On Your Mark – The Practice of Personal Productivity

Ken Haigh  —  October 29, 2011 — 1 Comment

When sprinting, the importance of a good start cannot be overstated. The sprinter who has the best start usually wins. If your week is like a sprint, you would want to ensure you have a great start to the week. In this post, we will apply the tools we reviewed in the last post to the Weekly Planning Session.
Sprint Start

What is the Weekly Planning Session?
Each monday morning I spend roughly an hour preparing for my week. During the weekly planning session, I choose my highest priority items and determine what outcomes I would like to see for the week. This session gives me that great start and will make a difference in how I run the race. As described in the overview, I follow these steps:

  1. Empty inbox and create action items – My inbox contains all the stuff in my life I need to remember or take action on. If I think of something, I send myself an email. Each morning I process my inbox using the “delete, delegate, defer, and do” methodology. I avoid trying to read an email more than once. In some cases, I don’t read emails due to inbox rules I have created to automatically remove and file messages.
  2. Review lessons learned – I review last week’s lessons learned from uncompleted outcomes and tasks and seek to improve in those areas.
  3. Review and update backlog – A backlog is a prioritized list of things that need to be done. The backlog is in rank order. I move any action items created from my inbox into a backlog that I keep.
  4. Review calendar for key events over next 3 weeks – I scan my calendar for important meetings over the next few weeks and look for tasks I sent to my “future” self. The purpose is to re-prioritize backlog items that are time sensitive as well as determine how much time I have to complete my weekly outcomes.
  5. Set weekly outcomes (3-5 items) – Instead of just grabbing an item off my backlog, I use outcome visioning – viewing what wild success would look like if I completed that backlog item. David Allen, the GTD guru, states that you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it, and his advice is to view the project from beyond the completion date.
  6. Set daily tasks for Monday (3-5 items) – I determine what is the next action in achieving one or more of the weekly outcomes and set goals to accomplish those tasks for that day.
  7. Block calendar – I block off time on my calendar for the day and week to reserve adequate capacity to complete my daily tasks.

Why These Steps Work

  1. By cleaning your inbox all at once (batching), you can avoid disruption during the day (productivity killer).
  2. By prioritizing your backlog and selecting the top items, you will focus on the highest priority items and become effective in your job (not just efficient).
  3. By setting weekly outcomes, you can identify the steps needed during the week by working backwards with the outcome in mind. In addition, your outcomes will help you decide what to do and what not to do during the week.
  4. By setting just a handful of weekly outcomes, you reduce anxiety (another productivity killer) by not focusing on a large list of tasks. Your list becomes achievable.
  5. By reviewing your lessons learned, you can avoid making the same mistakes you made last week.
  6. By blocking time on your calendar, you schedule your work and keep other people’s emergencies from sucking your time. In addition, you can schedule certain items based on your energy level.

Question for you: Do you plan your week? If so, what steps do you take?