Who, What, and Why
Getting the right things done is hard. I have never met a professional who does not struggle with it. The pace of modern life and business has quickened, the margin for error is smaller, and the pressure to produce results has increased.
I have studied the subject of personal productivity extensively. Mostly because being focused and productive do not come naturally for me. I've joked since the 90s that "If it weren't for spell-check and my day-planner, I would have to push the hamburger buttons at McDonald's." FranklinCovey company has a great system for Daily Time & Task Management, and we have been sending our employees through their programs for almost two decades. But I have yet to find a fully "engineered" system for translating "big-picture" goals, project management milestones, and individual action steps, into a reliable system for getting the right things done in our business; so I created my own.
Living in a way that integrates our values, big picture goals, plans and projects with your daily time and task management system is hard. I hope this helps. It's the best I have come up with so far.
Everyone should agree that it is better to do the right thing slowly rather than doing the wrong thing fast, but how do we know if we are “digging in the right place” or not? The answer is Weekly Planning and daily focus on that plan. I have found that the best time for me to do this is the weekend before the upcoming week (except for Sunday night right before bed, which is a terrible idea if you're really busy), but any regularly scheduled time is probably OK.
All PFCS staff are obliged to come to our Weekly Staff Meeting with the following information:
- What you are doing during business hours for the following week
- What you have due (Deliverables) during the next week or in the near future
- How much time do you have available during the next week
Let's be clear: This is "a" system, not "THE" system. It is one way that works for some people. If it does not work for you, then this system should at least be some help in developing your own system that allows you to exercise dominion over your schedule, rather than being a victim to the million little pieces of our work lives that can enslave us. For PFCS, the measure of success is simple: Can you consistently show up to our Weekly Staff Meeting with a plan for the next week that includes a schedule of where you are going to be, a list of what you have due, and an estimate of your available time.
Definitions for Key Terms
- Milestone: An event that marks the completion of a Deliverable, a Hold-Point on a schedule, or a flag in the Project Plan to highlight completed work; often used to ensure project progress. 10.
- Deliverable: A measurable, tangible item produced during project execution. Some are external and subject to approval, but some are internal only.
- Big Rocks: The most important things you have to accomplish. If you have not watched the Big Rocks Video by Franklin Covey, do so. It's awesome and 10-minutes very well spent. See the link in Awesome Resources at the bottom of this article.
To use this weekly planning system, first set aside time to plan the week ahead, print the Weekly Planning form, and either print a Weekly Calendar or use your normal calendar. Quickly review and summarize your (1.) Values, (2.) Mission and big-picture (3.) Goals. (4.) Compile and review your previous Weekly Plan, calculate the percentage of success for the last period, Project Plans and (5.) Master Task List (MTL), adding critical activities, Deliverables and Milestones to your Weekly Planning form as you go. Make sure all your (6.) "Hard Calendar" appointments are blocked-out on your Weekly Calendar and calculate the amount of (7.) "Discretionary Time" available for completing your critical Deliverable and Milestone activities. (8.) Estimate the duration of time required to complete each of the Deliverables and Milestones identified on the Weekly Planning form, and prioritize each, first by categorizing with an A, B or C, and then sequentially numbering within each category. (9.) "Soft Calendar" (apply) each of the activities required to accomplish the Deliverables and Milestones identified on the Weekly Planning form, to the Weekly Calendar. Finally, exercise discipline on a daily basis to in taking (10.) action in working toward accomplishing what is most important.
How: More Details
- Values: Same every week. Write Values as a weekly reminder.
- Mission: Same every week. Write Mission as a weekly reminder.
- Goals: Annual and Quarterly goals.
- Plans: Project Plans and Goals / Plans with many Actions. Review the previous week's Weekly Plan. Calculate your percentage of successes based on completion of Milestones / Deliverables. Forward incomplete items to the Master Task List (MTL) for re-prioritization. As an example, you should have a Project Plan for every PFCS project under management. In addition, you might have a plan to get a certification or degree that has many incremental steps. You might have a Fitness Plan that has many steps. Any multi-step project that is worth doing is worth having a written plan. In order to make sure you decide well which tasks you will get accomplished, you need to collect all of your plans and review them from "above the game". Get perspective on where you can and should spend your valuable time.
- Master Task List (MTL): Keep a separate list of all the tasks you need to complete. This is not the same as your Daily Tasks or the Weekly Plan.
- Hard Calendar: Hard Calendar items are those which are set and would be considered unacceptable to miss. For us, hard calendar items are the Weekly Staff Meeting, a Quarterly Review, Inspections, Meetings, Testimony, etc...
- Discretionary Time: Calculate the number of work hours you have available, subtracting Hard Calendar items. For example, if Monday of next week is a holiday (40-8=32), you have an inspection all day Tuesday (32-8=24), a half-day meeting on Wednesday (24-4=20) and the Weekly Staff Meeting (20-1=19), you only have 19 hours of discretionary time.
- Milestones: Milestones, Deliverables or "Big Rocks" as Stephen Covey says: Add them to the Weekly Planning sheet. Include an estimate of how much time this task will take. Once you have all of the items you think you might be able to accomplish in the week, during your discretionary time, prioritize them; first with letters A, B or C. A is critical and you should not do any thing else until this is complete. B is a really important milestone or deliverable and should be completed but the world would not stop spinning if you did not. C would be really great to do, but not until all of the A and B items are complete.
- Soft Calendar: Put blocks of time (in pencil) on the Weekly Calendar to complete the activities from your Weekly Plan list of Milestones / Deliverables / Big Rocks.
- Action: Exercise the discipline to return often, at least once daily, to the Weekly Plan. Stay focused on the tasks as you prioritized them.
Weekly Planning Forms
Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks & Planning Steps
Weekly Calendar View & Daily Tasks
Sample Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks
Weekly Calendar View
These tools operate as both sides of a valuable coin. The Weekly Planning Form is a simple task list with columns for prioritizing Milestones or Deliverables and a place to estimate the time needed to accomplish the desired end. The Weekly Calendar View is for blocking out time so that we avoid the dreaded “over promise and under deliver” syndrome that so many of us suffer from today. The Weekly Calendar View is best for Weekly Planning but if you have a planner with a calendar, then respect the fundamental planning rule of “use only one calendar.”
The 10 Weekly Planning Steps
These steps are repeated weekly and daily.
- Master Task List (MTL)
- Hard Calendar
- Discretionary Time
- Soft Calendar
How: Deeper Thoughts on the Planning Steps
Remember: The Weekly Planning process is iterative.
- If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus course, then this will be easy; just review your list of personal values.
- Everyone will come face-to-face with difficult situations. Sometimes we have to tell people no. Values help us to make hard decisions. Making explicit our values makes the decision making a little easier. We all have values that we will not violate for money or career advancement. What are yours? The funny thing is, we earn more respect in the end for making hard decisions that are consistent with our values.
- Consider reviewing PFCS Core Values.
- Why are you here (both in general and here at PFCS)? This is the question that is answered with your mission and purpose.
- If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus (or similar) course, then this will be easy; just review your Personal Mission.
- Naturally, almost every person and business will have to spend some significant amount of time doing the work that “pays the bills.” For some, this is directly “on-mission” but for most, we have to squeeze in the work of moving closer to the fulfillment of our mission. When we have a written mission, we can look at our Weekly Plan and decide if we are dedicating enough time to the fulfilling our mission. We are more apt to take the many steps in our 1,000 mile journey toward fulfillment of our mission if we revisit that mission every week.
- If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus (or similar) course, then this will be easy; just review your Personal Goals.
- Some of your Professional Goals with PFCS have been identified already in your Job Description and KPIs: Project Planning and Management, shipment of Deliverables, Billable Hours, Training Milestones, etc… Keep this list handy and review it every week during your planning time.
- For each Goal or PFCS Project you should have a Project Plan that identifies the Objective, Method, Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks, and Actions required to achieve it (see PFCS Project Planning for a step-by-step method).
- Review and prioritize your Plans.
- Add Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks to the PFCS Weekly Planning Form
5. Master Task List (MTL)
- You will or should have a Master Task List (MTL) in your planner for things that you need to do which are not on a Project Plan.
- Review and prioritize your MTL.
- Add items from your MTL to the PFCS Weekly Planning Form.
6. Hard Calendar
- Hard Calendar items are items blocked out on your calendar for things like meetings with clients or other activities with firm dates and times (also see Soft Calendar items below).
- Review your Hard Calendar items and confirm them.
- This includes standing meetings.
- These items are time specific and relatively inflexible.
- Include travel time in your calendar.
7. Discretionary Time
- Discretionary Time is working hours that are not consumed with Hard Calendar items.
- Calculate Discretionary Time by adding up your working hours that are not consumed with Hard Calendar items.
- This is time you have available to work on Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks.
- The milestones should come from the Deliverables section of your Project Plans, Life Plan, Annual Plan, Quarterly Plan, and from your Master Task List (MTL).
- Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks are what you need to accomplish this week.
- When you see house movers load a truck, they always put the big stuff in first (i.e Big Rocks) and then fill in the truck with the smaller items. If done in reverse, the big stuff simply won't fit very well, if at all. Don’t put the small stuff in first. That is how life and success works too.
- A = Critical and Must Be Completed
- B = Really Important
- C = It Would Be Great
- Within each category (ABC), assign a number corresponding to the chronological order things need to happen in.
9. Soft Calendar
- Soft Calendar items are time you block out of Discretionary Time to work on Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks that you need to accomplish this week. This is in contrast to Hard Calendar items, discussed above.
- If something critical comes up, it is easy to re-shuffle Soft Calendar items, as long as the deadline is not too close for that that Deliverable / Milestone / Big Rock.
- These are items that are time-flexible; that is, they don't need to be done at the time set on the calendar.
- Exercise discipline in keeping to the plan.
- Refer to and revisit the Weekly Plan and Daily Task List many times per day and throughout the week to help you stay focused.
- If something comes up that makes you vary from plan, then change the plan.
- Document what you spend your time on.
- This is really hard.
"Crashing is the technique to use when fast tracking has not saved enough time on the schedule. It is a technique in which resources are added to the project for the least cost possible. Cost and schedule tradeoffs are analyzed to determine how to obtain the greatest amount of compression for the least incremental cost."
So what if we plan our week, but we realize that we don't have enough Discretionary Time to accomplish what needs to get done? Do we just use "The Prayer Method"? I had a great mentor who used to say to me "Pete: Hope is not a strategy." My smart aleck retort was always that "hope" IS a strategy; it's just a terrible one! So our choices are limited if we realize we don't have enough Discretionary Time to accomplish what we need to get done:
- We can decide to just lower our expectations;
- we can work overtime;
- we can renegotiate our way out of other "Hard Calendar" obligations to free up Discretionary Time; or
- we might "add resources" (a project management term and strategy) by delegating some of the work to others.
What ever you decide, neither The Hope Method or The Prayer Method are acceptable.
Planning and Managing a Life
Components of A Life Planning & Management System
- Life Plan: A document that memorializes your Values, Mission & Life's Goals
- Annual Plan
- Quarterly Plan (Optional for personal, MUST have for business)
- Individual Project Plans with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assertive, Realistic, and Timed) Milestones
- Master Task List (MTL)
- Weekly Plan: Without this, you can get lost in the forest of daily planning.
- Daily Task List: This is on our Weekly Planning Form, but if you don't use it, you'll need a permanent place that you look to often throughout your day to keep focused (or in my case, to constantly re-direct myself back to the plan).
- Journal (Permanent record that's carried with you virtually everywhere you go)
How I Do This Now
This material was originally written and published as an internal company training back in 2007, or maybe even before. So of course there are changes in technology. Also, my role has been evolving from individual contributor, with a BUNCH of little tasks that needed to be accomplished, to the leader of a larger group. As the leader of a larger group, it's become more important that I accomplish a small number of critical things, compared to my role as an individual worker.
Components of MY Life Planning & Management System
- Life Plan
- I have a written Life Plan in Google Docs that gets updated every few years (It's 3 years old right now.
- I have done this many times throughout my life.
- The more I plan and the more I revisit my plans the more successful I am. During the times in my life that I have not looked at or updated my Life Plan, I have been less successful.
- I highly recommend using Keith Ferrazzi's 6 Steps to Set Your Goals for Success.
- Annual Plan
- I have a Daily Meditation that I review often, although not daily. When I find myself off-track, reviewing this every day is a great way to get me focused.
- I used to spend some time between Christmas and New Year's to review the previous year's plan and update the plan for the year to come. I am going to get back to doing this.
- Quarterly Plan
- I have sometimes done this for my personal planning, but I get too busy to update them every quarter.
- For business, we create Quarterly Plans for the Business, Marketing & Sales, and Information Technology, each with a list of the 3-9 Big Rocks from the previous quarter on a single PowerPoint slide and how we performed compared to those goals, then we list 3-9 SMART Big Rocks for the current quarter on a single PowerPoint slide, then each of the Big Rocks gets it's own individual presentation slide with sub-items, actions or milestones that will lead or contribute to accomplishing that objective.
- In 2018 we will have quarterly plans for each of the following: Business (over-all), Marketing, Finance, Operations Management, Technical Management, Information Technology.
- Individual Project Plans with SMART Milestones
- See Quarterly Plans above.
- We have a very structured project planning method and set of electronic tools.
- See OMMA-Goodness!™ Project Management Framework: In-Brief by Peter D. Fowler Copyright 2008.
- Master Task List (MTL)
- I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan below.
- I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal
- I now use a shared Google Calendar.
- For many years I used a paper calendar, and if I were working alone and the calendar did not need to be shared, I would return to it.
- I have gone back and forth from electronic to paper planning and back many times. I don't know that I will ever stop going back and forth. I think I might just be a person who needs something new from time to time.
- When I am using a paper journal, I screen shot and print the weekly view of my Google Calendar and tape it into the paper journal on the page opposite my Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks page.
- Weekly Plan
- Right this minute I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). It synchronizes with cloud so I can open it as a tab on my desktop or laptop, as well use it from any hand-held device (I use an iPhone). It's like a really slimmed-down version of Evernote. It's text only, and I like it that way. I have had a couple instances where I lost some data due to synchronization problems, but I think those qualified as "Operator Errors." The point is that it, like any other system, is not foolproof.
- My Weekly Plans and Daily Task Lists are in the same page or file in SimpleNote.
- This is not ideal for me, and I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal, because paper is more visual and my learning style is to write things out and look at them.
- When I was last using a paper journal, I would purchase various hard-bound journals with lined pages. I draw the Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks & Planning Steps on a full page and I screen shot and print the weekly view of my Google Calendar and tape it into the paper journal on the page opposite my Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks page.
- Daily Task List
- I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan above.
- I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal.
- I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan above.
- Each month gets it's own Journal page/file/document in SimpleNote.
- I number each note I take throughout each day. The second note I take on the 15th day of each month would be numbered "15 b." So if I write down thoughts about a new blog post, and I want to make a note in my MTL for easy reference I would write "Blog Notes: See 2017-10-15 b." And I would know to go to the second journal note from 10/15/2017.
- I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal.
This is in no particular order (which is SO unlike me!).
- Weekly Planning and Weekly Calendar Forms (Blank)
- How to Plan Your Week video from Art of Manliness (This is REALLY good)
- Getting Things Done from Ivy Lee via Mary Kay
- Dr. Stephen Covey's Big Rocks Video. (FranklinCovey keeps having this video removed so if the link does not work just search YouTube)
- Big Rocks Video from Art of Manliness
- The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. Drucker is the Godfather of management theory, and this book is his seminal work. If you're a manager or trying to be more effective as an individual, and you have not ready it, then you're not trying hard enough. Here is an interesting 7-minute summary video.
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey
- The Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management by Smith
- First Things First by Covey
- What Matters Most by Smith
- Time Management from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule -- and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- The ONE Thing by Gary Keller
- Keith Ferrazzi's 6 Steps to Set Your Goals for Success
- Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses: If you're a business owner, I HIGHLY recommend this program. I have done lots of executive education and it's the best so far; and it's FREE! The conclusion of the 4-month program is that you compose a business plan focused on growth that they call your "Growth Plan."
- One-Page Personal Plan (OPPP) from Scaling Up and Verne Harnish.
- To Do Doing Done by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff. I love this book and think it's awesome.