It’s taken long for me to start conscious planning. I used to think about myself as a person able to keep tons of information in mind, plan a day, a week and a month, choose priorities and find out important things.
In practice, I’d been a procrastinator most part of time, as all the information gathered during long periods of time got mixed into a cocktail. Of course, there were certain tasks completed, but still, I was very far from real results.
I wrote out all the tasks that were running in my mind. There was everything I had to or wanted to do. It was a long battle with my tired brain. I didn’t know what to do first and where to run. A list on paper had changed everything in a mysterious way. This is how my story of planning has begun.
Why Planning is Important
If you believe that you don’t need any plan to work effectively (like I did before), try to write what you want to get and what you are going to do in order to reach that. Hold that kind of experiment.
What have you got? It often looks like separate tasks and parts of thoughts. Sometimes it looks like a total confusion and inability to write down even some tasks. But if there is a huge task list before your eyes, think: will you be able to choose which tasks to do first, which ones to postpone and which to cross out at all in a few seconds?
A plan lets you put your thoughts in order and is one of the ways to fight procrastination. One of the reasons for you to delay tasks on purpose is your misunderstanding of what can be done at a certain moment, including difficulties with choosing tasks. When there are thoughts in your mind like “I need to do this, this and that in addition”, you can’t decide what to do first. You finish your day sitting on a sofa and panicking about too many tasks, everything going out of control and your inability to make it all.
How to Write a Plan if Your Mind is Shattered?
In a situation described above, when you find yourself feeling overloaded and not knowing what to do, the recipe is simple: sit down, take a list of paper and write. Write about everything that is in your head and doesn’t let you calm down. Write down all tasks you need to do today, during the week, month and even year. Write about everything that bothers you.
You’ll feel yourself freer when the list is done. Now you need to prioritize tasks according to their importance and urgency.
Look through your list attentively and mark things that should be done “yesterday” with a star (or however you want). Mark tasks that need to be done today but not right now with a circle. And finally, tasks possible to be postponed or thrown out of the list. Mark them with an arrow. Sort all your weekly tasks like that.
Now, when things are sorted, you can see what to start from. Do not postpone anything, take the first task with a “yesterday” extremely urgent mark and start completing it. After that, move to the tasks that need to be finished today. If there still is time after that, do things from an “arrowed” list. If you don’t have time, then postpone them.
How to Create a Plan When the Goal is Too Big or Unfamiliar?
About a year ago I found myself brave enough to hold a webinar on the topic of New Year wishes. The idea inspired me, I wanted to knock the world flat but still did nothing. Why? Because I didn’t know how to start that task which was new for me. I had experienced many webinars as a listener but never had an experience of organizing them.
To avoid skipping the challenge, I’ve announced the webinar, published it on a TimePad and asked friends about sharing a post in social media. Registrations started. There was no way to fall back. But the business still stood.
The date of a webinar came closer, it couldn’t be postponed any more. So, I sat down and wrote everything I knew about webinars (that the presentation is required, that I need a good Internet connection etc.), everything I can do and everything I don’t know (how to choose a platform, how to provide a stream, etc.). I’ve got two lists: a list of tasks and a list of questions.
Then, I sat and answered all of my questions. Yes, even if it seems that you don’t know a thing, you really have a certain answer. For instance, my answer to the question “How to choose a platform for a webinar?” looked like “Ask Ann, Alex and Dave (they have webinar experience)”. These answers moved to the task list as well.
As a result, I’ve got a big task-list I could star to do AT ONCE. The goal stopped looking unreal. The process was launched.
If there is a new or complicated task that scares you, sit and write these two lists: tasks and questions.
After getting a starting to-do list, you need to set priorities and think over milestones and deadlines.
On this stage, it is important to avoid tasks that are not obligatory to be done. When starting to do something new, people often want to do it all perfectly and that is why they add many tasks better to be left out in their first stages.
Look at your task list and use the Pareto principle for it. Throw away everything you can. You can add some “glance” when more important tasks are done and the goal is so close as never before. But now, you should deal with the necessary things only. Do what is needed for your goal to be achieved. Don’t pursue the perfect solution, start with the prototype.
Now choose the components of your goal. In my example with the webinar, I chose the following milestones:
- Creating a presentation;
- Writing a speech;
- Technical preparation for the webinar (choosing the platform, functional test, presentation upload, etc.);
All the tasks were sorted out according to these three categories.
After that, determine the most important and critical milestone, then the one going next and the one parallel if needed. I’ve postponed speech writing and repetition till the very end, so tasks connected to that list were completed last. I didn’t divert my attention to them. A part of technical tasks was chosen as a priority (to choose a platform), then presentation preparing was set.
Divide big tasks into precise actions, write down resources you have… and start! Your first plan is ready!
What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
- There are days when you don’t want to do a thing and have no energy. To avoid wasting your time, create a plan for “lazy days”. Write down the tasks that you can complete easy and fast; tasks that don’t require a lot of efforts, mechanical job that does not load your brain too much. Whenever you feel that you can’t do a thing, look at your “lazy plan” and complete 1-2 tasks from there. You’ll be proud of yourself in the evening, I bet :)
- Before you start working, spend 5 minutes and write down your goals and priorities. This will help you avoid falling into social media. After writing down all the priorities and goals, enlist the tasks you are going to do;
- Decorate your plans to have a desire to look onto them often. Use stickers, colored markers and good-looking paper;
- Do not overload your daily plan. It is better to write less but complete the list than to postpone the same tasks day after day because of not having enough time to do them;
- Have a planning partner and discuss your tasks and troubles together once a week. The process is easier when you have supporters.
How and Where to Plan?
In planning, it is important for you to find “your” instruments. Try out different ways of planning: paper, electronic one, lists, tables, mind mapping, etc.
As for me, I plan my tasks through the paper diary + Trello. Some tasks are planned with mind-mapping through www.mindmeister.com in order to visualize them better.
I have a mini-notebook to list my goals and daily tasks into it every morning before starting my job.
When I do not feel highly concentrated, I start planning from freewriting. I write about my priorities and ask myself what I can do today to get closer to the desired goal. Tasks appear, and then it becomes easier to catch my focus.
I make some boards in Trello, they are the strategical ones. There I enlist all my ideas and tasks to think over, tasks for far future.
Mind mapping is a relatively new instrument for me, but it allows me to create the sequence of actions for certain tasks. I do not use it on daily basis, but it helps me to notice the main components of complicated tasks and divide them into categories.
Nobody can give you a perfect recipe for creating your own planning system, but you won’t be able to accomplish it if you don’t try different methods.
Try, experiment, plan, and, of course, act!