How to Prioritize: My New System for Planning My Weeks
A couple months ago I posted a video about “How I Organize My Life” that ended up becoming one of my most popular posts ever.
It was an honest look at how I was actually organizing my life — and I still use many of the tools and tactics I shared.
But, how I was organizing my tasks was just way too complex. It was getting the job done, but I had 3+ different systems going at one time, and it just wasn’t as focused as I wanted it to be.
I wanted a new, better system, but that already was my better system. 😛
Until now! I’m excited to share that I’ve found a much better way to plan and organize my schedule that is similar, but much better. I can’t take any credit for it, though — It’s based on part of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. (Which I read recently and really enjoyed!)
This new system is more realistic, more streamlined, and much more focused on my priorities (something that my old system wholly lacked).
So, let’s get into it! Here’s my new system for planning my days, weeks, and months around my priorities.
Step 1: Figure Out Your Priorities
In order to plan your schedule around your priorities, you first need to know what your priorities are, obviously. To figure this out, do these two exercises:
A) Ask yourself: What do you value in life?
Your answers might include things like… family, freedom, love, faith, learning new things, honesty, friendship, fun, energy, joy, spending time with your children, relationships, adventure, etc.
B) Determine your objectives (goals) for each of your roles in life.
We all have different responsibilities (or “roles”) in life. Personally, I’m a mom, wife, business owner, marketing strategist, teacher, housekeeper, and a few other things. You probably have other roles! Perhaps you’re a supervisor, board member, employee, or responsible for taking care of your parents.
Create a list of each of your roles in life. (Or, you can fill them out on this worksheet.) Then, think about what your objectives are in each of these roles. What are your working to accomplish as a mom, blogger, or owner of a small business? Make sure these goals are in alignment with your values that you identified in the first exercise.
Only when you have objectives (goals) can you truly know how you should best be spending your time, and which tasks you should prioritize.
Step 2: What tasks are aligned with your priorities?
Now that you know what you’re trying to accomplish, you can think about what you need to do in order to reach those goals! For this, we can use an “important/urgent” matrix.
Basically, the idea here is that some things are “important” (driving your closer to your goals), others are “urgent” (necessary for not driving off cliffs), others are both important AND urgent, and some are neither.
Take a look at all the tasks currently on your to do list. Where do they fall on the matrix?
Of course, important+urgent tasks are always the highest priority, but after that, important tasks should be getting most of your time. Tasks that are only “urgent” should be delegated as much as possible, and not-important/not-urgent tasks should be ignored — unless they are recreation.
I use the Important/Urgent matrix when I plan my weeks, to make sure that my schedule is focused on those tasks that are truly in line with my priorities.
Step 3: Don’t forget anything!
As we go through each day, there are always little things that come up: tasks we remember that need to get done, appointments we schedule, things we think of that we keep forgetting to do…
It’s not efficient or productive to chase all these little things down their rabbit trails, so we have to somehow save them for later, when we can give them their proper attention, rather than just being distracted from what we are supposed to currently be working on.
For this, I use two extremely simple systems: a calendar, and a to do list.
I have Google calendar on my phone and computer, so it’s with me pretty much wherever I go. Whenever any sort of appointment or commitment gets schedules, I immediately mark it down on my calendar so that I won’t forget it. (Totally necessary for being a dependable, responsible person who others can count on!)
I also carry a tiny notebook that I keep a running to do list in. Whenever random tasks are brought to my attention, I jot them down in the notebook and then continue on with my current project. This allows me to (intentionally) forget about the other task so that I don’t get distracted from what I’m supposed to be working on.
Step 4: Plan Your Weeks
Okay, so finally we get to do some planning! At the start of each week (I like to do this on Sunday, but you can do it whenever works for you), I sit down with my list of priorities, my calendar, my to do list, and a weekly planner.
First, I look at my list of priorities and plan tasks that will move me closer to my objectives.
“Spend more time with my kids…”
becomes: “Park day on Tuesday”
“Attract Facebook advertising clients…”
becomes: “Start new advertising campaign on Wednesday”
“Publish 2nd book…”
becomes: “Edit two chapters on Thursday”
Second, I look at my to do list. Any tasks that are “urgent” and aligned with my priorities get planned into my week. If there are urgent things that are unimportant, then I minimize them as much as possible. Some of them can be ignored. Some can be delegated to other people. Some remind me of commitments that I really should extract myself from as soon as I can responsibly do so. (Bake 27 pies for the fundraiser!? WHY did I ever agree to do this??)
Third, I copy any scheduled appointments from my monthly calendar onto my weekly planner. This ensures that I won’t forget them.
Step 5: Schedule Your Days (optional)
This final step is totally optional — and I only do it on my busier work days. Basically, though, if I have a LOT of tasks scheduled for any given day, then the night before I like to write out an actual schedule for the next day.
This really helps me to pace myself throughout the day, accomplish everything on my agenda, and not feel overwhelmed. When I see how long each task will take, and how easily and neatly they all fit into the hours I have available, I don’t feel so stressed out about getting it all done.
Like I mentioned above — I don’t plan every day out to this level of detail. But when my to do list is long, I find it really helps things run more smoothly.
How to Keep Your Planning Simple (Yet Effective)
I know five steps might seem like too many for this to be truly simple, but, remember:
- the first two steps (figuring out your priorities and using the important/urgent matrix) only need to be done once, and then reviewed periodically.
- Step #3 is simply the process of jotting down reminders — something you’re probably doing already. Now you’re just going to be a tiny bit more organized about it.
- Step #4 you do once per week. It’s an investment that will make your week WAY more productive.
- Step #5 is optional, and only needed for busier days.
This isn’t a system that needs to take you a whole lot of time — and certainly shouldn’t cause any stress! After your initial “prioritizing” session, you can keep this up by investing just about an hour per week. A small price to pay to keep your schedule well organized and focused on your priorities!
If you haven’t already, be sure to download the free planning pack that goes along with this post! Inside, you’ll find a copy of the prioritization worksheet, important/urgent matrix, weekly agendas, and daily schedules. You can print these out and pop them in a binder to create your own planner!
Here’s the link to download the free planning pack now >> www.gillianperkins.com/priority-planning-pack/