My planner is my lifeline. I bet you feel the same about yours, too. Without diligence, though, it can become a mess: over-stuffed with sticky notes, lists and meeting notes jotted on random pages; receipts stuffed in the front cover; phone numbers scrawled across the margins.
Planners should keep us on track, but our planners can derail our best intentions simply because we’re not using them effectively. You use your planner to set goals, budget your time, and schedule to-dos. For bigger projects, a planner allows you to map the tasks associated with the successful completion of those projects. Yet, when it comes to those bigger projects, many of us make one mistake with our planners that can cause last-minute scrambles or even missed deadlines.
Whether you use a daily, weekly, or monthly format, there is a simple fix to this common error: Schedule backwards. With this process, you can focus on a strategic action plan rather than a seemingly endless list of to-dos.
You receive an assignment, so you mark the due date in your planner. It seems logical, right? But if you continue to plan for projects to run smoothly and on time, you are setting yourself up for failure by only putting in the deadline date.
Let’s say your boss gives you two weeks to put together a sales presentation. On the day it was assigned or on a separate sheet of paper:
- Break the project down into all the individual tasks associated with completing that project (gather numbers from team, create slide deck, meet with accounting, write talking points, etc.).
- Batch similar tasks together to conserve time where possible.
- Number the tasks (or batches) in the order in which they need to be completed.
- Next to each task, write down the amount of time you estimate that the project will take.
Flip to the day before the due date. Write on that early date that the project is due. That way, if snags or problems occur, you’ll have some padding built in, and if all goes well, you’ve given yourself an extra day to run through your talk. And if you’re working on a project with other people, it’s smart to plan for an additional padded day just in case you have to pick up slack for team members.
With the list of tasks, schedule backwards. Place the last of the numbered items on your calendar, moving backwards in time. Pad each task by a few hours or even a day, if your schedule allows. This also helps define priorities in your planner, so when you come across scheduling a task on a day you have another project or event, you can move the task ahead or star it as a high priority.
Bonus: Because you pad the deadlines for each project or task that comes in, when things do run smoothly, you’ll find yourself with pockets of empty, unscheduled time. Use those moments to clean out and organize your planner so that you start your next project with a clean slate.
Meet the Writer:Maggie Marton is a freelance writer who lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with her husband and their three darling dogs. View more of Maggie’s work at MaggieMarton.com