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Help Me Plan My Planner!

Help me Plan my Planner by Danielle Lively

Danielle Lively Neal is a former professor turned entrepreneur who provides brand strategy consulting, career coaching and marketing services for clients.

We all learn differently, some of us are visual learners and others have to do something to learn it, they are more hands on. Just like we all learn differently, we all have different ways we like to get things done. For example, you may be a to-do list kind of gal, or maybe you like to schedule your to-do list into a calendar app, or maybe lists don’t even appeal to you at all. A lot of people back away from planning because it seems overwhelming and because none of the methods they have tried have seemed to work for them. In this blog we will show you five different methods you can try for your own planning and see what works best for you. You can even get a little freaky and combine some elements of each method if you want, that’s what I do!

First up is the Pomodoro Method. This method tends to work best for creatives and people who get burnt out easily. This method is very much based on timing. You select a task, you set a timer, and then focus intently on that task for that set amount of time. When the timer rings, you put a check next to the task you have written down and then take a short break. Then you repeat the cycle until you get done what you need to on your task. You already know you should be taking some breaks throughout the day and this method forces you to do this. It also gives a set start and end with the reward of a break, which is very encouraging to some. On a side note, a little trivia, this method is named after the Pomodoro Tomato because the creator of the method had a tomato looking timer he used :-).

The second method is the Tidder file. This is great for ladies who are big on planning and not procrastinating…this would not be me. I may be big on the idea and pretty supplies (i.e. the September Sparkle Hustle Grow box!) for planning, but I can procrastinate with the best of them! This is commonly thought of as a filing system method. For those of you who need to pick up tasks on certain days and have very strict schedules this would work well for you. Basically you have 43 files, one for each month of the year (Jan.-Dec.) and then one for each day of the month (days 1-31). You can set these files up digitally or physically. Literally, all you do is put the tasks that need to be followed up on, started or completed on a certain date in that date’s file. So, for example, let’s say you assigned a team member something that’s due next Friday, you could put that email assignment in next Friday’s folder and then follow up on it then. Maybe it’s just to check it off the list that it’s complete or follow up with your team member if it is not. If you have to follow it up again, then move it to a  folder for a few days later.

Block or batch scheduling is probably something you have heard of before and it’s perfect for analytical thinkers. This is a method that works well for me, though I have a habit of combining elements of each, but more about that later. For this method you organize your day into “blocks” or “batches” with a task assigned to each one. You schedule everything big/little/personal things in there and allot for some buffer times because sometimes something comes up when you are moving from project to project. Then you stick to it! This method works so well for me because I am easily distracted and so if I were to take breaks or try to multitask doing 15 minute spurts of different tasks vs. getting super focused for a longer period of time, things would not get done. This allows me enough time to get in my “zone of genius” and get projects done, or at least substantial portions of them.

If you haven’t heard of Franklin Covey, you know the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People guy, then you have been living under a rock. That fits, however, with our fourth method, the Big Rock Method developed by Covey himself. This method tends to work best for lady bosses who tend to get overwhelmed and need their planning more simplified. Basically, with this method, you schedule the “big rocks,” i.e. tasks, in your day first, and then you put the “pebbles,” i.e. smaller tasks, in around those bigger ones to fill in the spaces of time. This is similar to the philosophy of the “Big 3” you may have heard entrepreneurs talk about. They have three big tasks for each day that MUST get done before anything else, before they flip through email, get on social media, etc. That is their priority and what they focus on first. Then, once those are done, they can multitask and fill in other projects. I am a big fan of the big three method because I tend to get overwhelmed if I look at my ENTIRE huge to-do list.

Lastly, is a method that has more recently become popular, the natural energy cycles method. Yep, you heard me, we all have them! What time of the day do you feel your most alert? When in the day do you feel like you hit your slump? Are you a night owl or a early riser? This method basically says you should plan your day around those natural cycles. So, for example, if you work a typical 9-5 you may feel your best in the AM right after you settle into your desk, that would be when you should focus on your priority tasks for the day, when you are most alert and fresh. A lot of people have a post lunch slump, I know I do! So that would NOT be the time to tackle those big priority projects. I do believe many of us have already somewhat adjusted our planning, whether we have noticed it or not, incorporating some of these natural cycles because it just makes us “feel” better and more natural to do things this way. Sometimes, however, this method doesn’t work when you don’t really have a choice for what time of day certain things need to happen. All you can do, however, is try to schedule your tasks at the best times that “naturally” work for you!

So, as promised, what do I DO? I already explained how I am a big 3 type of gal. I always write down my top three things to accomplish that day in the morning and tackle that right away. My goal for the day is to knock off those items first and then I can work my way down my to dos for the day. I am also a morning person and a night owl, so the middle of the day sucks for me, which doesn’t always bode well for productivity in my 9-5. However, I try to knock those big three out first thing in the morning when I get to the office. I usually do my side hustle, entrepreneurial work in the evening when I tend to get my second wind. I usually block schedule my top 3 from 9 AM to 12 NOON and then go from there. I use elements of the Tidder file too, because I regularly schedule a follow up for something so I don’t forget to check on something in progress so something doesn’t slip my mind because it’s moved down on the priority list. Usually I just schedule it on my calendar though, instead of putting it in a physical or digital file, you just have to get in the habit of noting when to check back on it instead of telling yourself you will remember.

There are obviously even more styles, but these are some of my favorites. So which method will you use?