While you might know how to plan a productive meeting or a productive day, you may not know how to plan for an entire week of productivity. Gerald J. Leonard, the CEO of Principles of Execution and author of Workplace Jazz: How to Improvise, has some tips on how to plan your week for ultimate productivity and ensure that you’re getting the most out of your workday.
1. Big things first
There might be things on your weekly to-do list that you’re dreading, but Leonard recommends that to plan your week for ultimate productivity, you should take care of those items as soon as possible.
“I’ve noticed that if you’re working on something that you don’t like to do or that you don’t feel like is your strength, then you will find other things to do subconsciously to kill time so that you don’t really have to work on it,” Leonard says.
By doing the most difficult things first, you set yourself up for an easy end to the week where you can feel proud of your accomplishments rather than nervous about procrastination.
“If you focus on the big things you have to do first, the other tasks are not that difficult, and you can get them done.”
2. Work to suit your location
Another recommendation that Leonard has is to make sure the work you’re doing suits your work location. Working from home might be the optimal environment for intense projects that necessitate complete focus. At the same time, the office might be better for spontaneous ideas and chemistry – but if you plan for the office on a day you need to focus, you might accomplish very little.
“I really believe that working from the office is a bigger time waster than working from home,” Leonard says. “Working from home, for someone who is a really disciplined or focused worker, allows them to plan their work.”
Leonard adds that commuting time or office distractions can prevent you from accomplishing time-sensitive tasks. At home, you might be able to close the office door and work in silence for hours, but these boundaries are much looser in the office. Colleagues will unintentionally take up your time with water cooler chats, sitting in on meetings, or going to get coffee – which can be substantial productivity zappers if you’re working on a project with a tight turnaround.
“[Remote workers] can actually do their morning routine and be at their desk and computer much earlier than others,” Leonard says. “They can build out the time they need to get things done, and they can have really good focus time by planning things out.”
3. Pencil in your preparation
You might build preparation time into your schedule for specific tasks, but that preparation time can quickly turn into an unintended break. Maybe you spend that time zoning out at work, looking at your phone, or staring into space. But in order to plan your week for ultimate productivity, don’t just pretend to think ahead – build it into your schedule.
If you find yourself zoning out in between activities, Leonard recommends that you intentionally pencil in preparation time for future activities, such as tomorrow’s client call or next week’s project.
“Focus on what your business purpose is,” Leonard says. “Preparing to work on a project, preparing to make a phone call, instead of having a to-do list prepared beforehand is bad if you have procrastinated and haven’t thought it through the night before or first thing in the morning before you get started on it.”
4. Nightly to-do list reviews
While your week might be planned out to a certain degree, Leonard recommends that you spend time reviewing your to-do lists each night, as it’s one of the best ways to plan your week for ultimate productivity.
“I honestly believe in having a to-do list on a day-to-day basis,” Leonard says. Rather than fixing your entire week up on a Sunday evening or Monday morning, take stock every single day to stay on top of your ever-changing action items.
“You will know exactly what you’re going to be working on, and you can prioritize your time easily.”
Leonard continues that reviewing these to-do lists the night before work allows your brain time to process information about your upcoming schedule implicitly.
“If you work on a to-do list at the end of the day for what you need to work on the next day or later in the week,” Leonard says, “your subconscious mind works on it. Then when you wake up in the morning, if you have your to-do list in front of you with your schedule, you know exactly what you need to get done that day. You know the meetings you need to participate in.”
5. The Pomodoro technique
Leonard’s next tip is to make sure you’re utilizing the Pomodoro technique when blocking out time for activities.
“The Pomodoro technique is when you set 25-minute blocks of time so that you can track your time to see where you are with your tasks,” Leonard says. “Use a watch or stopwatch to time 25-minute work sessions or 90-minute work sessions.”
After your work sessions, you usually take a five-minute break. This is repeated four times over two hours, and at the end of the two hours, you take one more extended break of 15 to 30 minutes.
Leonard also recommends exploring your own focus techniques as you work through the method, as they may differ from what you read online.
6. Listen to your brain
If you catch yourself losing steam during the day or week, nip it in the bud before it becomes full-fledged burnout. Take into account the human element when planning your schedule, and give yourself some leeway when feeling drained.
“I do something called “energizers” or “brain gyms” that basically get me back up and going, so I can get back into working on the things I need to work on,” Leonard says.
However, sometimes just a few exercises aren’t enough, and you find yourself sluggish or slacking despite your regimented schedule. That’s when you need to listen to your body and brain and maybe take a day of PTO so you can come back recharged, inspired, and ready to plan your week for ultimate productivity.
“If you find yourself nodding off and not being able to really focus, despite trying some of these methods, you may just need a day or two to take a break and go do something fun to get it out of your system,” Leonard says. “That way, you can come back the next day and be ready to work.“