Step-by-Step Guide: How to Plan Your Work Week

Posted in: Project Management

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Learning how to plan your work week is an essential skill for any professional role. Effectively planning your work week allows you to work more efficiently, keep stakeholders and team members informed of any competing priorities, and take control of your projects.

Below are five steps I recommend following to effectively plan and manage your work week.

5 Steps to Plan Your Work Week

Step 1: Plan Ahead

When it comes to planning out your work week, it helps to start early. I recommend planning out your upcoming work week on the Friday before. This will help set you up to be able to jump right into your first priority on Monday, and give you a clear picture of what to expect for the upcoming week. It will also help ensure that you stay ahead of your deadlines or identify any dependencies or required inputs from your other team members. You’ll also be able to enjoy your weekend without wondering or worrying about what may lie in the week ahead.

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To plan your week, identify a tool that you like using to keep track of your to do list. Personally, I use Evernote to plan my work week. The Apple Notes app is another good alternative. There are many different tools that you can use to plan your week, so find the one that works best for you!

To start planning, I create a new note in my app with a heading for each date in the upcoming week, as shown here:

Step 2: Review Calendar Meetings

The first thing I do when planning for the week is review the meetings on my calendar for the following week. As you are reviewing your calendar, ensure that all of the meetings scheduled are still relevant and timely. If any meetings need to be added, rescheduled, or canceled, reach out to the meeting owner to discuss. For every meeting on your calendar, create a to-do item on your list to prepare for the meeting the day before and a to-do item to follow up from the meeting the day it occurs.

These to-dos are very helpful in ensuring that meetings are more valuable for the whole team. When preparing for the meeting, be sure you have an understanding of the goal of the meeting and agenda that will be reviewed. If there are any agenda items that you are responsible for, make sure you are prepared to have a meaningful discussion on these items with the group.

In most cases, a meaningful meeting will result in some follow-up or action items. Use your follow-up to-do as a reminder to ensure that all actions items have been recorded and followed up on. This will guarantee nothing falls through the cracks, and for meetings that may be recurring, that future meetings are more valuable.

Here’s an example what my work week to-do list looks like after I’ve reviewed the meetings on my calendar:

Keep in mind that some meetings may be scheduled once your week begins. Be sure to add or rearrange these throughout the week to keep up to date with your schedule!

Step 3: Review Priority Deadlines and Recurring Tasks

After you’ve reviewed all of your meetings for the week, take stock of any high-priority items you know need to get done next week. For example, if you have promised a client or stakeholder a deliverable by Thursday of next week, be sure to add that to your list so it can be completed on time.

Additionally, are there any tasks that you routinely complete every week? For example, I have a weekly report I deliver to a client every Monday, and on Fridays I always have a to-do to plan out my next week.

This step will help you prioritize timely and recurring items that you need to complete by a certain day of the week.

Step 4: Consider Upcoming Assigned Work

Now that you have planned all of your time-sensitive activities for the week, your meetings, deadlines, and recurring responsibilities, it’s time to plan out the rest of your work.

Most likely, you will have some form of tasks or projects assigned for you to complete in a given week. At Go Fish Digital, for example, we use Basecamp as our project management tool to assign and coordinate individual tasks. At this point in your planning, review all of the remaining tasks or projects on your calendar that you need to work on for the next week.

Then, begin to plan out which days you will work on each task to ensure that your workload is spread out evenly. In my Evernote example above, it looks like we anticipate Thursday to be a busy day with two meetings to follow up on, one meeting to prepare for, and one client deliverable deadline. Therefore, we may want to plan less work for Thursday, and more task work on a day like Tuesday, where we only have one meeting.

Another recommendation is to group similar tasks together, for example, do you have multiple tasks for one project that you need to work on next week? Schedule these to knock them out at the same time and save fixed cost of setup time or acclimating yourself to the project. Here’s how your week might look now:

Step 5: Tackle the Work Week

Now you have planned out your work week! You have a sense of what meetings you’ll be preparing for, attending, and following up on. You’ve mapped out important deadlines, and you know what work you’ll try to accomplish each day. You’ve also made sure that your work week will be well balanced, to avoid burnout or boredom from a day with too much or too little work.

Now, it’s time to tackle the week. In the same way you plan for each week on the Friday before, try to review your plan for each day the day before and ensure that you have set a realistic plan for yourself. I like to start off each workday with a quick task, something that you can accomplish within the first hour of your day. This will allow you to build momentum in your list early on and continue chipping away at your overall work for the day.

As you work through the week, keep track of whether you’re able to accomplish everything you set out to. If you aren’t, you can easily roll items to the next day so they still get done (as long as they aren’t time-sensitive). If you are on track, that’s great! Keep track of what’s working well for you as you go (for example, grouping similar items together or getting a quick win at the beginning of the day).

Even the best-laid plans are subject to change, so as you work through the week, be sure to reprioritize or move items around as needed to stay on top of your week. If items come up throughout the week that don’t need to be tackled immediately, you can start a running list of to-dos for next week and plan them out when you work on next week’s schedule.

What are your top tips for planning out your week and staying organized? Share in the comments below and check out the Go Fish blog for more productivity tips and industry insights!

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