Plan The Work, Work The Plan — Conclusion
This is the conclusion of my two part blog on executing for success.
Execution Success = Plan the Work + Work the Plan
In my previous blog, I talked about how to plan the work. Here I talk about how to work the plan.
Once you have identified the bigger goals, focus on weekly execution plans. Before the week starts, spend 15–30 minutes planning your week ahead.
Start by organizing the list of tasks into categories.
Guesstimate the work you need to spend for each task, giving you the cumulative time you need for each category. Use your typical patterns from past weeks to guide your estimation.
Include professional development as a category and allocate time for it. For example, you may be working on becoming a better public speaker or grow your network, and you may plan to spend 2 hours a week on related activities.
For example, as I look at my week ahead, this is how my time is currently allocated:
In a good financial portfolio, you allocate a fixed percentage of money for investing in the various investment types — like stocks and bonds. Good financial discipline requires you to stick to these percentages. Time is your currency when it comes to productivity and impact. Have a clear allotment of time for each category, and stick to it.
If you have a big deadline and need a lot of focused time to hit that in a particular week, try to still preserve time for professional development. It can serve as a nice change and help you recharge. Give yourself permission to fall behind on lower impact categories like email instead.
Managing new, unplanned requests during the week.
We can plan all we want, but as the week starts, we have to be ready to deal with new requests that can derail our carefully planned week. I recommend two ways to make the most of your work week.
1. Assess if the request can wait until next week or be done by someone else. Eisenhower’s matrix is a great tool to assess if the work is important or urgent for this week, can be scheduled for later, delegated or ignored altogether.
2. Try to swap out other items in the same category to accommodate the new request. Like a good financial portfolio, don’t trade off important work to accommodate the new request.
Rank competing activities within their respective category and cut or defer something from the same category as the incoming request. For example, if you are pulled into an hour long strategy meeting, and you had X hours allocated for strategy work, it is okay to defer a different task from your strategy category to accommodate the new request. In some cases, it might be okay to trade across categories where you are trading time spent in lower priority activities (e.g. email) to make time for higher priority categories. It is not okay to use the time for a new meeting to defer meeting with your mentor. Lastly, accept the reality of falling behind temporarily on email vs sacrificing dinner with your family.
Motivating yourself if you fall behind
Life is what happens to you when you are busy planning other things. With the best of planning, discipline and focus, you might still not get through everything on your list.
Be kind to yourself. It happens to all of us.
If you had something on your list that you did not get to, instead of marking it as incomplete, find the smallest task you can do so you at least get started. Set low goals and hit that, while you build from there. For example, if there is a project report you need to get done and are just dreading, then a small step you can take is to start a new document, write a welcome or intro section. My wife was able to build a robust journaling habit once she started with a simple goal of writing one line a day. It is well proven that repetition does more for progress vs aiming for high achievement. Complete the smallest possible task and call it a win.
Reflect and Iterate
At the end of the week, spend 10 minutes reflecting. Give yourself credit for at least one thing you did well. Did you notice any patterns that might be useful for next week’s plan?
As people, we are all imperfect and a work in progress. Taking the time to reflect and identify one highlight has personally helped me develop a more optimistic mindset. Looking for patterns has helped me predict the time a task will take. I hope these steps help you build your own routines and make the most of the time you spend on work.
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