Want to Get 30% More Tasks Done? – Use a Weekly Work Plan
HAVE YOU ever considered how many of your work hours are wasted on multitasking and refocusing your attention after every email and small task?
It takes people an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to refocus on a task.
Now imagine you were distracted five times each day on average. This results in hundreds of hours wasted every year.
An increasing number of people have replaced their to-do lists with weekly work plans. Why? Because they’re able to plan more efficiently, and spend less time on regaining focus after being distracted.
In this article, you’ll find a comprehensive step-by-step guide to setting up your personal weekly time management plan. We’ve done our best to keep it as straightforward and actionable as possible.
Ready to save hundreds of hours and loads of energy by working smarter? Let’s roll.
1. Make it a habit to plan your work
We’ve all had those days when you come to the office, start working on something and will soon be overloaded with meetings and emails.
By the time you leave the office, you have a look at your 50-points to-do list and realize you only managed to complete 20% of it. And often, this makes us feel bad about our day.
Now imagine you had planned your day hour by hour with some time left for handling emails and urgent requests. There would be at least 3-4 hours for you to focus on important projects instead of tackling small, inefficient tasks.
Up next, we’ll walk through some of the best techniques and hacks to set up a weekly time management master plan. It takes about 45 minutes to complete this task. You’ll end up saving hours of productive time.
Read on: Simple Guide for Creating a Project Management Timeline.
2. Find the perfect work planning tool
When compiling your weekly work plan, you first need a place to manage it.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be an online tool; a notebook will do as well. Simply ensure that it’s easily accessible wherever you might be.
Some tips for choosing a great planning tool:
- 1. You should be able to create at least five columns (one for each workday)
- 2. There should be a box-ticking option (to mark the tasks done)
- 3. You should be able to drag-and-drop the tasks between the columns (for quick management)
Many people like to plan their tasks in Trello. I personally used to plan in a Moleskine notebook, but recently moved my weekly schedule to Notion, a new awesome business management tool (it’s free for single users). We also use Scoro to plan our work as a team.
The tool you’re looking for should be easy-to-use and flexible. Even a Google Sheet would do.
3. Create the framework
After you’ve chosen the tool/notebook, it’s time to create a structured framework.
Start by creating a column for each workday, Monday to Friday. If you also work on weekends, you could add these as well.
Next, think how you usually spend your days. Is there a particular event that divides your workdays into multiple parts? It might be a meeting, lunch, or an afternoon walk down the street.
Mark this point-of-day to your work plan, under each day (it could also be a different event for each day). Next, create multiple time periods depending on your work habits. (Scroll down to see an example)
Now, name your pre- and post-afternoon parts of the day. If you’re more creative in the mornings, write a headline “9-13 Creative Time” under each day. If you have meetings throughout the first half of the day, name this section “8.30-12 Meetings). These are the big timeframes that you’re going to fill with tasks later.
Next, also add all your planned meetings and mark the time they’re planned for, hour by hour.
As a result, you should have a work plan with information about:
- 1. Your day-parting event (meeting, lunch, pause)
- 2. Your big daily time periods, described by the importance of the tasks or the nature of the work (creative, simple, needs focus etc.)
- 3. All your upcoming meetings
Let’s use this worksheet as an example:
4. Make it your own
The framework above is just an example of how you could plan your time. But in the end, it is you who needs to make sense of this weekly work plan.
Keep testing and tweaking the framework until it seems logical and aligns with your work habits.
Use colors to differentiate different types of events. For example, use:
- Blue font/background for meetings
- Green font/background for lunch
- Orange background for recurring tasks
- And so on
After adding some colours, your weekly plan could look something like this:
5. Add the must-do tasks
Although we all wish we didn’t have to answer emails and attend inefficient meetings for hours each day, that’s how the cookie crumbles.
Every day, there are tasks that need to be completed. Usually, it’s answering emails, attending meetings, sending out bills, and documenting the work. This infographic will nicely tell you where your time gets lost at work.
To avoid overbooking your time and placing too many tasks on a single day, start by mapping out the must-do tasks. You can mark them with a different color to later plan your weeks more quickly.
Important note! Whenever you add a task to your weekly plan, it has to have a set timeframe. Write the time in front of the task. And try to be realistic.
This is what your pre-scheduled week might look like:
6. Add all the tasks
By now, you should have a pretty clear overview of your pre-planned work.
This is the point where you sigh and realize that there are about 2 hours each day left for important projects. If this is the case, you might become aware that you need to manage your time more efficiently. Delegate some simple tasks, unschedule unproductive meetings, or cancel an unpromising project.
The best time to plan your weekly tasks is on Friday, after the day at work. You’re highly aware of the next week’s plans and reviewing your workweek.
Plan your tasks in thematic bundles. Research has shown that as you work on similar tasks in a row, you’ll lose less time refocusing. Every time we become distracted, it takes an average of 15 minutes to regain the focus.
What happens if you don’t group your tasks:
- You spend more time completing the tasks
- You spend more time switching between the tasks
- You’ll lose a significant amount of the day
Here’s a great article by Lifehacker, explaining how to group your tasks.
You might go as far as to devote each day to a specific type of tasks. For example, Monday could be the day for writing, Tuesday is devoted to meetings, on Wednesday it’s time for analysis, etc.
Add each tasks as a to-do list (so that you can tick the box when it’s done), and add a planned time frame for each task.
It is super important to leave some time for handling urgencies. Otherwise, your schedule will get derailed early in the day.
Here’s a quick example:
Plan your entire week this way and leave more unscheduled breaks at the end of the week, as you’ll need to plan some work on the go.
Voila! By now, you’ll have a fully planned weekly schedule with realistic deadlines and timeframes.
You’ll probably need to rearrange some of your daily plans the next week, as you’ll learn a lot about your personal working habits and energy levels. If you fail to complete all the planned tasks, you need to lower the planned workload, delegate, or cancel some projects.
Extra: Insider tips for managing your weekly work plan even more efficiently!
I’ve managed my time in a weekly framework for over 6 months, and I’ve learned a lot in the process.
This is your chance to read about all the hacks and tips without learning it the hard way.
1. Leave unscheduled time for breaks
As I started managing my time as a weekly project, I quickly realized that my schedule was way too packed. There was no room for handling urgencies and having a chat with a colleague.
Schedule two 20-minute breaks each day so that you have the freedom to choose: do I want a coffee, a reading break, or should I answer someone in Slack. The scheduled breaks also leave a buffer zone between two tasks, so it’s okay if you cross the planned timeframe a little.
2. Keep your feet on the ground
It is hard to resist dividing your days into 15-minute chunks, and scheduling a new task for each 15 minutes. After all, you’ve got so much work going on. But you’ll soon realize that you’re unable to complete all of these tasks in such a short timeframe.
The main reason why you’re not managing your tasks in a huge to-do list but as a weekly view is that you can avoid packing your daily schedule too tightly.
If you divide your weekly workload across five days instead of one to-do list, you’ll have more time for each task. It’s like having a separate organized to-do list for each day. Every task worth scheduling should take at least 30 minutes.
3. Strictly follow the planned timeframe
Some projects take longer than you’ve planned in your weekly work plan. And you’re likely to realize it too late for rescheduling.
Use the planned timeframes as a motivation to complete the tasks on time. Try to get into the flow and really focus on the task at hand, and move on to the next task when it’s time.
4. Create task bundles
The one huge mistake that people make with to-do lists is that they write down everything. Which makes the list appear long and unpleasant.
Think about it. If you write down small 5-minute tasks along with 3-hours project activities, the list seems impossible to complete.
When scheduling your weekly work, only mark your biggest tasks. Bundle the smaller tasks together and do them all at once, in one or two hours each day. In Notion, you can create a task and then add comments to it. I like to use this method for keeping track of all the tasks without making my weekly schedule look overwhelming.
5. Tweak and repeat
At the end of each week, take a look at your weekly plan. Feel the rewarding sense of accomplishment when looking at all the ticked boxes in front of the tasks.
Read more: How to conduct a simple yet super informative 1-hour work audit each week
Next, delete the tasks that you never need to do again, and untick the boxes of the tasks that are going to repeat the next week. Add new tasks. Drag and drop the tasks between the days to reschedule. Leave room for urgencies.
Planning your weekly work is an ongoing process of learning. Along the way, you learn to predict your energy levels, follow productivity tips, and plan accordingly. You will also learn to let go of inefficient tasks and projects. After a few weeks, you’d never like to go back to the time of the huge to-do lists.
Related: How to Save Time at Work by Making Small Changes [Infographic]
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