by Lori Vande Krol | Feb 6, 2023 | General Productivity, Goals and Priorities, Habits, Planning, Time Management
Julie reached out because she had reached a point of extreme frustration and overwhelm. She felt she was constantly trying to catch up, never finding time for her “important but nonurgent” tasks and projects, always worried about what she might be missing, and therefore not truly enjoying her work or personal time. Julie was always reacting to the latest emergency, others’ priorities become her priorities, and she would reach the end of the day, the week, and the year feeling drained, overwhelmed, and unaccomplished. Does this sound familiar?
After talking with Julie, we established that one change she needed was to incorporate a better system and tools for planning her time – her years, months, weeks, and days. An effective plan, and strategy to follow and maintain it, allows Julie to better understand her goals and priorities, and to make better decisions and choices throughout her days. Here I share ten proven strategies for incorporating effective planning into your own days and weeks.
1. Clarify your goals and priorities.
What is important to you in work and life? What do you hope to achieve in the long-term and short-term? If you aren’t clear on what your goals and priorities are, you can never know if you are working on the right thing at any point in time. This clarity will be the basis for your plan and the choices you make throughout the day.
2. Break down your goals into strategies and milestones.
As an elephant lover, I hate to use the saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” But it is a good metaphor for attacking your long-term and short-term goals. Once you know what you want to accomplish, you can break your goals into smaller pieces by defining the strategies you will use and when you will achieve various milestones.
3. Create your habits and routines.
Without good habits and routines, it is easy to let your days and weeks slip away without focusing on what is most important. Spend some time figuring out how you will incorporate the needed activities and time to reach your goals. List the habits you want to follow annually, monthly, weekly, and daily. Define daily routines such as tasks or actions you will take each morning, start of day, end of day, and evening.
4. Establish your boundaries.
It is likely that you will need to establish new boundaries in order to be successful in reaching your goals and sticking with your plan. Some examples might include:
- I will return emails and phone calls within 24 hours.
- I will take 1 day to review any new priorities, tasks, or projects before providing an answer.
- I will say “no” to anything that does not support my annual goals.
- I will not take on new volunteer positions this year.
- I will not respond to email or text after 6pm or on weekends.
- I will be in bed by 11pm and up by 7am each day.
Choose boundaries that work for your needs and personality and that will help you to reach your goals.
5. Get the right people on board.
Who will be impacted by your goals, strategies, habits, and routines? Do you have someone to help hold you accountable? Who can help support your plan? Be sure these people are aware of your plan, your boundaries, and how they can help you be successful.
6. Clear your space and your mind.
Take time regularly to clear your physical, digital, and mental space. If necessary, set aside a day or more to create an environment where you can focus and be intentional.
7. Determine the right tools.
What tools can you use to support your planning, focus, and daily intention and action? My favorite tools for daily and weekly planning are Microsoft Outlook/Tasks and the ProAction Planner. Do your research and find tools that will allow you to plan, reflect, track, and maintain. When working with others, it is also important to implement tools that will help you plan, collaborate, and track projects and tasks with them. Examples include Microsoft Planner and Teams, Asana, Trello, and Google Workspace. These are just a few of the many options available. Be sure to determine your needs and find what will best fit those needs.
8. Plan your weeks and days.
Set aside time regularly to plan your weeks and days based on your annual goals, habits, routines, and other priorities. Block time for the important, but nonurgent, projects and tasks. While it is rare that your week will go exactly as planned, having this basis as you begin your week will provide control and perspective, and allow you to make better-informed decisions when new urgencies arise.
Incorporate a system to track progress on your projects, goals, and habits. Review this regularly in order to evaluate and reset as needed throughout the year. You might also consider a look at how you spend your time and how closely you stick to your plan. Each day, evaluate challenges and areas for improvement. Small changes can yield big results.
10. Reflect and improve.
In addition to tracking your progress, schedule regular time to reflect on your results in order to make appropriate adjustments and allow for continuous improvement. This might include a quick daily and/or weekly reflection, a more thoughtful monthly reflection, and a deeper annual review and reflection. What went well? What challenges did you face? What will you stop, start, or continue doing? This is also a great time to practice gratitude. Be kind to yourself and others.
After clarifying her goals and priorities and putting the systems above in place to fit her needs, work, and lifestyle, Julie is feeling much more in control of her time. She is living intentionally and working proactively which has reduced stress and overwhelm. But the biggest and best change is that Julie is enjoying her work again and is able to focus on those people and things that matter most in life.
Need some tools to assist with the areas above? Check out our new ProAction Process™ Workbook packed full of tips, templates, worksheets, and exercises to support these areas of planning and more.
If you’d like a partner in helping you address your overwhelm and reach your goals, I’d love to talk. Reach out or schedule your free 30-minute consultation.
by Lori Vande Krol | Dec 19, 2022 | General Productivity, Goals and Priorities, Habits, Planning, Time Management
How has 2022 been for you? What went well? What could be improved? Did you reach your business and life goals? What will you do differently next year to grow further?
Before you do 2023 annual planning, it is a valuable exercise to close out the year and prepare for the new one by reviewing your goals, habits, and routines. Follow the steps below to review and reset for continued success.
Look back on the past year and answer reflection questions such as:
- What did I accomplish this year?
- What am I proud of?
- What am I thankful for?
- What should I celebrate?
- What will I continue to do that contributed to my success?
- What were my challenges this year?
- What could/would I have done differently?
- What is one thing I could do to improve next year?
Set aside focused time to write your answers to these questions. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself, your systems and habits, and how to address challenges in the upcoming year.
For example, during my Year in Review, I realized I am not diligent about scheduling time into my calendar at the beginning of each week for the “important but not urgent” tasks and projects. I, therefore, have not made the progress I wanted on many of these projects. I need to create a routine of setting aside time each week, just as I do with my exercise, before I build in other tasks and appointments. This will now be part of my planning process for 2023.
2. Review Your Annual Goals
The second step in your Year in Review is to review the status of your current year annual goals – both professional and personal. What goals are complete? What contributed to that success? Do you have goals that are not complete, or were not even started? If so, what challenges prevented their completion? Or perhaps there was a change in priority or focus during the year. Determine which of these goals should remain for the upcoming year and write any notes to carry into your 2023 annual goal setting.
3. Analyze Your Habits and Routines
How did you do on your goals and progress related to your defined habits this year? Review your habit tracking tables and schedule time to reward yourself for any goals reached. Will these habits continue or grow?
For those habits that were a struggle, analyze the reasons and what needs to change in the upcoming year. Do you understand the deeper “why” for the habit? Do you have the right tools in place? Do you need an accountability partner or coach? Determine the habits you will stop, continue, or update for the upcoming year.
Similarly, review your current routines (or routines you had hoped to establish this year). Look at your morning, start of day, end of day, and evening routines. How are they working for you? Do they need to be adjusted or reset? Establish the routines you would like to implement in 2023.
To help you with your Year In Review, I have created a downloadable template to walk you through the process. Click below to have it emailed to you.
Year in Review Template
You can also find this template, along with other valuable planning exercises and templates, at ProActionPlanner.com. Get them soon as they will only be free until the of the year.
If you’d like assistance with review and reflection, the goal-setting process, or in setting up systems for success, contact Lori at Life Made Simple or schedule your free 30-minute consultation. I’d love to help!
by Lori Vande Krol | Mar 3, 2022 | Goals and Priorities, Habits, Mental Health, Planning, Time Management
My daughter was recently feeling some anxiety at school and texted to let me know. One of the responses I texted back was to “focus on what you can control.” It had an impact, and she decided to post it on social media. The next day she told me it was her most shared post ever – it resonated with many of her followers.
Later that week, a coaching client shared a challenge she had encountered when an unexpected issue arose that stopped her in her tracks. It caused her stress and frustration and caused her to lose many hours of time. As we talked through her reaction to the situation, I asked her, “Looking back, what could you control about the situation at that moment?”, “What was the appropriate reaction?”, “What next steps did you take, or could you have taken?”
With so much out of our control on a daily basis, it’s important to control what we can, be intentional about our thoughts and choices, and act based on this. It’s not always easy but worrying about things we have no control over wastes time and energy and increases stress.
Below are a few tools you might consider to help you focus on those things you can control, so you can better cope with the unexpected and uncontrollable.
Do you often feel you are constantly reacting to the current “fire” or “squeaky wheel”? Some believe there is no use in planning if things are out of your control anyway. But, this is exactly the reason for it. Planning allows you to gain control over your time and actions in a proactive way. It gives you a better understanding of what is urgent and what is important. Then when the unexpected occurs you can more easily adjust and make intentional choices about if, and how, it fits into your plan. By planning you are making a habit of “focusing on what you can control.”
Stop and Think, Then Act
When the unexpected occurs, or you are feeling anxiety at a certain moment, step back from the situation and ask yourself the following questions:
- What can I control about this situation or about what I am feeling?
- Is this my worry or my challenge to handle or does it belong to someone else?
- What specific action(s) can I take to move forward?
Taking a moment to answer these questions will allow you to refocus and transition from being reactive to proactive, allowing for intentional choices about your next thoughts and actions.
If you are someone who best processes information by writing, take some time to journal your answers to the questions above. Journaling daily on anything that weighs on your mind is a great habit to develop to gain control over your thoughts and actions.
Meditate or Pray
Depending on your spiritual preference, tools such as meditation and prayer can help keep your mind focused and present, along with other benefits. Practicing regularly will help train your mind to react in a more relaxed and focused way when dealing with unexpected and challenging situations. There are many free apps that can help you learn and practice these techniques including Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.
What tools or techniques have you found to help you decrease anxiety and stress and focus on the things you can control? Share them in the comments below!
by Lori Vande Krol | Sep 1, 2021 | General Productivity, Goals and Priorities, Habits, Task and Project Management, Time Management
Recently on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I decided to join my husband for a bike ride. We filled the tires and water bottles, put on our helmets, and headed out. I felt a little extra resistance while peddling up the hill out of our neighborhood and thought, “Ok, this is hard. I think I just need to warm up.” As we pedaled on, I continued to feel that the ride was much more difficult than I expected. I couldn’t keep up with my husband – it seemed even when he wasn’t peddling he was going faster than me – and I was already out of breath. Thoughts that were going through my head during this time included: “I thought I was in better shape than this.” “I work out more than him…why can’t I keep up?” “Is biking really that different than my regular workout?” “What is wrong with me?”
After over three miles of this, it was time to turn back for home. We stopped so I could catch my breath and get a drink of water and my husband said, “Are you sure there isn’t something wrong with your bike? Maybe your tires?” I responded that it felt like it was riding fine and I didn’t hear any strange noises or rubbing, but let me get off my bike and check just to be sure. Lo and behold, the front brake was snug against the tire. I had basically been riding with the brakes on! After a few minutes, I figured out the problem, fixed it, and we rode home in about half the time it took us to get there – a much more enjoyable ride.
What does this somewhat embarrassing story have to do with productivity?
How many times in your life are you pushing against some sort of friction without realizing it? What could be made easier and more enjoyable if you stepped back and really analyzed, and addressed the issue? Often, we are so engrossed in day-to-day life, information, and tasks that we fail to really consider what we are doing. It is vital that we regularly take time to review and reset. In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown asks “Is there a point at which doing less (but thinking more) will actually produce better outcomes?” My response is “yes”! And my sore legs would agree.
Below are three simple steps you can take to minimize or alleviate the friction in your life and career.
1. Take Notice
Pablo Picasso said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” It is important to take focused time regularly to review your actions. Are they intentional? Do they reflect your priorities? Are you in control or are you letting others define your schedule and tasks? Are there processes, projects, or tasks that could be done more efficiently or effectively? A regular review might include the following questions:
- What is going well for me? How can I continue this?
- What do I not enjoy? What are my challenges? What can I stop doing? What can be made simpler?
- What do I most enjoy? What do I look forward to? How can I do more of this? What might get in the way?
This reflection is much easier to do if you are clear on your vision, priorities, and plan. For more on this, see my June 2021 blog, Mastering Time Management: What To Do Before the To Do List.
2. Identify the Issue
When you take focused time to reflect and review your priorities and related actions, it becomes simpler to identify any issues that are holding you back, getting in your way, or causing unnecessary friction. Maybe it’s a process, tool, or system that isn’t working optimally. Perhaps a colleague, friend, or family member is causing tension or stress. Or maybe it’s the position, company, or career you are in. It may even be a medical issue that has been overlooked resulting in lower productivity, and higher stress and anxiety.
If you are reviewing systems and processes for a company or team, identifying issues can entail a full-blown workflow analysis to find areas for automation, unneeded duplication, or improvements to technology, training, and communication. More often though, it just takes quiet, focused thought or journaling to pinpoint obstacles towards reaching your goals. Identify them and write them down.
3. Create Change
How will you minimize or alleviate the issues you have identified above? Consider any resources needed to support the change as well as your own habits or actions that need to change. What will you do differently going forward to reduce the friction or obstacles keeping you from success and enjoyment? Making a full plan for success is great, but sometimes you’ll need to just start with one small action step. Then, take another and another. Change can be hard, but the increased joy and success will be well worth it. And, you will likely reach your goals much quicker than you would have otherwise.
As my husband and I drove our bikes back into the garage, we found our daughter waiting for us to leave for her soccer game. Since the bike ride took much longer than expected, we were almost late. I realized then how much the friction I was working against for the first half of the ride impacted more than just me. It also caused stress for my daughter and potentially her team and coach if we were late. While I wish I would have stopped to evaluate the situation sooner, the fact that I did eventually stop to (1) take notice, (2) identify the issue with the brakes, and (3) create change by working to fix it, allowed for a much more enjoyable ride home, and we arrived at pre-game warm-up just in time.
by Lori Vande Krol | Jun 25, 2021 | Goals and Priorities, Task and Project Management, Time Management
You are constantly presented with new information, communications, to-dos, and ideas. At any point in time, you have hundreds of options for how you choose to spend that moment. While it may feel good to check things off a to-do list, if you aren’t intentional about what is on your to-do list or in your schedule, as well as the choices you make throughout the day, you are not productively working towards goals but instead just “being active.” This can eventually lead to feeling drained, overwhelmed, directionless, and even a sense of failure.
Oxford Dictionaries defines time management as “the ability to use one’s time effectively or productively, especially at work.” But you are only managing your time effectively if you are spending it on the right things, i.e. those tasks and activities that support your greater vision and goals. This starts with knowing what is important and where you want to go. Then, you can better define your shorter-term goals, ensure your actions relate to and support those goals, and achieve the success and happiness you desire. Let’s break this down.
Step 1: Know What is Important and Where You Want To Go
If you aren’t clear about what is important in your life and work, you will likely be overwhelmed and unsure if you’re using your time in the most optimal way. All of the planners, apps, and products in the world can’t help you if you don’t know your priorities.
In order to create the needed clarity, the first step is to determine your long-term vision for work and life. If this is an exercise you haven’t done before, it can be difficult but eye-opening. Start by setting aside some focused time to write your answers to the following questions:
- What do I love about my life right now? What do I enjoy doing? What am I good at?
- How can I do more of this?
- What do I spend time on now that I don’t enjoy?
- How can I do less of this?
- What would I like to do that I am not currently doing?
- Where would I like to see myself in 5 or 10 years? Where am I? What am I doing? Who am I spending time with? What does success look like to me?
- What do I want to contribute to the world?
Once you have written your answers, circle words or phrases that stand out to you the most. Use these words and phrases to draft a few sentences defining your vision and priorities over the next 5-10 years. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, and know that it may change a little from year to year. What is important is that you have been thoughtful and intentional about your vision and high-level priorities as you see them right now.
Step 2: Turn Your Long-Term Vision into Short-Term Goals
Once you’re clear on your priorities and vision for success and happiness, you can now set shorter-term goals and objectives. Using your vision statement from above as a basis, determine what you will do in the upcoming year to support your long-term vision for success. In other words, create your SMART Goals* for the upcoming year. (You might categorize these goals by area of work and/or life.)
Then for each goal, answer the following questions:
- What resources do I need?
- Who can help?
- What might get in the way of success and how can I address it?
Document your goals on paper, in a spreadsheet, word document, or in a project planning tool. Once you are clear on your annual goals, you can then determine the strategies needed to reach each goal. In other words, how will you reach your goals by the desired dates? If your goal is to lose 20 lbs by the end of the year, your strategies may be to exercise at least three times per week, learn and implement meal planning, and hire a wellness coach.
Step 3: Determine Goal-Based Next Actions
With annual goals and strategies in place, you can now determine the specific actions required to support them. Don’t worry if you can’t yet list every action needed throughout the year. Focus first on the upcoming quarter, or at least the next 1-3 actions needed to make progress towards your goal. Once these actions are complete, the following steps should become clearer. In the weight-loss example above, the first three actions might be to: 1. Purchase a gym membership, 2. Research potential meal planning programs, and 3. Set up interviews with 3 wellness coaches.
With specific next actions defined to support your goals, strategies, and long-term vision, you are NOW ready to plan and schedule these actions into your weeks and days. The tools and strategies you use for weekly planning and scheduling may vary depending on your job, your work style, your specific challenges, and personal preferences. Check out my blog or follow me on social media for guidance and tips related to weekly planning and other daily time mastery tips.
Step 4: Review and Reset
It is important to periodically review, and potentially reset, your annual goals and objectives as well as your long-term vision. This will help you continue to work with intention, stay focused, and achieve more. When you face obstacles, it will help you remember your “why” and keep you motivated to continue.
The time you spend on this process will help to ensure you are spending your time, energy, and focus on the right things each day. You will have more control over your time and feel less stress and greater joy.
*SMART Goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based