of a working day and make it very difficult to address tasks that require concentrated effort.

The effect of allowing interruptions to continually distract you is likely to undermine your efforts to plan your working day. One solution is to batch up the interruptions that you can’t avoid and to set aside time slots during your working day when you can break off and address them. For example, you could set aside 20 minutes before lunch and half an hour before the end of each working day to address all the interruptions that have occurred in each half of the day.

Prioritizing Tasks

The urgency/importance grid is as an effective way of categorizing and prioritizing tasks. It describes three different types of task A, B and C.

Type A tasks are those that are both important and urgent.
Type B tasks are those that are either important or urgent, but not both.
Type C tasks are those that are neither important nor urgent.

When it comes to scheduling tasks into your working day, the following guidelines should be borne in mind.

A-tasks. Try to complete a few of these urgent and important tasks each day.
B-tasks. These are likely to represent the majority of your work and should take up most of your day.
C-tasks. These low-priority tasks should be fitted into your schedule, as time allows.

A typical working day will include a mixture of all three types of task. It is good practice to address different types of task at various times of the day – rather than working through all the A-tasks, followed by the B-tasks, then the C-tasks. This will enable you to have periods of the day when you are concentrating intensely, followed by periods where you can address less demanding tasks.

Nearly everybody is subject to performance fluctuations throughout the working day. At certain times you will feel particularly energetic and alert, whilst at others you feel tired. If you can tune-in to your own daily cycles then you will be able to plan the optimum times at which to tackle the different types of task.

Whilst there are some quite dramatic individual variations, the majority of people feel most energetic and alert during the middle to late morning period and again in the middle to late afternoon. Conversely, most people suffer troughs soon after lunch, and again towards the end of the day.

Using a Planner

A planner, or scheduler, is a centralized inventory of your known future commitments and your unfinished work. It should be organized systematically and held in one folder, or on a computer, so that authorized staff can see your future commitments. This enables teams to work more effectively together when scheduling or delegating work.

You need to control access to your planner carefully. Only trusted colleagues should have access to it; otherwise you may find yourself working around the needs of others, rather than the needs of your job.

Don’t be afraid to reschedule planned tasks for those with a higher priority, as and when these arise.

It is also important not to appear to have spare time in your schedule when you don’t. In particular, make sure that your schedule includes sufficient time for traveling between appointments and a contingency for overruns, where this is likely. Also include all batched activities like making outbound phone calls and any regular commitments such as monthly meetings.

Your planner should also have a section for major “projects” where you can maintain project control and tracking sheets. A “notes” section will allow you to store your various scrap notes. Cross out these notes as you transfer them to other areas of your planner such as your “to do” list.

It should also have an ideas section to store your creative ideas as they occur to you. You can then keep them until you find an appropriate use or implementation time for them.

An “outstanding” section is useful for one-off tasks that are not urgent but can be fitted into your working day as time allows. You will be able to look at this section whenever you have any spare time.

You need to have sections for each planning period so that at the end of each period you can plan for the next. Have a yearly planner for scheduling things such as staff holidays, long-term projects and objectives. You could use 15 months instead of 12 to help carry you over to the next year.

Use a monthly planner for scheduling things like meetings, invitations, reservations, collecting information and for medium-term projects and goals.

Use a weekly planner for scheduling major tasks, appointments, bookings, and short-term goals.

Use a daily planner for scheduling in activities from your to do list, regular activities as well as to note your daily goals.

The master planner should also contain a section for contacts, detailing: names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.

A large directory can be divided into groups of contacts. For example: customers, contractors and suppliers. Individuals that you have a lot of contact with should have their own file so that you can keep track of ongoing communications with them.

Keeping Priorities at the Forefront

Your “To do” list should contain all the tasks you need to get through. These activities will come from your contact log, your projects and your monthly, weekly and daily period planners.

The most effective way of organizing your tasks is under relevant headings, rather than to add to the list haphazardly. For example if the list has headings like: Telephone, Speak to, Complete, Write to, and Order, and items are added to the appropriate column as they crop up, this enables you to batch similar tasks without having to sort through the whole list each time.

Grouping your tasks usually means that you can perform them more efficiently. If you are making a series of outgoing calls in a block then you cant be interrupted by incoming calls. Similarly, if you are writing several letters or emails you will be in the right frame of mind and will have the appropriate software open on your PC.

You should re-prioritize tasks regularly and cross off completed tasks. At the end of each day carry forward uncompleted tasks to your “To do” list for the following day. A useful rule with lists is not to carry forward not-started items more than two or three times.

If you are putting off a task this could be either because:
The item is non urgent in which case it does not belong on your short-term to do list, or the item is causing you to procrastinate in which case you should either discard it or do it now.

The majority of people feel most energetic and alert during the middle to late morning period and again in the middle to late afternoon. Try to work out your own personal daily cycle and schedule the tasks you have to address accordingly.

Use a yearly planner for scheduling things such as staff holidays, long-term projects and objectives. A monthly planner can be used for scheduling things like meetings, invitations and reservations, whilst a daily planner is ideal for scheduling in activities from your to do list as well as to note your daily goals.

As a busy manager you need to squeeze more out of your working day. Our Productivity Skills eBooks can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Much of the time spent reacting to crises reflects an inability to plan.
  • Few people have long-term goals or a vision for the future.
  • Interruptions can make it difficult to address tasks that require concentrated effort.
  • Develop a personal strategy for minimizing the disruptive effect of interruptions.
  • A planner is a centralized inventory of your commitments and unfinished work.
  • Only allow trusted colleagues to have access to your planner.
  • Don’t allow your planner to show spare time that you don’t have.
  • Grouping tasks enables you to perform them more efficiently.
  • Re-prioritize tasks regularly and cross-off those you’ve completed.
  • Tasks that you continually put off should be actioned or re-classified.

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