Imagine that your life is an endless road. You can move blindly without a goal, but no one can tell you where you will be in five years. Many people give up on the stream, not wanting to make decisions, but few are satisfied with their lives.
Another option is for you to choose the path. Every direction, every turn of your life will bring you closer to your goal. You will always know you are moving in the right direction. If you don't want to let your life take its course, you need a tool such as planning.
Planning is a tool to get the most out of your time & resources. It's a simple but powerful process that entails the creation of a strategy for attaining your goals. You break it down into small steps (tasks) and assign priorities to each. Along with assessing and adjusting as needed, planning helps you work more efficiently and get more done in less time. Overall, it allows you to see a complete picture of your next steps, evaluate progress towards the goal, and change your approach if necessary.
Suppose you want to maximize the effect of planning. In that case, you can use wide-known planning strategies from successful entrepreneurs and managers. Their solutions allow you to save time setting goals and finding out what is worth your efforts and attention.
Top-3 planning strategies to skyrocket your productivity:
Getting Things Done method by David Allen
One of the worst things about a hectic schedule is keeping track of all tasks in your head. Keeping your goals and duties in mind can make you anxious and disrupt your focus. Neuroscientists claim that having your plans in mind is 1,4 times less effective than when you write them down. Simply put, your mind's primary responsibility is to come up with great ideas and solve issues, not to store every minor task.
That's why David Allen, a productivity expert and personal consultant, once came up with the idea to create a unified system of all tasks and commitments. David called it Getting Things Done (GTD) - because it helps you start completing tasks here and now without postponing the necessary tasks. This system makes your life manageable and adds flexibility to your schedule - when you don't need to do something just because it's on your to-do list. The peculiarity of this system is that using it doesn't cause stress, so you can better focus on performing tasks at your best.
The main rule of GTD is to write down all your tasks, even those you turn into routines. The exception is duties that require 1-2 minutes to complete. The expert suggests doing them immediately to make room for more important things. Writing tasks down has two purposes. Firstly, it helps you relieve the stress of missing something urgent. Forget about sleepless nights and scary dreams of missing the deadline! And secondly, it will allow you to complete your tasks more efficiently, prioritizing and adjusting the schedule to fit your capabilities and current energy level.
When applying Getting Things Done to your life and work, you should follow five main steps:
1. Capture all your tasks and ideas
As for scientists, you could have more than 60,000 thoughts per day. Most are related to self-reflexing or emotions; still, at least 1000 of them are ideas. To buy something, change the way you work, create something new, call your friend, or never wear these uncomfortable shoes again. Thoughts swarm in your head like bees, and their buzz can be too distracting.
Get them off your head and put them on paper/your favorite planning app. Thus, you'll boost your concentration and evaluate how much you have on your plate for now. When you come up with new ideas or receive new tasks, put them on your lists. Leave nothing to wander in your mind and disrupt you from focused work.
2. Clarify the ideas and tasks in your list
Now it's time to clean up a bit! Not every idea you have written down could be helpful. So look at your list and mark the actionable assignments and thoughts. Write them down as a step-by-step plan. That's what you will work on, your primary duties and long-term tasks that require more time. Look at that task and ask yourself: "What steps should I perform to accomplish it?"
At first, it may take time to figure out that way of planning every commitment. Still, with more practice, you'll be able to plan everything in just a few minutes because most of your daily tasks are repeatable or familiar to you.
Being productive means focusing only on things you can do; the faster, the better. If you realize that you can't do anything about some assignments, discard them. Specific ideas could still be helpful, so store them in a "someday" list to get back to them later when you have extra time or resources.
3. Organize all of your tasks
Now when you have a complete list of tasks, how can you sort out this mess? According to GTD, you should organize your tasks step-by-step, making your further actions towards them as easy as possible. You can sort them into time, project, and context.
If you have some tasks with time limits like a meeting, event, or an assignment with a burning deadline, put them in your calendar. Set a notification a day or two before them so you won't wonder which events you should visit or how to prepare for them in the shortest terms.
GTD method claims that any task that takes you more than one step to finish is a project. Thus, you must create a separate list to write down all your projects. Give them names and describe them in a few sentences, then write the steps each project includes. As a result, when you get to one of those projects, you'll just need to follow exact steps without wondering what to do.
In addition, you can sort your tasks by context. If you do a few similar tasks in one day, it makes sense to group them and complete them. For instance, if you need to make a few presentations or meet with a few people, create specific lists for these tasks and focus until you have finished them all.
4. Review your lists and reflect
An essential part of the GTD system is to check your lists frequently, update them, cross out the finished tasks, and observe what you can do next. Review them to ensure you haven't missed anything and always know your priorities. You can do weekly reviews at the end of the week to see how much you've accomplished and track your progress.
When looking at your lists and tasks, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are all my lists up to date?
- Have I crossed off all completed tasks?
- Have I put down all new ideas in the lists and sorted them?
- Did I manage to keep up with all of my appointments?
- Do I want to do something from the "Someday" list next week?
- What can I improve to finish more tasks at the same time?
5. Engage in your tasks
The half success when applying GTD is planning and writing down every step. The other half is actually to take action. If your work doesn't set your heart on fire, no task list can help you become more effective. So try to find something you admire in your job, and then stick to this positive thought while planning your days and completing tasks.
Another thing that will help you stay on top of your performance is to adjust your actions to your inner resources. As you look at to-do lists in the morning, think about what you have the energy and time for and what is better to move to another day. Only tasks with a specific deadline can be urgent, while you can easily adjust the rest of the plans to your well-being and mood.
Getting Things Done is perfect for you if you are looking for a planning strategy to help you "wake up" and start making changes. It doesn't give you magic keys to all doors - it just destroys all entries so you can quickly move in any direction. After all, when nothing stands in your way, be it anxious thoughts or a lack of a plan, it is much easier to enjoy the process and achieve fascinating results.
"Must, Should, Want" planning method
If you're a newbie in planning or want to make your planning routine less stressful and more enjoyable, then you should try it! Do the previous planning systems seem too detailed and time-consuming to you? Then we have a less complicated method. "Must, Should, Want" is a planning strategy that helps you focus on three essential tasks a day.
When following "Must, Should, Want," you start your daily to-do list with three tasks:
- the task you must do in any case, something urgent or essential for your career/health
- the unnecessary task that contributes to your long-term objectives
- the task you actually would like to do (mostly, something outside work routine)
So every day, you accomplish one task that has an immediate impact on your life, one to become closer to your dreams, and one to feel better here and now. This planning method is perfect for keeping your sanity and winding down after periods of intense work with hectic schedules and complete to-do lists.
In the morning, review yesterday's list and evaluate your progress. Do you feel satisfied when you accomplish all three tasks? Do they help you get closer to the life you want? When answering these questions, decide if you wish to change something on your list.
The Agile results planning system
It's hard to follow your goals without seeing actual results. You may think you're just treading water without moving forwards, so your motivation goes down. Still, there's a way to build your planning around outcomes. While most planning strategies and approaches focus on setting goals and achieving them, the Agile results system is about getting meaningful output.
According to this system, instead of overwhelming yourself with tasks, you only define three results you want to achieve in a given time. You can highlight your results at the following levels: three outcomes for the day, week, month, and year.
The results of each level are mutually supportive, allowing you to pursue your main life goals. Compliance with the "rule of 3 results" will show you how to focus on the destination rather than the means to achieve it. In other words, it helps you be flexible in your approach but constantly remember your priorities.
At the same time, Agile results is a way more approachable system than GTD or SMART goals strategies. It doesn't need preparations, special tools, or a deep understanding of each planning stage. You just need a sheet of paper or a blank doc on your PC/smartphone to put down your three desirable results.
Your preliminary plan, according to Agile results, could look like this:
1.Three "wins" for a day. At the beginning of each day, set yourself three results you want to achieve. Since you have only 18 hours daily, make sure your goals are achievable and realistic.
2. Three results for every week. On Mondays, define the three primary outcomes you want to achieve by the end of the week. Ideally, they should correspond with daily results. Then, on Friday, analyze what you've accomplished and which results didn't bring you closer to your long-term goals. Then get rid of results that pull you back, and focus on those helpful to your monthly and yearly results.
3. Three achievements for every month. Your daily and weekly results should help you reach more significant goals - those you should set at the beginning of every month. They are not so easily achievable, but they help you see the whole picture of your future path. You can focus on the more remarkable result when achieving less significant outcomes in the process.
4. Three crucial outcomes for the year. Don't be afraid to think big about what you want to achieve during the year. The more ambitious your goal, the higher you will fly to reach it. In the end, it won't be so important whether you achieved your results - the amount of effort and experience gained will be much more significant. Meanwhile, don't forget that your minor results should contribute to greater ones - like a stream that flows into a river and the sea.
The Agile results system helps you start acting if you're stuck in the planning stage. Plus, it doesn't drag your attention to minor tasks that don't need extra planning. An advanced level of Agile results includes dividing results into "spheres of influence" so you can choose what you want to achieve in every sphere of your life.
For example, your top spheres of interest could be Health, Career, and Family. Make three columns for them in your lists of tasks, and write them down, starting with the highest priorities. Then you'll be able to master all spheres of your life without missing anything essential.
How to keep time for yourself and your beloved ones?
Aside from planning your career growth and setting goals for your skills development, you should also have enough quality time to spend the way you like. While most people use a "have no time, must work" excuse for not spending time with their friends, family, or hobby, you have an option to change that right now!
Scientists keep saying that social life matters for your productivity, happiness, and sanity. A career is essential to stay afloat and get the feeling of living up to your potential, but socializing and focusing on your wishes are equally crucial. Spending more time surrounded by people sharpens your memory, boosts your cognitive skills, and even may prolong your life. But how can you reserve some hours for that in your hectic schedule?
That's where planning comes in handy! Don't think you could only schedule meetings with colleagues and put work arrangements in your calendar. Your family, friends, and hobbies also deserve to be on to-do lists. We've created some practical tips that will help you always find time for the things and people you love:
1. Schedule dinners. Tasty food and pleasant company can make your day (and help you socialize)! So if you're busy most of your day, leave some free time to have a heart-warming dinner with your friends or family. It will be a perfect occasion to share the latest news, get needed support, and chill after a hard workday. You can arrange such dinners two-three times per week, but don't forget to put them in your schedule and set a prior notification.
2. Make a plan for family/friends calls. We all have those weeks with no extra minute to breathe out, not even mentioning having a few hours for leisure. Wait, that's still not an excuse to forget about the people you cherish! Schedule 15 minutes every two days during your break to call your parents and let them know you care or to ask your friends how they're doing. Staying in touch with them can reduce your anxiety and boost your mood even when surviving your craziest workdays.
3. Create a mutual board of wishes and embody them together. When you have a huge family or a company of friends with entirely different interests, it's hard to find a compromise and spend time together. That's why you could endlessly postpone and avoid those meetings. Create a mutual board of wishes (on paper or in an online document), where everyone can express their vision of perfect quality time together. Every time you meet, you can embody one of the wishes from the board, adjusting the wish to your current capabilities, finances, and energy.
4. Spend your vacations together. Are you one of those who skip vacations because of a high workload, just like the other 26% of achievers? Then it's time to alter this unproductive habit and make the most of your leave days by combining them with family or friends' time. Offer your beloved ones to spend the vacation together. You'll have much more fun and learn to enjoy it even if you're a confirmed workaholic. Plus, you'll create valuable memories that will make you closer to each other. Sounds like a great deal, huh?
Follow these planning tips, and you'll turn socializing into a healthy habit. It will help you build strong bonds and always stay a caring friend-parent-child-partner.
Planning can become the superpower that allows you to be head and shoulders above ⅔ of the people around you with an intelligent and thoughtful approach. Indeed, planning is an effective tool to keep track of your goals and priorities without missing any aspect of your life. It's a way for you to stay on top of your performance and tames your anxiety about forgetting deadlines and arrangements. So what stops you from using it?
- Poll: 7 in 10 changing summer vacation plans due to inflation (2022)
- Mayo Clinic Minute: The benefits of being socially connected (2019)
- Getting Things Done: a productivity system for all areas of life (2019)
- Neuroscience Explains Why You Need To Write Down Your Goals If You Actually Want To Achieve Them (2018)