When it comes to looking ahead, I don't care about the month, the quarter, or the year. I care about the week. I work hard to distill all my high-value tasks into a "Weekly Plan" to maximize my output. I do this through "Weekly Planning", the practice of crafting a plan for the week ahead.
Every Friday, I set aside an hour to perform Weekly Planning.
It's common to hear recommendations on doing Weekly Planning on Sundays. I don't. I believe strongly in removing myself from "the grind" and focus of the work-week on the weekends. I want to focus on time with my family. This also has the effect of heightened-focus during the week because I know the weekend is unavailable time.
There are two steps to my Weekly Planning:
- Review. In order to look ahead, we first need to look behind. What went well last week? How are my goals and projects progressing? This serves as a retrospective for the past week in order to inform the structure and iterative improvements of the upcoming week.
- Create. Now it's time to create our plan, which, for me, comes to life as a custom page in Notion, combining next week's objectives and a day-by-day breakdown of my tasks.
You don't have to use Notion to create a Weekly Plan. As I've proffered before, the tools matter far less than the underlying principles. What matters is taking the time to look ahead proactively vs. reactively responding to changes that arise.
In the first part of Weekly Planning, I review:
- Thoughts & Ideas
- Notes & Learnings
- Calendar & Events
- Future Tasks
What are the accomplishments — big and small — from this past week? It's important to identify and track our victories to not lose the forest through the trees. Take time to appreciate the great work you've done.
- I merged in a big Pull Request I was working on.
- I had a great 1:1 with another team member.
I have a Notion database (called "Incubator") for capturing thoughts, ideas, questions, and all the fast-and-loose minutia not quite ready for action.
Each item follows a Kanban-style flow through three phases:
This is a method for solving problems from "Traction" by Gino Wickham.
The short version:
- Identify the root cause of the issue.
- Discuss possible solutions.
- Solve the issue with a clear solution to test.
Regardless of how this manifests in your system, it's vital to document and review your thoughts, ideas, and notes. Don't disregard them to gather dust in the corner of the closet (of your mind?).
Take time to review all of these items to integrate into your mental model as you look ahead to next week.
I have another Notion database (called "Mind Palace", a shout-out to Sherlock Holmes' "Mind Palace") for capturing learnings.
If I read an article that resonates with me, or listen to a podcast with nuggets of wisdom, or go deep into learning a new technical topic, I document it in my "Mind Palace" database. This is a place to regularly revisit and identify ideas, methods, and practices I can implement in the next week.
If you keep notes on the content and information you ingest, review it.
I review my calendar for the next week, both personal and work. I want a full understanding of my time. How many meetings and events do I have? How much time do I have for deep, focused work?
Before I decide on the what, I need to know the when.
Being realistic with your time puts you on the path to an effective week.
I'm flexible with goals. Some of my goals are short-term (a month out), some of my goals are long-term (by end-of-year). I add and remove goals regularly, constantly assessing each one's value to my vision and mission. They have clear objectives and key results (OKRs), which make it easy to know when they're complete.
A goal exists to provide guardrails for my time and energy on the most high-value work. If it's no longer serving that purpose — or circumstances change and redirect its need to exist — I get rid of it. Don't be afraid to remove goals that no longer serve you.
I review my goals to identify the right focus for next week.
Projects are encapsulated areas for tracking related tasks anchored on a single objective. They are the life-blood of my system, vehicles by which goals are completed.
My general rule of thumb is this: if there is more than one important task necessary to complete an objective, it's a project. I have these tracked in Notion — and through the power of Notion's relational databases — I link them directly to my goals in a separate database.
I review each project's objectives, key results, tasks, notes, and resources.
While it's true I don't care about units-of-measurement beyond a week, reality necessitates keeping track of tasks further out. I use my "Horizon" database in Notion to hold all tasks across a timeline beyond the current week: next week, this month, next month, this quarter, and this year.
Having a dedicated space for these tasks allows me to remove the distraction of what is in front of me, and focus only on the current week.
I review this list, focusing on the tasks in the "Next Week" bucket, which is now relevant to the Weekly Plan I'm putting together.
With all parts of my system reviewed, it's time to create the Weekly Plan.
- Add events to my calendar. I block out my time for focus blocks through a strategy called "Time Blocking". At this point, I've officially "locked in" my week and will not accept new meeting invites unless there are extenuating circumstances.
- Create new habits. If I need to establish a new habit in the next week — which is something I'm constantly experimenting with — I'll create the habit and set it up in my habit tracker.
- Set highlights. I stole the term "highlight" from the book "Make Time" by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, which recommends setting a "highlight" for each day to steer your focus. In that same vein, I like to set three highlights for the next week, which are written as outcomes based on the highest-priority goals I'm focusing on. For example, "Release the first version" could be a highlight. This would be tied to a goal and achieved through a project.
- Update projects. I go through each project and add at least one action-item to move the project forward.
- Add tasks. Finally, I add all my tasks across the week, focusing on Monday to Friday, occasionally working in household tasks for the weekend. I make sure each task is assigned to a specific day based on the focus blocks I have available that day.
Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Mike Tyson
Having a plan is great, but how can we handle things going south? Do we abandon our plan and react to whatever hits us?
The plan — and the activity of creating the plan — narrows our focus on the essential. When things change, we now have a barometer for handling it. We know our goals; we know our projects; we know our highlights; we know what time we have.
That is what matters, and it's how we adapt to whatever is thrown our way.