In 2019 I started a habit of planning my weeks ahead. I’ve never done that before. I made a couple of feeble attempts in the past, but I quickly abandoned them. I couldn’t keep my weekly commitments, it frustrated me to no end, and I quit.
I picked up this habit as a direct result of joining a 12-Week Year coaching group. I was supposed to set a few quarterly goals and keep track of my progress, so I had to somehow start planning my weeks. Before 2019, I kind of planned my days, but never longer periods of time.
In the end, my Google sheet serves me more as a tracking tool than a planning tool. Yes, I diligently plan my weeks on Monday mornings … and they are immediately interrupted or disturbed.
The biggest disruption is my struggle with going to bed early enough to wake early enough the next day. Then everything else is moved in my schedule.
The biggest interruption is my wife. I have my own business and work from home. My wife still cannot wrap her head around the fact that my hour is worth $30. Well, that’s the net worth. I really earn about $50 per hour, and this allows me to pay for all the business expenses. She will hesitate to buy an unnecessary item for $10 or overpay $5 for a small item. But she hasn’t the slightest trouble with hiring a maid for $30; that’s me.
What is more, because she doesn’t comprehend the value of my time, she has no problem interrupting my work with any stupid or trivial thing, from reminding me that I need to pick up our daughter (which she already told me 5 times!) to showing me a funny meme on Facebook, right here and now.
Plus, of course, I’m not perfect, so I procrastinate, or switch to easier tasks or to urgent everyday stuff I need to do right now. And the plans change.
Planning / Tracking
Thus, despite having a neat plan for my week, I modify it multiple times a day. And I love it.
In the past, I felt like my plans were set in stone, and when I missed a single item, I felt like a failure and my frustration went through the roof. Internally, I was such a mess that it was better for my productivity to ditch planning and focus on fulfilling my daily activities.
Nowadays, whenever I finish one task, I go to my Google sheet and either mark it off or modify my schedule. If something took me longer than I anticipated, I extend the time block in the plan according to reality. Often, I also need to shuffle around the next tasks in the queue.
There are many advantages resulting from being actively engaged with my weekly plan:
Thanks to the constant shuffling of the tasks, I learned prioritization at a gut level. I’m nine months into this practice and now I know that extending one task or changing its time slot causes a cascade of changes in my schedule.
I need to decide on the fly what to remove from today in the calendar and what is important enough to make a place for it in tomorrow’s schedule.
I also got a lesson hammered into me about urgent/important stuff. The important stuff needs to get done as soon as possible no matter what. Otherwise, it’s buried with the urgent daily trivia and the bigger, non-urgent projects don’t get done in the planned timeframe. If I don’t work on them a little bit every day, they simply freeze.
The best thing about it is that I absorbed this lesson at a gut level. When I shuffle items around my calendar, I don’t have to ponder the short- and long-term repercussions. I don’t ponder what to do next or why. I just know it.
b) Lack of Frustration
This one is a biggie for me. I was unable to plan for longer than a day because I couldn’t follow up on my plans to a T. Thanks to my weekly schedule in the Google sheet, I can see how the items that weren’t done are placed in the next day or later in the same day. They don’t disappear. They are postponed—not to a hazy “someday,” but they are moved into a specific time in the near future.
What’s more, my experience has taught me that even if they will be moved around a few times, they will get done. If they won’t, it only means something more important or urgent replaced them in the schedule.
c) No Place for Forgetfulness
Prior to 2019 whenever I planned some event, meeting, or call, I was quite heedless about keeping track of them. More than once, I simply forgot about a call or a podcast interview.
That’s no longer an option. I place every fixed item in my weekly calendar, and whenever I have a look at it (which is multiple times a day) I am reminded about this event or call.
The consistent work over my weekly schedule provided plenty of insights into my time management. It confirmed some things I already knew, like the disastrous effect of my wife’s interruptions on my productivity, or the fact that I work best in the morning.
Other discoveries were unexpected. For example, I realized I struggle with my prayers because I tried to smuggle them among other activities. Starting several weeks ago, I began to schedule fifteen-minute blocks of prayer into my calendar, and it immensely helped in this regard.
I also have some hardcore data thanks to my calendars. Thanks to them, I was able to calculate my hourly fee. Before implementing this tool, it was pure guessing on my part.
e) One Glance
I take one glance at my calendar and I see if I dedicated enough time for various areas of my life.
I use the color codes to indicate different types of activities.
Black is for my day job and other activities that are not necessarily pleasant but required (dealing with paperwork in the county office, one-time tasks like repairing a car, and so on).
Blue indicates a task for my business.
Red is for important projects connected to my 12WY goals.
Orange is for content-related activities, and dark green is for the items fixed at a specific time: calls and meetings.
Thanks to this simple trick, I can see where I’m not doing my best. Life is a very complex project, and there are many facets to it. It’s bad to suffer from poverty, but it’s much worse to suffer from sickness, loneliness, or lack of purpose.
Thanks to my weekly calendar, I can see if I neglect my family or spiritual life. Those are important, but not urgent, areas; and I tend (as we all do, don’t we?) to neglect them in the face of more pressing issues, like putting bread on the table.
This habit improved my life quite significantly, and if you’d have asked me half a year ago if I could squeeze so much out of a single habit, I would have answered that it’s impossible. I already felt like I was at the verge of my full capabilities.
There is nothing more precious than time, and running my weekly calendar makes me keenly aware of how I spend my time 24/7. It helps me to beat procrastination, and to not be overwhelmed by a multitude of projects since it breaks them into small chunks. It allows me to see at one glance the area(s) of neglect … or that I’m doing a good job.
It brought more peace of mind into my life. There are often very simple items in my schedule, like some errands or a movie at the cinema with my kids, but it sure is nice to not miss those things too, or to postpone some business responsibilities in a hectic manner because I’ve just recalled I have something else to do.
I’m better at managing my daily activities; I’ve been doing so for long years—writing, tracking in my online journal, publishing on Quora, etc. There were times before adopting the 12WY system when I was catching up with a week of tracking in Coach.me or in my journal. Now, it rarely happens that I have to catch up two days.
AND I’m inching toward my quarterly goals every day, exactly as the system is designed to do. However, for me it’s a marginal 20% profit. I consider all the above advantages worth so much more than achieving goals. If you can get a grip on your schedule on a daily basis, hitting long-term plans is just a byproduct.
A tidbit from The 12 Week Year book:
“If you take time to plan before engaging a complex task, you reduce the overall time required to complete the task by as much as 20 percent.”
My most complex project is my life. Planning and maintaining my weekly schedule takes about half an hour per week (for planning) and 10 minutes a day to track my activities. That’s less than 1% of my week.
Thanks to using my weekly calendar, I’m squeezing 20% more out of it.