Planning is one of those words, which makes many people sigh when they hear it!
One reason we avoid planning is because ‘what you can’t see, can’t harm you’ so there is a tendency to hide away and not face up to what needs doing. Also, there is the perception that planning slows you down, and excuses like ‘I’m too busy’ crop up. Sounding familiar? They do to me, I’ve been there many times! But looking at the bigger picture, breaking down tasks and setting priorities, will actually help you.
What I’ve come to learn, quickly, is that planning is a saviour. The biggest thing it does is reduce stress, by focusing your priorities and learning to say no to other stuff! It’s not just about managing priorities though; it’s about managing your mind. An unplanned mind is stressful, and stress means not being able to concentrate on that task … or any others. And I’m sure we all know what this means … Procrastination. Ah, the devil which is procrastination!
At some point in your working life you’ll inevitably get to a stage where you’re head is in a million places and you’re overwhelmed. This usually results in putting everything off, and then feeling worse because nothing has been achieved. When you get to this point...
Stop and Breathe! – You’re no use to anyone, or yourself when you’re flapping around. You cannot think coherently or perform effectively.
Get it all down - Write down everything on your mind – as messy as you like, don’t stop, just get it all down.
Prioritise - Then write down only the things that HAVE to be done today – I find it better to do this on a blank piece of paper, so you can’t see anything else but those tasks. Bet you’re thinking ‘but everything has to be done today!?’. It doesn’t. There are only so many hours in the day, and there are tasks more important than others. Think ultimately which ones have the biggest impact on the business. They are your top!
Schedule - Put times/deadlines against them, otherwise it is just another list. "A goal without a plan is just a wish."* Give yourself contingency too, things will crop up.
Eliminate Distractions - Close down everything else (Emails, Facebook, turn your phone upside down!) which isn’t related to that task. We all know how easy it is to check an email when you see that little ‘1’ at the top of the screen, and then go off track for another half hour.
Tip: When planning all of the above, tailor the tasks to what time of the day (days of the week) you are most productive. Everyone’s different. For me, I’ll do 10x as many things in the morning as I do in the last hour of the day. It’s when I’m most efficient, and when our clients/customers/suppliers are organising things too. Tasks like writing this journal are much better towards the end of my day when there are less distractions and anything business crucial has been completed.
Above I’ve discussed planning when you get to that mad moment. Of course, to stop you ever (or rarely) getting to this point, plan each day/week ahead. That 10 minutes will save you hours of stress. A study summarised this as ‘‘fighting stress before it even starts, planning things rather than letting them happen’’**
This all sounds so obvious, and it is, we just need to remember to do it. You’ll be better at what you do and instead of feeling overwhelmed you’ll feel impressed with how much you’ve achieved.
Finally, I thought it would probably help to share some organisation tools. Everyone plans differently, so you have to find what’s right for you. Our MD and myself for example, chose very different ways to plan the exact same tasks!
Your Calendar - Nothing new needed, just schedule all your tasks in your calendar. It will help you put timings against them, showing an overview of the day very clearly.
Sunrise Calendar - This app can merge all of your calendars together, helping you not to miss things, which may be on different accounts. The Icons it automatically sets for ‘call’ or ‘holiday’ or even ‘dentist’ make everything easily identifiable as well.
Post-It Plus - Post it’s are great for meetings, or just getting a load of ideas down. It’s afterwards that managing them can be tricky. This handy little app, let’s you take a picture of the group of notes, and then re organise them and manage digitally
To-Do List Apps - Find the one which works for you:
Wunderlist - Nice clean design, making it an easy app to use. You can create separate lists, shared with different friends/colleagues and even have conversations within those tasks if required.
Todoist - Has more of a focus on being able to manage tasks on a detailed level. You can break big projects into smaller sub-projects, attach documents like spreadsheets within, focus priorities with colour coding and choose what reminder alerts work for you (Email, SMS).
Timeful - The list integrates with your calendar, combining all your tasks and making it visually easy to see your full day plan. It has nice drag and drop functionality to move tasks and you can even sideline (hide) less important ones.