It’s common workplace wisdom that to get things done or be productive, you need to have a plan. It’s also common practice to start projects by making a list of what all needs to get done. But, there is a big difference between a to-do list and a plan. Do you know the difference?
A to-do list is simply that – a list. It’s an unorganized ledger of tasks that need to be completed at some point, by someone. While they codify objectives to execute, they do little else. In contrast, a plan is a strategy for execution. It comprises all the resources – including your own efforts and tasks – to tactically achieve an objective.
To unlock your personal productivity and really get things done, you need a plan. Follow these five steps to make a weekly plan that makes your projects achievable and helps you be as productive as possible.
- Write It Down
The most important productivity tip we can offer is to write everything down. And we mean everything.
There are multiple reasons why making a to-do list helps improve productivity. For one, writing down information helps us retain it. It’s less likely that you’ll miss an important task if you have it written down, waiting to be crossed out once completed. Plus, you’ll get the simple satisfaction of marking off those objectives.
But more than writing down your daily tasks, you should make note of anything on the horizon. For instance, if you have a project kicking off in a couple of weeks, go ahead and put that in your planner. Not only does this practice ensure that nothing falls of your radar; writing down upcoming tasks helps free your mind to focus on your more imminent deadlines.
- Break It Down
As your write down your immediate tasks, make sure to avoid a common to-do list mistake: writing down goals, rather than tasks.
The secret to a good to-do list is chronicling tasks that you can execute in a specific amount of time – often in one sitting. In contrast, goals are often too broad and take multiple steps to achieve. The problem with writing down those broad project outcomes is that they aren’t executable. They are objectives, but they are not tasks. You cannot cross them off the list after an hour or even a day of work.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore your objectives. Instead, break down your goals into manageable steps. For instance, if you are planning an event you will want to write down “Call vendors” or “Send calendar holds for the date” rather than simply “plan event”.
- Establish Priorities
As the saying goes, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” While you’ll want to write down everything, you know you won’t accomplish every task in a single day. Plan for that reality by establishing priorities for what needs to get done today, what needs to get done this week and what might simply be nice to achieve if time allows. Plan your day accordingly, separating tasks by deadline and importance.
- Keep Your Mission & Goals Top-of-Mind
To help guide your prioritization efforts, it’s important to consider both your overarching mission and your mid-term goals. These are not the same thing, though they are equally significant to address as you prioritize your daily work.
Your mission is the long-term objective that you, as well as your team and even your organization, are working to achieve. A mission might be something executable, such as ending world hunger, but even in that case the mission is complex and long-term.
More often, missions have no defined end state. It is something you will consistently work toward, with each task or project working to improve it. For instance, helping the American people through public service might be your goal.
Your goal, on the other hand, should be distinctly achievable. They are the statements of what, albeit broadly, needs to happen to meet a certain objective. For instance, your goal might be to complete a project by a certain date to support department needs. You goal might also be personal, such as sticking to a new habit for a set amount of days.
Together, your mission and your goals can help you prioritize what tasks to complete, in which order and with what amount of effort. A high-priority task will both support your mission and achieve your more defined goal.
- Apply Your Personal Productivity Habits
Do you thrive in the mornings, when your ideas and energy are fresh? Or do you need a couple cups of coffee and some personal reflection before you can really dive into your work? There’s no wrong way to approach your day, but it’s important to understand what habits work for you. Then, adjust your schedule to accommodate your peak productivity times.
For instance, if you aren’t a morning person but get a jolt of energy right after lunch, try to schedule meetings, touch bases or low-lift tasks for the early parts of your day. Carve out your afternoon for the more complex tasks that require more of your focus.
Of course, your personal productivity is more than just knowing what time of day you’re ready to tackle the hard stuff. You can also benefit from investigating other habits, like why you procrastinate and what sort of tasks energize you most. As you learn more about what makes you personally productive, try to adapt your approach and schedule to fit your style.