Why you should start a weekly planning session (and how to do it effectively)

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You can eliminate a lot of unexpected stress by doing a little bit of advance planning.

BY KELLY NOLAN,

I’m a time management strategist who, last week, skipped the very same planning session I make my clients work through each week. I assured myself it would be fine to skip it just this once and in the process, took for granted the benefits of planning.

It wasn’t fine. For the next week, I always felt uncertain about what was next, stressed that I wasn’t prepared for whatever it was, and had an avoidable last-minute scramble to Best Buy for a Mac-to-projector-connector-thing 30 minutes before a presentation. I realized just how much my weekly planning sessions make my life run smoother.

Skipping them is not worth the week of uncertainty, stress, and last-minute scrambles. So, I’m here today with a newfound appreciation for weekly planning sessions. And I want you to reap their benefits, too.

You might resist the idea of planning sessions, partly because you’re not sure how to conduct them effectively. Not to worry: I’ll walk you through step-by-step what I do and have my clients do. Of course, you’ll probably need to modify it depending on your circumstances, goals, and priorities, but the following template should give you a good start.

STEP 1: GET CLEAR ON WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE

Start by going over last week’s tasks—work and personal. Ask yourself, were you unable to get to or need to follow up on anything? If the answer is yes (and it’ll take you less than two minutes), do it right then and there. If it takes longer, make sure that you set the time in your calendar to do it for later.

Then, get all tasks/deadlines out of this week’s email and meeting notes and schedule the tasks/deadlines in your calendar. File or toss the notes and email. Time-block any other tasks you can think of for next week or down the road. To spark ideas, look through a list of cases, clients, projects, or however you organize your work. Do the same for your personal life, thinking through each member of your family, hobbies, organizations you’re involved with, and your pets if you have any. Don’t forget to block time for anything fun you’d love to do, whether that’s reading a specific book, hiking, checking out a new restaurant, or going on a walk and just thinking.

STEP 2: FIGURE OUT YOUR GAME PLAN TO MAKE IT ALL HAPPEN

Now that everything you need/want to do is in your calendar, go over the next two weeks. Consider the following questions:

  • Is there anything I can cut, defer, or delegate?
  • Have I broken down tasks/deadlines into bite-size time-blocks to set myself up for meeting my deadlines (with wiggle room)? If not, do it.
  • Am I ready for all meetings, or do I need to schedule time to prep?
  • Do I want to move anything around to balance out my workload or make my life run smoother (e.g., would it give me breathing space to move a meeting back by 15 minutes?)
  • Have I squared away childcare arrangements for this week?

I recommend doing this on Friday afternoons around 2 p.m. when your brain is done bringing its intellectual/creative A game for the week, though of course, you might have a different preference depending on what works best for you. If some weeks you have to move the planning session because of other opportunities, go for it! Just make sure to find another slot in your calendar.

WHY THE WEEKLY REVIEW + PREVIEW IS A GAME CHANGER

When I do take the time to do this on a Friday afternoon, I’ve found that the following three things tend to happen:

First, I strut into the weekend knowing I’m on top of it all, and as a result, I can be present for the fun things I do have planned. I find that I get less stressed when I have a game plan, because I can trust myself to get it all done.

Second, I tend to see potential conflicts or last-minute scrambles in my schedule before they happen, and I can make plans to avoid them. Had I not skipped my planning session on Friday, I wouldn’t have been forced to make a last-minute trip to Best Buy.

Third, planning allows me to see how much free time I will have in advance. I can choose to plan activities that will make me laugh, reenergize me, or move me forward in some way. Do you want time to start that side hustle or look for a new job? Do you want to get back to reading novels? Do you want to explore hikes in your neck of the woods? You need to block time for these things. If you don’t protect these activities and treat them as nonnegotiables in your calendar, it’s challenging to find the time to do them.

So, right now, schedule 1.5 hours on this upcoming Friday afternoon to plan your week. It might take you a little longer than you expect in the beginning, but if you stick with it, you’ll get faster (likely down to 45 minutes to an hour).

Give this a real shake for six weeks. Feel the benefits. And if you don’t believe it’s worth it, do it for a few weeks, skip a week, and see how it feels. Even time management strategists need a reminder every now and then.


Kelly Nolan is an attorney-turned-time-management-consultant who helps working women and entrepreneurs take control of their time and improve their work-life balance. You can download her free tips on the three things you should time-block right now to make your life run smoother here.

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