Many people have a potent love/hate relationship with planning. For most of us, the planning process is a blast. It means planners and stationery and writing out to-do lists. If we're really creative, we indulge in stickers and faux calligraphy and fountain pens. Planning is pretty fun. Implementation is a lot less fun.
You sit down and write out your to-do list for the day. You've color coded and time blocked and prepped your batch tasks. Everything will be done by 7:30pm so you can have family time while everyone winds down from the day, and you'll be the superhero for knocking out your tasks.
Suddenly it's 9:30pm and you just finished re-watching an entire season of The Office. (Fun fact: I haven't watched The Office even though I'm married to a Michael Scott.) And you sort of half ticked one of your checklist boxes because at least you considered doing it and intent is the first step, right? Besides, "this was just a general list for the week. I have time."
My blog is called "The Lazy Source." I see right through that . . . because I'M YOU.
Where did we go wrong?
1. You confuse your to-do list with a brain dump.
Planning too many tasks or tasks that take too long to complete.
Having no focus and jumping arbitrarily between types of tasks.
Feeling discouraged by a load of incomplete tasks.
Play this out in your head, and tell me you haven't done it.
You wake up, get ready, and start thinking about your day. You pull out a pad of paper or your favorite notes app and begin writing down what needs to get done. Good for you! You're creating a written plan so you can get stuff done!
Wrong. You've just dumped the contents of your brain and created a master to-do list.
What you haven't created is a daily to-do list. Usually, not even a weekly one when you're brain dumping.
A master to-do list is great. In fact, I highly recommend you maintain one! They're the perfect way to make sure that, at least someday, you'll knock out those important projects.
But here's how it should look.
Every now and then (your choice), you sit down and brain dump. You think of every project you want to do, every task that needs to get done, and write it out (or type it, which is probably best for organizing later!). When this task inevitably starts leading to inspiration and ideas, you get those out in writing as well - you don't ever want to let an idea slip through the cracks to be forgotten!
Then, you go over the list and start prioritizing and organizing. Your capacity for this depends on whether or not you wrote your list or typed it, but you can make it work either way. I keep my lists for blog, work, and personal items separate. Then, look for the most important and/or time sensitive items!
These priority items are where you'll pull from for your actual daily/weekly/monthly planning.
So seriously, don't use your daily to-do list as your brain dump. You want to create to-do lists that you can actually accomplish.
2. You're seriously misjudging time.
Planning too many tasks or tasks that take too long to complete.
Feeling like you're unproductive.
Feeling like there's never enough time in the day.
Have you ever set aside, say, 2 hours to write a blog post that ended up taking you 3 days?
Have you ever thought, "I'll just squeeze in a trip to the grocery store, I'll be back in 40 minutes" and realized it was a 20 minute drive one way after you hit the road?
These things do happen. (Please tell me I have readers who love Phantom of the Opera and went back to read that in Carlotta's voice.)
One of my own biggest struggles is drastically overestimating my ability to work quickly. Which doesn't make sense because I've known my entire life that I'm both a perfectionist and a person who processes information veeeeeerry sloooooowly. Even the simple stuff.
Yet I still fail to give myself the time I need to complete a project, and it can feel so defeating.
Unfortunately, the only way to really get past this is with some experience. Everyone works at a different pace, so no one can really give you an exact timeline. It'll come with practice, but for now, be conscious of the problem and don't beat yourself up too much over it.
As an accountant, I work on billable hours, so I'm accustomed to tracking my entire day in 15-minute intervals. When I started applying this to my blog, it really opened my eyes to how time consuming these tasks are! If 15 minutes is too much, try 30 minutes, or even an hour. You can download an app or simply jot it down on a makeshift "log" you can whip up on a plain ol' piece of printer paper. Keep it simple!
3. You don't have a strategy.
Spending time on useless/ineffective tasks.
Starting projects you're not ready for.
Wasting money on "investments" you don't need yet.
There are two ways to approach this concept of strategy, and I think both are important.
The Simple Strategy
You need a simple strategy for completing a project. Nothing crazy, but you need to know what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how you're going to do it! Most of us (especially those of us with day jobs! Or those of you outnumbered by kiddos.) don't have several hours to tackle a moderate-to-large-sized project in one sitting.
But momentum is the key to motivation, and it doesn't help to keep dragging the same "task" from to-do list to to-do list. Instead, you want to be able to break a project down into smaller tasks that you can cross off at the end of the day! It feels great, looks great, and helps you keep that project organized.
The Master Strategy
But you also need a much larger strategy. This is where most people fudge the line and justify to themselves their lack of planning.
"I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go with my blog."
"Hmm, I know I want to make money with it, so yeah! Profit motive!"
"I just really want to like, reach people, ya know?"
Not strategies, sorry.
You need to have a business plan - which includes your goals and your boundaries.
4. You don't give yourself enough free time.
Lack of energy to accomplish tasks.
Resentment towards your blog.
Pay attention to that third point. And I mean, close attention.
You've probably felt it by now. You've grown frustrated with the learning curve, or how long it takes you to write a post. You're mad at your analytics, or disheartened by the lack of engagement. We're human, so it's okay to feel emotions like these.
But if you let it all fester? That's how the dream dies. And when you are setting your blog up to fail - as in, setting it up as the bad guy in your life - you're fast-tracking the end of a journey that could change your life.
You have to give yourself room to breathe. When you're first starting, it's going to feel like a tremendous waste of time, I get it. But if you don't allow yourself time to rest, amongst all the chaos of your life, you'll burn out quicker than you can complete your next project.
I force myself to have at least one blog-free day a week. I typically aim for the weekend, but a weekday evening is sometimes enough.
5. You don't leave enough room for variables.
Not accomplishing all of your tasks.
Discouragement from lack of productivity.
Giving up on planning in general.
I'm quite certain I can count on one hand the number of times my day has gone exactly according to plan.
In fact, look ma, no hands. My day has never gone exactly according to plan.
So why aren't we planning for things like that? Planning for the unplannable seems daunting at first, but it's really quite simple. Let's think about it for a second.
Typically, our plans hit the fan when something demands more of our time than we initially expected. It could be that something took longer to get done than we thought, or something came completely out of left field that needs to be addressed RIGHT THEN.
So the solution is simply to leave room for that stuff, and have a system in place so you can reorient quickly.
I tend to plan in hour-long time blocks, limit myself to 1-3 tasks per weekday (thus, 1-3 hours per weekday), and keep a master to do list. This way, I don't overload my schedule, I give myself enough time to work, and I always know where to look when my current day's to-do list needs to be set on fire for all the good it's doing me.
I hope you've gained some better ideas for planning in a more effective manner. If you have a minute, I'd love to know - what's your favorite planning methods and tools?
Personally, I prefer paper planners with hourly layouts. Let me know your answer in the comments, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Until next time!
- Katie Scott