A Personal Guide to Proactive Planning

We’ve all read them. Self-help books – how to succeed, “being your best” instruction manuals. There are more philosophies on time management and planning than actual time to read them.

Early in my career, I mostly gravitated towards Stephen Covey and his famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” As time went on, however, I developed my own process to better manage my time and effectively accomplish my goals.

As a consultant, time management is critical. We are always subject to the constant changes of projects and client priorities, balanced against our fast paced lives and the dynamic world we all live in. I believe Covey was correct when he said, “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”

How do we overcome these hurdles? How do we bring structure to a world of fluid change? We all have a process, even if it is just to take it as it comes. Not having a specific process is still having a process.

As a result, I’ve outlined below what works for me.

Somewhere early in my career I heard:

  • 1 Week a Year
  • 1 Day a Month
  • 1 Hour a Week
  • 15 minutes a Day

1 Week a Year – Think Big

This is not what it sounds like. I’m not saying I lock myself in a hotel room (modern cave) to meditate and solely labor over goals for the year. It just means I take one week each year, usually over Christmas break, to focus my thoughts. I look back at what my past year was like. Did I accomplish what I set out to do? Would I have done things differently? Are my priorities still the same? Then, I spend time thinking about what I want the next year to be. I write down my major themes and goals for the year and put them somewhere I can see them regularly. One year, I wrote them on the giant mirror in my walk-in closet (I’m single).

I then go through my calendar for the year and jot down all my “Big Rocks,” or the key events I want to make sure I complete to accomplish my goals.

1 Day a Month – Plan the Work

The hard work is done. I know what I want to do for the year. Now, I just need to put it into action. One day a month, usually a Sunday, I make a conscious effort to think about how I am doing for the year. What did I accomplish in the last four weeks? What do I want to do this month? I look at the calendar and review all my big rocks and other key priorities I still need to accomplish. I put specific tasks or events on my calendar based on the short-term steps needed to accomplish my goals. I plan out my month to choose what I plan to do. And, I look forward at each future month to make sure it is still aligned with my plan.

1 Hour a Week – Make Adjustments

I’m betting by now you are getting the process. Each Sunday night before I go to bed I sit down and review my week. What work is carrying over from last week? What new work do I need to plan for now? Do I have any major events that are part of my annual plan? This is my time to think about what kind of week I want it to be. I might pre-plan a long day because I know I’m out half a day on Friday for a “Big Rock.” This is not spending an hour digging through old emails and making up for late work. Instead, this is focused, thoughtful time developing my plan. Finally, I add my weekly tasks needed to achieve my monthly short-term goals, which lead to achieving my annual goals. It’s a great opportunity to validate and refine my monthly planning.

15 minutes a Day – Daily Refinement

Take 15 minutes at the start of each day as a checkpoint. This is the key step for any professional. This is our personal expectation setting for our day. This is where we identify those mid-day time bombs and find a way to avoid them. Move unfinished work forward from the prior day. Review your schedule to make sure it is realistic. If not, make the necessary adjustments. Put your game face on!!

Of course, last-minute deadlines will crop up or projects will hit an unexpected hurdle. That’s OK. Because I’ve made an action plan and clearly know what my goals are, those unforeseen snags are much easier to manage.

How do you proactively plan for long-term success? Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments below.