How strategic is your to do list?
Like a lot of people I keep a task list of things that I need to accomplish each day. But have you ever felt that even if you finished everything on your list you still didn’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything of importance? Despite the fact that my list was always full there were plenty of times I felt that I was still not moving any closer to my goals.
The problem I was running into wasn’t my task list, it was what I was putting on my task list. Instead of filling my list with things that would get me closer to my goals, it was being filled with immediate, but not necessarily strategically important stuff, like “Pay my web hosting bill”, “Order supplies”, “Check out XYZ gallery”, “Update website”.
Individually, all of those tasks need to get done and are important, but how did of a day of tasks like these advance my goals? What I needed to was a way to connect my to-do list with my strategic goals.
To this end I’ve been implementing new tools in my daily process to help me better accomplish my goals. The first was an annual plan where I outline what I wanted to accomplish for the year. The second tool I implemented was a morning ritual, where review my annual plan daily to reconnect myself to those goals. But I still needed a way to translate those goals into daily actions. Fortunately, there’s a third tool that bridges the gap. It’s the weekly review.
The idea of the weekly review isn’t new, but it’s a great way to connect your long term planning, like your annual review with your day to day task list. Before I started doing a weekly review would plan my day the on the morning of, or if I was feeling particularly ambitious, the day before.
While that type of daily planning kept me moving, it didn’t always keep me moving in the right direction. Why? Planning day to day kept me focused on the immediate and the urgent. I found that it was easy to disconnect from my long term goals because the immediate and urgent stuff kept finding their way onto my to-do list before the long term, goal-related tasks did. My list was full before I even got to the important stuff.
Enter the weekly review.
The weekly review gives you the opportunity to look at your week ahead to pre-schedule the most important, goal-related stuff that you need to get done before the immediate and urgent can show up and fill up your list and your time and energy. It also gives you the opportunity to get ahead of things before they become immediate and urgent.
The idea of a weekly review isn’t new, so there are a lot of processes out there. The one I found most useful is from Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend. He fully explains his entire review process on his blog here. Scott also provides a weekly planning sheet to help step you through each phase of the process. I prefer to keep a copy of the outline and my review notes in Evernote so that I can access them anywhere. You may prefer to use the planning sheet or write your review notes down in a journal. Whatever works best for you. The basic process Scott outlines is this:
1. Make time…establish a ritual– I quickly found that a weekly review wasn’t something I could quickly cram in for a half an hour between tasks. You need to sit down and make some time just for this. How much time? On average I’m spending about one and a half to two hours per week on my weekly review. Yes, that can be a lot if you’re already busy. In the long run, I found that it saved me time and brainpower and energy because I’m no longer trying to figure out what to do next at the end or beginning of each day. My calendar and to-do list already has what needs to be done for the week.
Scott also suggests that you do your review at the same day and time every week. Try to find a quiet place where you can really sit down and think. Make process into a ritual, a standing appointment you make with yourself. I do my weekly reviews on Sunday mornings during my morning ritual.
2. Connect and visualize the big picture– Think about what you want to accomplish in the next 3 to 10 years. What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? Starting your review with the big picture reminds you to shift your focus to the big stuff (i.e. quitting your job and building a full time business as an artist) as opposed to the small stuff (i.e. needing to pay your cell phone bill)What do you want to accomplish in the next 3 to 10 years? In your lifetime? Click To Tweet
3. Celebrate last week– Reflect on the wins of the week before. A win could be as big as finally landing that new gallery you’ve been pitching or hitting a major milestone in your business. Or they can be as small as finally finishing that book you’ve been reading forever, solving a problem that’s been bugging you, or starting that new project you’ve been meaning to get off the ground. Scott suggests that you write down a minimum 10 wins for the week in your planning sheet.
A couple of my wins from last week included 1) finally getting back to my full exercise routine after my running injury 2) completing my publication schedule for my blog and newsletter 3) getting my newsletters and blog posts out on time 4) spending some fun time with my family.What are your major wins for this week? Click To Tweet
4. Write down major lessons– What did you learn last week? It could be some insight you got from an article you read, an experience that triggered an “aha” moment, a quote you read on social media, or a snippet of conversation that’s stuck with you ever since. How can you incorporate that lesson into your life going forward?
A major lesson I wrote down during my first review was a quote I found on the Brain Pickings blog about procrastination from the greek philosopher Seneca. I liked that quote so much that I’ve since included reading it every day during my morning ritual.What major lesson did you learn this week and how will you incorporate that lesson in your life? Click To Tweet
5. Analyze what didn’t happen– I have to admit that this is my favorite part of the review. Here is where you look at what big goals you did not accomplish in the last week and figure out why you didn’t. Was it for reasons beyond your control? Was it because you got sucked into something not as important? Be brutally honest…not to beat yourself up for missing your tasks but to spot problems in your process and improve to in the future.
In last week’s review I noticed that there were tasks that I had postponed several weeks in a row. After some thought I realized that 1) I would be better able to accomplish these goals in a few weeks after I complete another more important project and 2) I was making the mistake of overloading my schedule.
6. Clarify and commit to your biggest outcomes– After looking back on the previous week, you’ll now look at what you want to accomplish in the coming week. These are outcomes based on your major goals, so if you have an annual plan or something similar already in place you can use that help you decide on your major outcomes for the week.
As part of my annual planning, my major projects and tasks related to my annual goals are already in my to do list, so in my case it’s a matter of scheduling my next steps and deciding which projects are moving forward that week. Two of my big outcomes for this week is 1) to finish reading my fourth book of the year and 2) evaluating WooCommerce for my big web site redesign project.What do you want your week to look like? What do you have to do to make it happen? Click To Tweet
7. Schedule everything– Look at your biggest outcomes and decide what tasks you need to complete to make these things happen. Then schedule each task in an actual time slot in your calendar. Just like you schedule meetings with other people, these tasks are meetings you schedule with yourself to get these things done.
This is something I routinely struggle with as I have a tendency to overload my task list or underestimate how long a particular task will take. Setting a time estimate on each task and putting them down in a time slot makes me quickly see that I have more tasks than I have time in the day to accomplish them. When you’re first starting out it can be hard to make an accurate estimate, but it’s something you get better at figuring out in time.
8. Fill in the gaps– Once you got your big tasks decided on and scheduled, it’s time to fill in the time gaps with things that you have to do that aren’t related to your big goals. Of course you have to pay your phone bill and run to the grocery store, but these are the things you schedule to do after you’ve got your big goals taken care of.
Some things I learned.
After a couple months of this here are a few lessons learned..
1. Don’t skip the “review” part– Notice that the first five steps of the process doesn’t involve planning for the next week, but actually looking back at the past week and looking ahead in the far future. Don’t skip this part, this is why it’s a weekly review. It’s necessary to get you first focused on what you really want to accomplish and what you’ve done in the past week to reach those goals, before planning what you’re going to do in the next week.
2. Things always takes longer than you thought– Sometimes it’s by a little, in my case it’s usually by a lot. Try to add some padding to your initial time estimates just in case.
3. You’ll usually have more tasks that you have time– We’re artists, we’re always busy…so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish everything. I think I might have had 2 weeks out of 9 where I completed everything on my list for the week. Cherish the feeling when it happens, because it won’t all the time.
There was one week I had 25(!) scheduled tasks that I hadn’t completed that week. There were several outside events that caused that backlog, but it also meant that I was overloading my task list and not adding any buffer time. The next week I did a better job of scheduling my time and I only had two tasks left over.
4. Save some time for fun or doing nothing at all– It’s all too easy to fill up an entire week with stuff you’ve got to do. But you can’t schedule everything and be productive all the time. It’s important to have some downtime with your family and friends, or just some time for yourself that’s not related to your plans for the future.
For myself I already know that February 28th is blocked off for some much needed downtime watching House of Cards. Be sure to include some downtime in your week.
5. Try front-loading your week or your most productive days– I always find that I’m pretty gun-ho right after I do my review, so Mondays and Tuesdays are the days I schedule a lot of my most important tasks. Why? Because once I get past Wednesday that “I can do it all” attitude is beginning to fray a bit and I’m usually running out of steam by Friday evening. Usually by then I’ve already completed what I really wanted to get done because I learned to schedule them earlier in the week.
6. You may just need some help– If you’re routinely not getting everything you need to get done completed, it may be a sign that you just need some help. Is there anything that you can delegate to your spouse? Your children? A friend or a colleague? Is it time to hire an assistant or an intern? I already have plans to find a virtual assistant to help me take care of some of the more tedious but important tasks on my blog to free up some time for me to do more strategic stuff.
And there you have it! Again, you can read Scott’s article and get more information on his process here. Try this for a few weeks and let us know how it works out for you.
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