How to Think, Plan and Prioritise

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.Sun Tzu

I love the above quote from the Art of War by Sun Tzu.  

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.  Many professionals are extremely effective.  They are results focused, know where they are heading, are clear on the activities they need to complete to achieve their vision, and have measurable goals.  Unfortunately, if they’re not efficient it can take a long time to achieve their goals. They may need to work more hours than otherwise would be necessary and are often stressed out.  

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. You can be extremely efficient with your time.  You can have a clean desk, you can batch your email regularly, you can fight off time wasting habits like procrastination but still not be successful if you’re not focused on the right activities.

When we work with clients we help them overcome their visible and invisible productivity issues.  Efficiency related habits are usually visible.  They’re about the environment, email, and interactions with their team.

Habits related to effectiveness are less visible.  They are essentially about thinking, planning and action.  The key to effectiveness is to be clear on your goals and high impact activities.  It’s about prioritising, taking massive action, and reviewing and changing if necessary.  

It all starts with clarity.  Effectiveness is about aligning day-to-day action with strategy.

Most organisations should have a clear strategy.  This strategy should inform the goals of each division.  Divisional goals should inform team and individual key performance indicators (KPI’s).  KPI’s should inform key projects and activities, which should in turn inform what team members do each day.

To ensure alignment between strategy and execution we recommend three strategies:

1.         Quarterly thinking: Getting clear on your priorities

2.         Weekly planning: Taking time every week to block out time for high-value work, and set boundaries around low value work

3.         Daily action:  Remaining present and focused on each task and taking massive action towards your goals each day.   

Quarterly Thinking

When determining your quarterly areas of focus think about the 20% of activities which will bring 80% of your performance.

When you’ve completed the plan check in with your manager to ensure alignment.  This conversation is critical as it ensures you’re both on the same page as your priorities.  After all, it’s usually your manager who determines your bonus and salary increases.  

Share your priorities with your staff and have them complete plans. Renew them each quarter.    

Key Areas of FocusResponsibilitySuccess factorsHigh Impact ActivitiesPerformance Indicators
The 2 or 3 projects or activities that will have a long-term impact on your performance and goals.What is your responsibility when it comes to this area of focus?  What you must focus on next quarter in detail.  What will be the smart outcomes at the end of the quarter (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound).What are the few things you need to do weekly to achieve these outcomes?What are the simple weekly indicators that will predict whether you will achieve your outcomes? (for example, if your focus is BD- a performance indicator may be number of client meetings you have each week).
Use this table to plan your key priorities each quarter.

Weekly Planning

Case Study. Catherine managed a large operations team within a global company. 

She felt she wasn’t in control of her time.  She didn’t feel she was realistic with her time and didn’t have time for unexpected things when they came up.  

She didn’t feel she was giving her attention to the things she needed to and was spending her time on uninteresting but urgent and tactical tasks.  The impact was she felt disengaged and uninspired at work.  She wanted to provide more value to her organisation and work on more stimulating projects.  

Catherine struggled to switch off at the end of the day.  She worked every single night at home and sometimes on the weekend.  She felt mentally exhausted and her family life had become chaotic.

She wanted to know what was important to achieve going into each week, and wanted to know it had been completed at the end of each week.  She felt she was easily distracted and also procrastinated on work she considered boring.

Catherine is clear on her goals and feels she has good task management and prioritisation skills.  She found her team didn’t always keep track of the work which was allocated to them, and she either needed to follow them up, or they would “forget “important work. 

She started by managing her dependencies in a more effective manner.  She would follow others up by either putting time in people’s diaries or doing a “desk walk” to check in on things.  

She started taking walks at lunchtime to restore her energy which also helped her focus better in the afternoon.  

She put aside time after meetings to ensure commitments she made in meetings were either actioned or scheduled into her diary.  

She made sure her diary had breathing space so she wasn’t “back to back” and so she had time for urgent work that would inevitably come up during the day.  

She became ruthless with her due dates.  She started using her task management focus to keep on top of her work, and to schedule work for her team.  She became more vigilant with following up on tasks and updating stakeholders.  

Her keystone habit was getting her family ready each night for the next day, packing lunches and getting clothes ready.  This ensured everything ran smoothly each morning.  

The game changer for Catherine was planning.  It helped her to be more realistic about what she could achieve, and scheduled in her high-value work.  She delegated tasks more efficiently and learned to start saying “no”.  She stuck to her schedule and batched her email twice per day.

On completion of our time together Catherine said she felt more in control of her work.  She was calmer when she returned home, because she felt calm and in control when she got home she was more tolerant with her children.  Because she was more tolerant with her children, they were calmer and better behaved. 

If you do nothing else as a result of reading this book take time to plan each week and batch your email.  Those two habits are the habits which give the greatest return on investment.  

Put aside time for planning each week and keep this time as sacred. I find my clients often have resources available to them they don’t use simply because they haven’t put time aside to plan and delegate accordingly.

When you’ve clearly identified your purpose, planning time each week can help you ensure you’re thinking ahead, prioritising the right activities and projects, and spending time with the right people.

Why this works:  When you put 30 to 60 minutes aside each week to plan the week and weeks ahead, you can identify how much time you have available to you, the work you wish to complete, what can be delegated to others, and what should not be done.  You’ll find you become more realistic about what can be achieved, and you’re moving valuable projects forward.

How to do it:  Schedule time in your diary each week (ideally Friday or Monday) for planning time and consider this time as sacred.  While it seems like you’re taking time away from other work, you’ll discover this saves you hours and hours each week.

The Structure of Weekly Planning Time

1.         Review what you have on your plate for the next few weeks (upcoming events, deadlines etc.);

2.         Schedule time into your diary for high-value work (projects, stakeholder meetings etc.);

3.         Identify work which can be delegated to other people (if easy, delegate via email, or send a meeting request to “hand over” the task);

4.         Follow up on anything outstanding from what you delegated last week;

5.         Prepare your agendas for your meetings;

6.         Take time for reflection:

  • What worked well this week?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What will I do differently next time?
  • Who should I thank/connect with? (Write thank you email/SMS if appropriate).

Your Weekly Planning Habit

Every week review and plan for the following week.

  • Start with your big rocks in mind:
  • Review your quarterly plan;
  • Review your key projects; and
  • Identify your high impact activities.

The Effective Work Week

Once you’ve spent time identifying your high-value activities by using the quarterly thinking template, and you’ve used your weekly planning template you will have an idea of what your effective workweek should look like.

This is about blocking out time for high-value work, and setting boundaries around low value tasks. 

At this point it is time to think about the natural rhythm of your week:

  • What is the best day for you to plan?  (often a Friday or Monday)
  • What are the best days for you to do sales calls?
  • When is the best time to do follow up calls?
  • Which days will you exercise?
  • When is the best time for you to do project work?
  • Can you work from home on particular days to get desk work completed?
  • When is the best day for team meetings and one-on-ones?

When you’ve identified the best days for particular tasks, consider how the rhythm of your day works:

  • Are you more productive in the morning or afternoon?
  • When is the best time for you to complete high-value work?
  • When is the best time for you to call clients?
  • When is the best time of day to conduct meetings?

Block out time for email batching, high-value activities, regular meetings etc.  This will allow you greater control of your diary and to be more effective by focusing on the big rocks before you let others put in their smaller rocks. 

Act Daily

When I ask people if they plan, they’ll often reply “yes, I plan out my day every morning.”  That’s not planning, it’s prioritising. 

If you’ve done the thinking you need to become clear on your high-value activities, and you’ve spent time planning out each week, when you hit your desk you should be clear on your priorities and able to act on them immediately.  

Assuming you’ve blocked out time for high-value work, and reactive work like checking and responding to email, and allowed around 20per cent of your day for urgent work, your day should only need a few tweaks unless something massive and unavoidable happens.

Don’t plan daily.  

Stick to your calendar and have faith in the great habits you’ve developed.

Don’t try to be popular.  

Don’t fall into habit of agreeing to work in an effort to be popular. You’ll be respected for doing a great job.  Likewise, be aware of losing your time on social interruptions.

Get the most out of daily action by being focused and present.  Alternate intense periods of action and focus with downtime to restore your energy.  

The Ineffective Day

When people start focusing on their productivity they load their calendar with back-to-back work and commitments.  The problem with this is there’s no breathing space for crisis, nor is there time to action or diarise commitments you’ve made in your back-to-back meetings.  

For example, the tasks listed in the example below include a variety of tasks which will take anytime from five minutes to several hours to complete.  Remember to use your calendar to block out activities which will take longer than five minutes, and your task function or to do list for shorter tasks.  

The Effective Day

The effective day has:

  • Time put aside for batching;
  • Time put aside for lunch and downtime;
  • Room in the diary for crisis (20per cent); and
  • Tasks which are only short tasks and are achievable in your task list.  

Calls to action:

  • Create and Confirm Your Quarterly Plan
    • Create your quarterly plan 
    • Consult your manager 
    • Create a working file for quarterly and weekly planning
  • Commit to Weekly Planning
    • Schedule a recurring appointment with yourself to complete your weekly plan
  • Implement your effective week
    • Design your effective week (block out time for email, thinking time, project time, rest time)
    • Create required recurring appointments
  • Scripts 
    • Develop your “no “scripts.  Write them in your journal and practice saying them. For instance, “I would love to help, however this week I am booked out.”

Habits to work on:

  • Put aside time once per quarter to define your quarterly plan
  • Put aside time once per week for weekly planning.  Make this time sacred.  This habit is a game changer.
  • Prioritise daily and take massive action.  

Let me know how you go.

Keep moving forward,

Cholena xoxo

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