As I wrote last week, in regard of finding the right donor, good planning is a big part of your success. Planning is a way of helping you organize your work. A good planning is a plan that is realistic for you under the circumstances, that includes reflection and monitoring and that is geared toward achieving the (end) goal. With a good planning you always know what is key and you are clear on what needs to be done. A good planning process also makes possible bottlenecks visible.

Toward achieving your goal

When you start making a plan, start by thinking about the goal. What is the goal? By when do you want it to be achieved? Please note that the end date may be set, for instance in a project proposal or a strategic plan document or some other internal or external agreement you have entered into. Break down the goal into smaller steps. If the goal should be achieved by 31 December 2021, what is needed to be achieved by 31 December 2020? So that in the year between then and 31 December 2021, you can take the final leap toward achieving the goal?

Intermediate aims

Make sure you have specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound (SMART) intermediate aims that can keep you on track for the whole period between now and the end date when the goal must be achieved. In some cases, you can set monthly intermediate aims, in others it works better to set quarterly intermediate aims. This depends on your aim, the overall timeline and yourself and your organization.

It is important to make sure the intermediate aims can be easily followed (measured, observed, shown) and that they are really contributing steps towards the end goal. Test this by asking yourself, could I achieve the end goal without achieving the intermediate aim? If the answer is yes, this is not a contributing step toward the end goal. Then you must define another intermediate aim.

Timeline

Put all your intermediate aims and the end goal in a timeline. Make a detailed timeline for the first quarter. Make a monthly plan for the next three months and make this operational every week with a week plan. From the overall plan to the monthly plan, this is something to be done in your organization, in your team. And to put up in your office.

You can quite simply draw a monthly calendar grid on a flip chart paper, on an A4 paper or on several A4 papers glued together. Or you can print out a month of your Google Calendar. Put this on your wall and write on it. You can also use this to keep track of your intermediate aims or targets. (this is what I learned when I drew a monthly plan on a flip chart and accidentally had an eighth column added to my seven-day column grid – I now use column 8 to write up my weekly targets and to add my weekly achievements for these).

Weekly plan

When you start planning in detail, do a brain dump first. List everything you think you must do in that week on a big sheet of paper. Add an estimated time needed for getting each action or task done. Include not only work-related actions but also actions you want to do for yourself, your family life, your education, your friends, etc. Now, draw a weekly grid. Start by adding in time slots for time for yourself. Move personal actions there. Then, add work-related actions to the remaining time slots. Check if that is realistic (if you are paid for 40 hours per week of work, and you plan only 24 hours of work and you have not requested leave, you might have a problem 😉)

Plan clever time slots

When putting actions in the weekly grid, keep in mind your flow. Many people are best able to focus in the morning. This makes mornings for many people more suitable for writing tasks than afternoons. Plan actions according to what works best for you. (Many people think that I am a late starter because I prefer meetings to start at 10am or later. This is because before 10am, I want to get some other things done).

Pomodoro

Think about how you can keep focused. The Pomodoro technique may be able to help you in this. According to the Pomodoro method, you work 25 minutes without distractions (no phone, no e-mail, no social media…), take a short break and move to another deep work session. After four deep work sessions you can take a longer break. Most people cannot work like this all day long but it can help as a tool to stay focused on an important task that suffers from distractions in the mornings, for instance.

Eat that frog

An alternative way of planning actions is to schedule the task that you are least looking forward to first and work on it until it is done. Brian Tracy wrote a book explaining this approach, titled: Eat that frog. Basically, the message is to get through the hard stuff first; when you are at your freshest. This way it will take the least time to get it done and you will have a sense of success for the rest of the day. Because you started with the worst thing and conquered it!

Too many things

As soon as you will start putting actions from your brain dump into your weekly grid, you will very likely see that there are more actions than can fit into the week. This is absurd, of course, but I think I can safely say that most people experience this. Especially when you are new at planning or planning new stuff. Once you notice there are more actions than time, look at what you have included in your planning. Are these really the priority actions? If not, swap some of the planned actions for priority actions. Be aware that you can likely never complete everything on your to do list. Especially not if you start including things that others put on your to do list through your inbox. See also Tony Crabbe and his book Busy.

Empty space

Make sure to keep some space in your week empty. So that you can accommodate an emergency or non-urgent (but important) unexpected development. The amount of blank space you need depends on your position in your organization and on you personally. Some say that as a director with staff, you can only plan up to 25% of your time and need to be available for what other people make into your tasks for 75% of your time on average.

Observe and reflect

Last but not least, plan a moment every week where you can look back at your plan and targets and check what you were able to do and how. What were you able to achieve? Are you satisfied about the quality of what you were able to do? Celebrate, whatever your conclusions are, that you are taking time to formulate conclusions on how the past week has gone by. Make sure you implement any lessons learned about prioritizing, about how much time certain tasks costs, about the best time of day for you to be doing certain tasks, etc. in your next week plan.

Want to know more and ask questions?

Then check out my Facebook page here. I have weekly Facebook Live sessions on my page in July 2020. The next will be on Thursday 23 July 2020 and will focus on planning and organizing your work. If you have any questions you want to submit, please drop me a note here, via e-mail or via Facebook Messenger.

The Live session will take place at 2pm, CET, but check out the announcement on the page to be sure.