Last time I wrote about ways to get insight in how your time is really spent on a weekly basis and how you can get some breathing room into your week. However I did not go into the actual making of the planning itself. This week I will talk about building the planning and what should be the main focus when planning. And no it’s not (always) about efficiency.
Plan with consistency in mind.
We have 1 new goal in mind, something we want to do more and achieve a certain goal in. To get good at something we need consistency in the time we spent on it. So much so that it becomes a habit and is part of our weekly routine. Before it’s a habit , something we do almost automatically, it needs time to first become a consistent part of our planning. And we have to be able to execute a planning.
To make sure this is feasible our planning needs room to breath, not just in time but also purposefully with breaks, rest and recovery space. Only then will we be able to fully work trough our planning. So it’s not about doing as much as possible, but we need to plan for longevity. We need to be able to keep up with ourselves. Consistency is key. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
How do we achieve consistency in a planning ?
We know how much time we spent on things, we also made some changes. Dropped some activities from the list and limited time spent on certain activities. So how do we fit in our new goal ? We have some room, now we partly fill this in with activities towards our new goal. Make sure you choose 3 moments in the week. 3 is the minimum for making something a habit over the long run. Don’t overdo it in hours especially in the beginning. It’s hard work starting something new and will take a lot of energy. So start modest. Let’s say 2 sessions of 1 hour and 1 session of 1,5 hours. Take 5 to 10 minutes break between each 30 minutes. Plan those as well. So how does that look ?
|8:00 - 8:45||Meeting||0:45|
|8:45 - 8:55||Break||0:10|
|9:00 - 9:30||Focus work||0:30|
|9:30 - 9:35||Break||0:05|
|9:35 - 10:05||Focus work||0:30|
|10:05 - 10:15||Break||0:10|
|10:15 - 10:30||Emails||0:15|
Why do we need breaks in our planning ?
We need breaks not just to take a rest and recover, but the most important thing, we need it to let our mind process and digest the things we learned. Rest gives our brain the ability to remember and preserve.
Everyone has a limited amount of energy for doing high cognitive tasks a day. Things like reading a difficult book (or manual), working on solutions to complicated problems and so on.
If you trained yourself very well in these tasks and your environment is at its best (more on this later) this is 4 hours a day. Really focussed work. That takes a lot of energy. To recuperate it means you can’t do this for 4 hours straight without breaks. you need breaks to maintain a high level of focus. And to get out of that chair. So to make those hours count, breaks are essential.
But I work 8 hours a day ?
Yes most people do, and not included time spent traveling. Luckily a lot of work related tasks are not high cognitive tasks. A lot of things are low cognitive tasks preceding the high cognitive tasks. Simply the hours it takes to get a job done.
Finding a solution to the problem is the high cognitive taks, getting the tools out and spending the hours is less cognitive demanding. Yet can still exhaust you without breaks. So when you work, maintain the breaks. Take less meetings. Make sure the meetings you take are to the point, and are not back to back. You need time to process what is said in that meeting and distill the work that comes out of it for you. It might be counter intuitive to say no to people more often. But it will free up your work calendar and it will improve the quality of your output. Thus making you more efficient. See, there is some efficiency to be gained as well.
So in order to save up some energy for your after work activities and your new goal, go and take the same approach for your work planning as well. Take the breaks, don’t overflow your calendar, make sure you focus on what’s important and block time for high cognitive tasks.
High cognitive tasks & their environment.
Things that take a lot of brain power, finding solutions to problems. Learning new skills. Doing the hard things basically, need a certain setting for your brain to be able to focus. the first one being, no distractions. So no phones, no interruptions and ideally no screens. Or no internet connected screens.
Make sure the desk is clean, with just the things you need, and a pen and some paper for taking notes. Yes paper notes, by writing your brain remembers things better. So take any preferred notebook, blank sheets of paper, and start writing. Draw things. Any way that helps you remember the things you want too learn or work out the solution to a problem. And be able to reproduce them.
Set a clock and take a break of 5 or 10 minutes every half hour. You need to practice this. We live in a world of distraction and its not easy staying focused. It takes time. First few attempts might exhaust you.
Your weekly planning is an overview of important tasks and activities. More importantly plan your rest and preferable take one or two moments in your week doing nothing, making sure you have playtime or just hanging around. The most important thing is breathing room and consistency. Yielding results is far more about continuing working that it is about short periods of hard work on your passion project and then months of no work at all.
And last but not least, have fun !