Productivity: It’s something most of us want to integrate into our lives. If we’re productive in our work, we allow ourselves more time for relationships and rest—the things that matter most. Yet even our best intentions for a productive week come to naught when we become our own worst enemy! You know what I mean: Netflix, the bottomless pit of Internet memes or late-night texting distracts us from what we know we need to do.
You CAN have a productive week, every week, with a little planning and self control. Following are six steps to planning out your week for maximum productivity. Sunday nights or afternoons are well suited to this kind of planning. Turn off your phone, get some coffee and take out your planner—it’s time to prepare for a productive week!
Start with outside commitments.
The first thing to write into your planner are your outside commitments: classes, parties, meetings and appointments. I like to highlight these with the same color highlighter so I know they are nonnegotiable; I have to attend, and everything else in my calendar must work around these events.
If you’re a student, I would add in any assignments due that week. Write them down on the day they are due and use a different color highlighter for these (this is especially helpful if you are both in school AND working, like I was for many years).
Write down the five must-do tasks for the week.
One you’ve articulated the appointments for the week, choose five tasks that absolutely MUST be done. Don’t do more than five or less than three. These must happen sometime within the week. Break them down into smaller tasks and separate the tasks over the course of the next seven days. You’ll make progress on each to-do without overwhelming yourself. On the day of the task, try setting a timer for 15 minutes and dedicating that time to whichever one you’ve chosen.
Choose one nagging task you’ve been putting off and schedule it into your week.
Calling the dentist, sorting your bathroom drawer, taking clothes to Goodwill…those annoying tasks that are always there and never done need to be scheduled! Choose one nagging task you’ve put off and choose a day to do it. Divide it into smaller tasks if necessary—e.g., sort clothes, bag donations, put bags in car, take donations to Goodwill after work on Tuesday. Be specific!
Plan out your meals, outfits and any other small tasks that take up time.
Each time we make a decision, our brain exerts energy. By pre-planning those small decisions, you free your brain for the bigger mental tasks it must undertake. That’s why you feel less stressed and anxious when you KNOW what’s for dinner that evening instead of coming home from work or school and having to figure it out.
When I was working full time, I would set out five outfits on Sunday night—on hangers in my closet—and choose one each day of the week. Some people assign outfits to certain days, and I did that when I had important meetings, but I liked the freedom of choosing an outfit each day. It was still planned and less stressful, but creative at the same time. You can do the same thing with meals.
Revisit your plan each evening.
Each evening before bed you can do a “brain dump”—writing out everything in your mind before you go to sleep. This improves your sleep and stress levels, and it’s a great time to look over your planner and revisit what you need to do the next day. You can adjust any changes and move tasks around as needed.
Lastly, be flexible! A rigid schedule leads to stress, but a flexible routine moves as you do. If your meeting gets cancelled or you’re too sick for the dentist, adjust the schedule accordingly and don’t worry about it. Tomorrow is a new day! Start fresh. Don’t compare. And remember: progress, not perfection.