Building Blocks for good planning habits

How to build better planning habits.

There is no shortage of Daily, Weekly Monthly planning methods. Not all are a good match for where you may happen to be in your journey and what you're trying to accomplish.

But if you look at them in aggregate you'll notice all these different planners and planning methods tend to use a common set of building blocks for planning.

Take a minute to understand those building blocks and you'll see your life differently. And you'll end up with a very exciting path of learning and increasing your effectiveness.

You'll start learning how to mix and match those building blocks to give yourself the planning habits you actually need instead of just trying out lots of other people's methods, and feeling bad because you can't force fit them into your life.  

First some basics

Everyone can benefit from a general pattern of:

  • setting your intent  
  • attempting and executing that intent
  • learning from and celebrating that experience.

Its just innate to how we work and how we experience life.

But planning is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. You want to find what works best for you.

Different people need different cadences. For example some people might do a planning process once a day, once a week, or maybe at a different cadence. And different people need different types of planning habits.  

Let's dig in.

5 Planning habits & what they're good for

1. The Simple Checklist

The Concept: Every day make a list of things to do, and check them off as you do them.  

It gives you a simple, fast way to set up a list of things you don't want to forget. And you can easily order the list by priorities, or what needs to be done 1st 2nd, 3rd.  

Watch Out For:

  • False sense of accomplishment: checking stuff off a list feels good, but are the most impactful things getting done?
  • Tends to get longer and longer as tasks flow over into the following day.
  • Adding too many things without some filtering mechanism

2. The Goals Reminder

Revisiting and reminding yourself of your goals on a daily or weekly basis. Helps keep them top of mind and more influential in your daily choices.

Why it helps: It’s so easy for day-to-day urgencies to make you forget your long-term goals. Time heals, but it also hardens. The passing of time can sometimes convince us that our long-term goals must not be feasible, or our dreams aren't worth it, because so much time has passed and they still haven't happened.

But the reality is, when our goals don't get done, its not because they were truly impossible, or "not meant to be". They didn't get done because we didn’t remember and refocus on them each day.

So taking even just a few minutes at the start of each day or sometime during the day to remind yourself of your bigger picture goals is a super important habit.

Bring this habit into the mix if you feel like you're just checking off daily short-term to-dos but not making progress on your bigger goals.  

3. Self-querying: What do you really want?

The concept: Spend time thinking about, and writing down the answers to these questions:  

  • What you really want (to attain, do, learn etc) in a specific time period (end of this year, in the next 3 years etc)  
  • Why you want it (and when you answer, ask "why" again to drill down to why - some advise asking why five times)
  • How you will feel when you get it? Another way to get to the "why."

Some people frame this within time and money scenarios:

  • If you had 6 months to live what would you do?
  • If you had enough money you didn't need to work a job, what would you do?  

This planning habit can be particularly helpful if you are in one of these places:

  • You've adopted someone else's definition of success instead of creating your own.
  • You are feeling "stuck", dissatisfied with your situation, and/or "swamped" - spending a lot of time on things that aren't meaningful to you.

A warning: this might be the most difficult planning habit of all. Deciding what you actually want is vital.

To illustrate how important it is to figure out what you really want, think about where these three questions could lead you:

  • What are the most urgent things to get done today?
  • What could I do today that will have the most long term impact, or make the biggest difference one or two years from now?
  • What will feel good to get done?

Those are often 3 different things. And doing the tasks in one category will mean deferring tasks in another. Tradeoffs. So you have to build a habit of deciding and reconfirming what you really want so you will know how you want to spend your focus and your time.

4. Writing or Journaling

Spending a few minutes each morning (or at the beginning of your planning process), writing whatever comes to mind can help you surface:

  • Anxieties (that make you procrastinate or miss crucial opportunities),
  • Fixations (office politics, professional envy, grudges)
  • Negative beliefs (I can't do ___ ) or other thought processes that are holding you back.

In addition, free open thinking and writing time can spawn some valuable ideas or insights you can use in your work.

Many feel like this can just also help clear your mind so you can then focus on setting your intention for the day.

A couple of related versions of this:

  • Reflecting on the Day/Week before, what worked, what didn't,  what to tweak.
  • What I like to call The Regroup - journaling on a blank page where I think I am in a specific project or learning process, what has happened so far and what I need to focus on next.  

5. Time Blocks

This involves taking the list of things you intend to do today and scheduling them - placing them in blocks of time on your calendar.

If it doesn't get into your schedule, it probably won't get done. So if its important to you - schedule it. Don't fall into the trap of using your calendar only for work-related stuff. It can help you manage your entire day.  

Creating time blocks for important tasks each day can take time, and it can require some rescheduling or coordination. But it is way worth it. It dramatically increases the your chances of getting done what you want to get done each day.

Create your own mix

I hope you’ve seen from this scan that there are different building blocks for building a well-planned well executed day.

There is no one perfect approach for planning your life and getting the most out of your time and skills. There are multiple approaches, but they all tend to use this similar set of building blocks which I’ve outlined here. Because you now understand these building blocks, you can experiment to see which mix works best for you!

Why this is so helpful to change leaders

Change leaders must often work in two worlds at once: building the capabilities of tomorrow while also playing some kind of critical role in operating the capabilities of today. It means change leaders must be doubly effective in managing their time and focus.  

What makes these work

Don't worry about doing the exact right process in exactly the right way. That's not what makes this work. What makes it work is you regularly setting aside undistracted time, and testing different methods until you find the set of planning habits that give you what you need.

Best of luck to you in the days ahead!