Like most people, I waste a lot of my week. Some of this waste comes from endless meetings with little output. Other parts of my week are wasted purely because I do not have a plan for what to do next. My workdays can be full of meetings which can make it easy to get lost in the day-to-day and not progress towards my bigger work goals. I work hard, but I always feel I could do more.
I have tried all sorts of productivity tips and tricks, but very few of them stick. However, a Sunday planning ritual has been a big part of my working life for the last decade. Every Sunday, I sit in a coffee shop with paper and a pan and plan my week.
This ritual started when I first got married. We both worked long hours outside of the home and got very little time in the house when we were not cooking, cleaning, or preparing for work. My mum sat me down and explained the importance of time in the house alone, so I created this time for my wife to have regular space in our small flat when I was not around. I would walk down the road to the town centre and get a coffee or two and plan my week. This Continued and has become a key part of my week since. This process prepares me for the week ahead and clears my head for better focus on Monday morning.
This process usually involves four distinct steps:
Step 1: Mind dump – tasks, ideas, and commitments
Step 2: Review the previous week – write a weekly update for my teams
Step 3: Unstructured plan for the week – write a plan.txt
Step 4: Identify a ‘Highlight’ task for each day and which days I must commute into the office.
I review the plan each morning and time block my most important tasks, including my 90-minute deep work block.
If you have a job that requires you to complete work that can’t be completed in a single day, you need to write weekly plans. Spending time to plan how you will spend your week will allow you to get more done by identifying what you need to do and then moving your commitments around to make space. Daily planning for 5 minutes each morning using time-blocking is the best way to be productive. Still, most of us have projects that can last weeks or months; starting with a high-level weekly overview will help you make room for these daily plans, first dividing the work into smaller chunks and then moving around your commitments to fit these into your schedule. Weekly planning will also allow you to find time for your two hours of deliberate practice each day.
Build smart weekly plans. Use these plans to develop effective daily time-block schedules. Execute those daily schedules with intensity, and then when done for the day, shut down completely. Cal Newport
Start with a blank A4 page and do a mind dump of everything you can think of that you need to get done. Not using a specific format provides flexibility for the challenges and specifics of the coming week. You might choose a chronological approach where you write the days of the week with some bullet points for each day to support time blocking, or you may take a thematic approach for weeks that are taken up by meetings and appointments. Planning using themes will allow you to fit tasks around when you have free time.
Do a weekly plan on the weekend or first thing Monday morning. I prefer Sunday afternoons after lunch at a coffee shop to keep focused on the task and get out of the house. It can take 30-60 minutes to do a brain dump, look through your calendar, review current projects in your planning system and possibly empty your email inbox. I like to write a short, three minute read, review of the week for my team as part of the process but this can take extra time.
It’s this combination of high-level weekly plans with detailed daily time-block schedules that unlocks the full potential of this productivity system. The Weekly/Daily approach is what allows you to move around obligations like pieces on a chessboard and construct configurations of your schedule that enable you to accomplish head-turning amounts of work, all while staying on top of the various small requests and tasks pulling at your attention. Cal Newport
My one o’clock Sunday afternoon calendar prompt
The following text is in a recurring calendar event on Sundays at 1 PM. I go to my favourite local coffee shop, get a strong coffee, put my headphones on, and work through the steps.
Calendar event text:
Aim: Have all your time accounted for (including rest/relaxation/recovery time)
- Step 1: Mind dump – tasks, ideas, and commitments.
- Step 2: Review the previous week – write a three-minute summary and send it to the team.
- Step 3: Unstructured plan for the week – write a plan.txt.
- Step 4: review plan daily.
Ideas for weekly planning
- Set weekly goals – one per role (husband, student etc.) and sharpening the saw goals (physical, mental, social, and spiritual).
- Reoccuring time blocks – 1. sharpening the saw 2. daily planning.
- Plan your big rocks – most important tasks – block them on the calendar.
- Fill in the gaps from using the mind dump.