Sticking to it is up to you!
This post is based on a NaBloPoMo prompt: teach us how to do something with a how-to lesson.
Remember how there’s no such thing as too much planning? Today I wanted to share my method for making a weekly planner to set aside time for things that matter to me, from work to language learning, including blogging. It isn’t that hard but not everyone knows where to start, so here are some tips.
1. Decide on the period you want to plan for.
Will you be planning your whole week or only certain days? Will you have the same schedule for the whole week – to be tweaked as needed to incorporate non-daily events – or will you have a different programme for each day of the week? For instance, I have three different schedules right now: one that I follow Monday through Friday, another for Saturdays, and a third one for Sundays.
Similarly, you don’t have to plan all 24 hours of your day, so you need to decide when to start and when to stop. Do you want to plan your day from the minute you get up to the moment you go to bed? Does it make more sense to plan your workday only? Maybe it is your free time you want to organise so that you can make the most of it?
Another issue to consider is how deep to go: will you plan every hour, every half an hour, every quarter of an hour? I find that using half-hour slots is enough, but sometimes I feel the need to go into more detail and get a little frustrated that my planner doesn’t allow me to do so.
2. Make a list.
Write down all the things you need and want to do within the period you just defined. Start with the obvious: breakfast, lunch, dinner, chores, drives to and from work and/or school, and other recurring events. If some of these things have to get done on certain days, write down which days.
Write down the estimated duration needed for each task or activity. Be generous – better to set aside too much time for a task than not enough! Setting aside more time than needed allows you to take breaks as you take care of the task and/or once you are done. If things have to get done at a certain time, write down the start and end times.
You don’t have to plan every hour. For instance, I set aside two hours of “free time” every evening for basically anything I want to do. How I spend this time is entirely up to me. I may do something relaxing or something productive depending on my mood and energy. Of course, you only need to do so if you want to plan whole days.
3. Now make that four.
- Make a list of things that have to happen every day.
- Make a list of things that have to happen every week but not every day.
- Make a list of things that have to happen only once and won’t be repeated daily/weekly.
- Make a list of things that you would like to happen but can do without.
Sort the tasks you listed at the previous stage into the four lists. Don’t put things in the fourth list if they are important to your mental or physical well-being (e.g. spending time with your loved ones, relaxing in front of TV, blogging). In each list, try to order the tasks chronologically.
4. Identify conflicts.
If several tasks have to happen at the same time, deal with this issue now: decide which task to prioritise on days when a conflict comes up. Maybe you can take care of one of the tasks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and of the other on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Or maybe you can write them both as “do this OR that”
5. Get a weekly planner.
For your first draft, all you need is a sheet of paper or a new file in your favourite spreadsheet software. Later, once you are happy with your schedule, you can get a fancy planner, a nice app, or get all crafty and make your own virtual or physical planner.
A digital planner that syncs with your phone, with automated repetitions and alarms, sounds ideal, and Google Calendar is a great option, but not everyone is comfortable with the idea of putting their daily schedule online. If you choose a physical planner, make sure it fits it all of your bags!
6. Start filling your planner.
Start with things that have to happen at set times: write them down in red or a flashy colour to remind you not to move them around. Then, deal with conflicts: place the tasks you decided to prioritise first, then the rest.
Place all remaining tasks from your first list arbitrarily and rearrange them to your liking. Once you are satisfied, do the same for the remaining tasks from your second list, then the third. Finally, if you have enough space/time left, do the same with the fourth list in a different (less obvious) colour. You can work on several drafts at the same time to compare different combinations.
8. Don’t be a perfectionist.
Don’t spend too much time attempting to make the perfect planner on your first try. Chances are, you will review your planner in an hour when you realise you forgot something, or tomorrow when you don’t feel like doing something at the time you had planned to do it, or at the end of the week once you have identified flaws in your planner.
Making changes is part of the process: this planner is an attempt at bringing structure and order to your life in a way that will help you achieve everything you want to, not prevent you from doing anything else. It’s a work in progress: as your life circumstances change, so should it.
9. Write the final version of your new schedule.
Remember it’s only “final” until you change it! Again, tasks that have to happen at a certain time should be in red or a flashy colour. Important tasks that absolutely need to get done should be in a different flashy colour. Again, all tasks necessary to your well-being should be considered important. Tasks that you can do without shouldn’t draw attention to themselves.
10. Stick to it… Mostly.
Make it a point to always get the important tasks done. If you want to postpone a task that can be postponed without consequences, do so. The planner is your guide, not your boss: don’t let it keep you from doing what you want, and don’t be afraid to tweak it every now and then.