Even if you’re busy, don’t skip planning

There was a time 2 years ago when I said I did GTD, but that wasn’t entirely true at the time. While I used OmniFocus as a task manager, I wasn’t fully committed to GTD because I skipped the most crucial part.

The weekly review.

But I’m busy

The thing is, I was busy and a review takes at least an hour, maybe 2, if I’ve let things slip. Those are 2 hours I could spend getting things done, so in the earlier days, I found myself habitually skipping over the review to actually accomplish tasks.

I eventually learned that when I didn’t have a plan for the following week I would expend all the mental energy I would have applied to the review on planning from day to day.

Trust me on this: If you skip the review and planning, your ideal week is totally out the window.

While you may save 2 hours by skipping a review, it’s likely you’ll lose at least twice that in productive time in the week. When I audit my schedule, I find that I actually get in about 5 hours less work in the weeks when I don’t do my weekly review.

By ‘reclaiming’ those 2 hours and investing them in planning, that’s 3 hours I gain back rather than spending those 3 hours on unproductive work.

Components of a weekly review

A full weekly review consists of the following steps for me:

  1. Empty all my inboxes (email, Todoist, Evernote) and actually decide what to do with each item.
  2. Review every project and every task in each project.
  3. Put the important actions for projects into the days they should get done (usually no more than 3 per day).

When I do my review, I use the 7-day view in Todoist. Since I review on Friday I can see all the way through Thursday of the next week and can plan all my tasks for Monday through Thursday.

My Fridays are run differently from Monday through Thursday. The morning is typically full of meetings, I do my weekly review in the afternoon, then work on a personal project (or go bike riding in nice weather). NO client tasks are scheduled on Fridays.

A quick weekly review

Yes, life happens and some weeks don’t go as planned. For example, last Friday my wife was really sick, and my kids were sick too, so I did my morning meetings and aborted everything else. I did a few things at home while my kids played and watched TV but I simply didn’t have time for a full review.

That meant I did my ‘quick review’ which addresses only 2 things.

  • What do I have to do?
  • What do I want to do?

By focusing on those 2 things, I was still set up for Monday and Tuesday, which meant I could then spend 15 minutes on Tuesday planning for the rest of the week.

No skipping

If you’re a busy person with a busy team, the best thing you can do to control productivity is make a plan. Plan out the times that team members can get in touch with you, and likewise, plan when you’re on ‘heads down’ work and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you utilize a remote team and value allowing them to work when they want, identify a range of times throughout the week where you can be interrupted and also let them know the times you definitely are not available (unless something’s on fire, of course).

Putting time into your weekly planning session is one of the most important things you can do to stay on track with your schedule and actually get things done each week.

photo credit: 1uplego cc

5 thoughts on “Even if you’re busy, don’t skip planning

  1. Great post, Curtis (as usual).

    Another thing for remote teams is the interruption issue – when you interrupt a developer, the time they need to get back to the Zone may be 30-45min, if not more. And setting aside time for pinging them means that they are mentally alert and awaiting for potential calls or group chats, which may reduce the productivity (speaking from experience).

    What we do (since I’m running a fully distributed team) is dealing with Asana for project management and Skype for clarifications or slight adjustments and such. Whenever I need something, I do comment on Asana and assign tasks, or ping people in our work chat on Skype. If they are in the middle of something, they could switch to DND mode or turn off skype for an hour or two, and catch up with the updates when they’re available and between tasks.

    1. Totally agree, I already have a post scheduled around putting structure in your team interactions that comes out next Thursday.

      I’m surprised you choose Skype still. Slack has continued to feel like a much better medium since other team members can also benefit from the dialogue (never liked Skype Groups at all).

      1. I loathe Slack in so many ways, there is no chance in the world that I would use it (voluntarily) anytime soon. It’s one of the few things that I find ridiculous – together with a lot of people around me, but I don’t want to get into flame wars and I’m trying to be tolerant with people who use it (as long as they don’t ask me to use it as well).

        The short list is that:
        * just as web Spotify – I believe that there are a few things that should not live in a web browser
        * I don’t get proper notifications (related to the browser security protocols)
        * there is no way to be in several channels from different teams at the same time (as with IRC servers joining diff channels)
        * I don’t see the pricing to be justified at all
        * I don’t like the fairly proprietary network protocol (yes, Skype does that, we also use IRC though)
        * I don’t want to keep a full-screen browser on my full HD resolution (I usually have at least 3 screens overlapping that I monitor at time)

        That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, but if I don’t have a proper smaller screen for chats, notifications fail and it takes a huge amount of my RAM, plus I can’t combine different teams together, it’s beyond useless to me. Lots of people explain stuff about the APIs and the UI, but among the thousands of different IRC clients (customizable) and the same abilities to build bots for interactions (including logging), the only benefit I see is the “read” or “typing” notification which I can totally leave behind after all of the real problems that affect my business.

        Just as with Apple (don’t like them either) I don’t mind having a tool for a group of people who enjoy it – I just hate when people lock me in a platform that I don’t like at all, just as the Core WP team did with the switch from IRC.

        1. Ha, to each there own for sure. I would never tell you that you ‘must’ use a tool I find productive that you don’t. Each of use can only say what we like about a tool and why it works for us.

          Then others can look at that list and see if it fits with their mental model.

          1. Of course. With so many people in the world it’s normal that there are so many applications, tools, services that do the same thing in a different way.

            Variety is good, as it supports the productivity – imagine if there was a single project management system in the world, or an IM, or anything – that would surely leave the majority inefficient and unhappy.

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