Do you ever get to the end of the week and realize that you don’t know what you’ve accomplished?

You’ve been working hard, feel tired, and think you must have gotten a lot done. But your top priorities are still not complete, and you feel like you’ve ended up with a longer to-do list than when you started.

If this is the case, I invite you to consider getting into a routine of planning the week ahead. Planning the week may initially seem to take time away from other important tasks. However, you’ll soon notice how devoting an hour or two to planning the week helps you get so much more of the important stuff done.  In this article, I’ll share with you a step-by-step process to help you plan your week ahead and stay focused on what’s most important.

Step One: Declutter

The first phase of the planning the week ahead is to declutter your inbox, desk, to-do list, and mind.  This will help you wrap up any loose ends before you start planning. Here’s how:

Emails:

  • Respond to lingering emails or messages that take two minutes or less to answer.
  • Add a note about any emails that take longer than two minutes to your to-do list.
  • If your inbox is overflowing, plan additional time next week to answer emails.

Papers:

  • Take fifteen minutes or so to organize any loose papers or notes.
  • If decluttering your desk will take more than fifteen minutes, quickly file the papers you can file, recycle or shred the ones you can get rid of, and add a note to your to-do list about documents that represent longer tasks.
  • If your desk is overflowing, schedule time in the following week to empty your desk.

To-Do List:

  • Add every unfinished task you can think of to your to-do list or later list.
  • Look at your to-do list, and see if there’s anything you’ve been putting off. If so, delegate the task, take it off your plate, or if you need to complete it yourself, figure out how to get through it in the coming week or so.

If you keep postponing clearing your inbox and your desk, this may be a good time to enlist support from a friend, an administrative helper, or a coach.

Step Two: Check in About Your Progress

To make sure that your hard work is leading to the results you want, check in on a regular basis to see where you’re at with your goals. To assess your progress, ask yourself these questions—

  • How close am I to accomplishing the goals I set for the month?
  • What worked to help me achieve my goals?
  • What did I learn about what I can do differently?

It’s just as important to look at your progress when you’re satisfied as when you’re not. The more you notice what’s working, the more you’ll do what works. Likewise, when you’re disappointed with your progress, asking these questions can help you learn from the situation. Keep in mind that with some big endeavors, it can take several months of consistent work to see your efforts pay off, so be careful not to discount your efforts before they have time to bear fruit.

Step Three: Safeguard Downtime

Passion for anything—even the things we’re most excited about—waxes and wanes. Alternating periods of activity and rest are necessary to stay motivated. As you plan your week, do your best to include time for stillness and rest, play and laughter, exercise and nourishment, connection and solitude.

Step Four: Give Yourself Enough Time

Your next step is to block time in your schedule for each of your top priorities. Here’s how to do this:

  • Look at your to-do list, and highlight the tasks that are the priorities this week.
  • Estimate how much time you think each task will take, and look at how much time you have to accomplish them.
  • Make sure that your expectations of yourself are realistic and that your priorities match the amount of time you have to accomplish them.
  • If you realize that you don’t have enough time for all of the goals you’ve set, consciously choose what’s most important this week.
  • Delegate, cancel or postpone the tasks that will not fit.

I recommend planning the week ahead at the end of the week so you can be more present on the weekend.  But if you can’t do it at the end of the week, make sure to do it when your week begins. Giving yourself this planning time on a weekly basis will allow you to stay focused on what’s most important and set yourself up for satisfaction at the close of each week.

I’d love to hear what your big “ahas!” are from the article and any favorite rituals you have for planning the week and staying focused. Let me know how it goes!

And, finally, click here to learn more how executive coaching can help you manage a busy office while leading your team to success.

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