Planning Your Week – The Big Rocks Method

No problem. I can get all this done by noon.

One of my clients was looking for advice on how to plan her week to be more productive, so she asked me how I plan MY week.

My first response: You picked the wrong person to ask!

I am not one of those detail-oriented colour coded filing system schedule the day for maximum productivity kinds of people. I’m more of a “I had a to-do list around here somewhere – oh look! It’s on top of my dusty planner from 2005 that I never used” kind of person.

Yet…I’ve somehow managed to be productive all the same.

As I’ve written before, there’s no one universal right way of doing things. There’s only finding the right way for YOU.

In this video (scroll down for the text version), I share my method of planning – in the hopes that it might help you. Adopt if for yourself or modify it to suit your own style.

Once again, I’m taking an idea from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: the Big Rocks Method.

When it works

We start with the idea that you have a finite amount of time. We all have 24 hours per day. Think of your time as a jar – it only holds so much – and we use a good chunk of that time for things like sleeping, eating and having a life outside of work.

Then we have all the things we want to get done in our businesses: big, important things (some of which are frogs) and smaller or less important things.

If you’re anything like me – this “list of things” far exceeds the capacity of your jar of time. You may look at it and think: I need THREE jars of time for all this. (And we haven’t even covered things like “other people asking for your time” or “squirrels.”)

Put the Big Rocks First

When you’re loading up your Time Jar for the week or for the day, put the big rocks in first – your most important tasks – the things that will move your business forward. Then you fit all the other things around them.

If you follow this system, you’ll get the most important things done each day/week. So even if the rest of your time gets eaten away by administrative tasks, emails or cat videos – at least you’ve made some progress.

Otherwise, you can be busy all day long with “little rocks” or “pebbles” – then look back and realize that you didn’t get anything important done.

Of course, to do this effectively, you need to know your priorities.

But it’s ALL important!

When the squirrels win.

When I suggest this to people, I sometimes get this response: “Sure, Patty – that all sounds good – but everything on my list is important. It’s all a priority!”

Here’s the definition of priority from Merriam-Webster:

Priority: something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first

It’s like the Highlander: there can be only one. When everything is a priority – you don’t actually have a priority.

Which means you have to choose.

Set your goals and projects for the year first

If you know what you want to accomplish over the year, it’s easier to see the most important tasks for the day or the week. You can choose things that align with your larger plans.

I start each year by setting a client/revenue target and choosing 3 major projects to support that. This year, my projects are:

  • Continue to improve my coaching skills and services
  • Visibility and community building: Marketing Action Club and weekly blogging
  • Write my book

(Want more details? You can peek behind the curtain here: My not so secret plans for 2017)

Then I block out time each week to work on those projects. These are the Big Rocks.

This is the Big Rocks template I use to plan each week. (Because I meet with my clients on alternating weeks, I have one of these for First + Third weeks and another for Second + Fourth)

You’ll see that I’ve blocked out time to work with clients, to prepare for and run my MAC meeting and to write my weekly blog post. I also set aside time each week for a review and planning session – and then I write my weekly newsletter and schedule it to go out on Sunday.

Those items alone cover most of my goals – I’m serving my clients, writing every week (which supports my blogging project and my book) and being in touch with my community every Monday morning.

These things have to happen. Everything else is flexible.

You’ll see that I have lots of white space in my calendar. I have 12 hours blocked out for clients and 8 hours blocked out for my major projects. That’s about half of a regular workweek reserved for Big Rocks. The other half is available for all the other stuff.

During the weekly review scheduled for each week (another big rock) – I evaluate the previous week and make a plan for the following week – deciding which of the other things on my long list need to get done first.

I make a shorter list for the week and do those things in my “white space” time. Some people (like my husband) prefer to slot those tasks into the calendar so that they know exactly what they need to do at exactly what time. I find that really restrictive and my inner rebel won’t play along. Instead, I refer to my list and choose the most appealing (or pressing) next task.

A couple of tips

I have 3 more hours I can use to be productive. Not.

Time vs Energy

There’s a lot of advice floating around that advises you to find additional time to work by simply cutting out things like watching TV. (Or getting less sleep.) I’ve tried this myself and that’s when I discovered that my actual limitation is not TIME – it’s ENERGY.

Yes, I can carve out more time – but it’s not productive time because my brain is tired. I can’t think straight and I don’t have any creativity left.

So I plan for my week around energy instead of time.

Work on your business first

Here’s what I know about myself: I will work late to complete a client project. If it’s something I need to do for my own business, I’ll put it off.

I could try to reform my lazy ways and lack of self-discipline. Or I could take the easy route and use my schedule to work around my character flaws.

Choosing the latter, I prioritize my own business building projects above client projects.

This was a really really hard thing to implement. It’s the old “put your oxygen mask on first” message we get on airplanes. Not putting your business first is what leads to “feast and famine” syndrome. If you devote yourself 100% to your clients and procrastinate on marketing, you’ll run out of clients!

If you have more self-discipline than I do, you may not need to do this. But if you’re nodding along, you may want to consider adopting this policy.

In summary

  • There’s no such thing as a “right” way to plan. Find a way that works for you.
  • Put the Big Rocks first. Every time management system agrees on this!
  • Your Big Rocks are your big projects for the year. Plan for the year first and you can easily set your priorities.