Weekly planning is one of the keystone habits for a productive life. Why? Because you will either be a slave to your calendar or a slave to the chaos. A chaotic life is one lived without intention, thinking about how you will use your time. Such chaos often leads us to pass our days living for ourselves, rather than God and his glory. We float from day-to-day, event-to-event, dictating by our whims, our feelings, or worse, the expectations of others. A life with intentionality, however, seeks to think ahead of how to connect deeply with God and others.
Weekly plan is one way to recapture intentionality and think about how we will do good works! Our work is part of the good works that God calls us to do. Therefore, weekly planning is one of the ways we intentionally invest our lives in others and in the work of the gospel.
How to Plan Your Week
Step 1: Review the Previous Week
Create a weekly review for yourself where you think about what went well, what did not go well, and how to make improvements. Too often, people get down on themselves because they only see the things they’ve done wrong or the mistakes that they’ve made. I call it the “We Suck” mentality. A weekly review is an opportunity to prove to yourself that you don’t suck! A weekly review can also keep your goals in front of you and can help to track whether you’re making tangible progress towards those goals.
Elements of a good weekly review
1. Your biggest wins for the week: You want a space to write out where you succeeded in the past week. This is often best done by looking over your previous weekly plan and seeing what you accomplished.
2. Your top priorities/goals: You will want a section that lists your priorities or goals. It may be something as simple as a checklist, indicating whether you completed a habit. It may be a list of goals or projects with space to write the amount of time you spent on those things. It may include an area to write the percent completed on a project. The actual mechanics don’t matter so much as the consistent review of your priorities and goals. You want to be able to hold yourself accountable: Did I actually do this?
3. A section for evaluation: If you actually didn’t make progress on a priority or goal, why not? You need a section to figure out what went wrong. What kept from being consistent with that habit, or blocked you from working on that project? Make sure to include a section on how to ensure that this upcoming week you will overcome those obstacles. (One note: Sometimes life just happens: a loved one gets in an accident or becomes severely sick. Sometimes you might be dependent on another person to complete a portion of the project and they don’t. Take life into account and don’t beat yourself up for things you couldn’t control. Just make sure that you write these things down so that you don’t pile unnecessary guilt onto your shoulders).
Step 2: Time Block Your Schedule
Take out whatever weekly calendar you use (digital or paper). Begin putting on your schedule time for your responsibilities, priorities, goals, and other work. Work by order of priority:
1. Absolute Priorities: Somethings in life are worth putting first. One of the most important time blocks in your schedule should be a sabbath day. While Christ has fulfilled the literal day through his death and resurrection (Colossians 2:17), we are still human and need to rest. Resting means putting our work away and mindfully enjoying God and his creation.
2. Non-negotiable responsibilities: These are the responsibilities that you have every week that you cannot get out of. You have to show up. Things in this category would include work hours, meetings, classes for school, appointments. Important life events would go in this category as well such as attending your child’s event.
3. Deep Work Blocks: Schedule in time for “Deep Work”: time for undistracted thought and work. In these blocks, you will work on your goals and priorities. For example, if you are writing a book, you need to set aside time to actually write your schedule. If you are in school, you need undistracted time to read and study. These are your Deep Work blocks.
4. Task Blocks: Not every task is a “deep” task, demanding your peak mental prowess. But sometimes, even these “shallow” tasks are important. While you don’t want to interrupt your Deep Work blocks to check email, checking and responding to email is still important. Task blocks are devoted to taking care of all the little things that are necessary to keep your life and work running smoothly.
Step 3: Write out Deep Work “Flows”
Having time devoted to Deep Work is not enough. Too many times in my life, I have blocked out time “to get some work down”…and then got nothing done! Blocking out time is the first step, but not the final step. The final step is to flesh out with specifics what you will do during that time. For example, let’s say that you’ve set aside Thursday morning from 8:30-11:30am for Deep work. You have three solid hours! But what are you going to do with that time? A Deep Work Flow is merely a checklist which says, “I’m going to do this, then this, then this…”
Issues I’ve Faced When Planning My Week
Here are a few notes on planning your week. Let me put them in Q&A Format. All these issues I have personally run into.
“What if a task/project takes longer than I expected?”
Sometimes you will underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a task. In fact, estimating the time it takes to complete tasks is one of the hardest skills to master! It’s just plain hard to figure out how long it takes to do something. Sometimes a task will take way longer than you thought. You may have only planned one hour for it, but it took two hours and now your whole day is blown up. Here’s what to do. First, always overestimate the time it takes to complete tasks, especially when you first begin planning your week. Mastering the skill of knowing how long things take will come with practice. Second, redraw your daily schedule. The plain fact is that if a time block runs over, you have to shift the blocks it runs into. This might require moving blocks to a new day or just outright deleting a block.
“What if a task/project takes shorter than I expected?”
Always have a few “back up” projects ready to go. My main “backup” project is reading. Reading is flexible and adaptable to just about any circumstance. You can physically carry books with you, or read articles online. Reading can be done in slivers of time (like 15 minutes here, 10 minutes there), or for extended periods. Or you could pick a much, much larger project to hammer away on for a few minutes in between time blocks, if you finish early. It doesn’t really matter what you have in your “back pocket;” just have something.
“What if I have more to do than can be accomplished in 40 hours?”
You don’t need to work more than 40 hours a week to be effective. Some studies seem to indicate that working more than 40 hours is unnecessary and may even be detrimental to effectiveness. If you plan your week, and notice that you more on your plate than can be accomplished in forty hours, there may be a couple of reasons. It could be that you’re trying to do too much. This is probably the main reason why people who plan their weeks find that they can’t accomplish their work. God has made us to be finite and limited. We need to embrace those limits. Embracing your limits will mean thinking long and hard about what God is calling you to accomplish, focusing on that, and then eliminating everything else.