A Clever Planning Sheet to Make Your Life Easier

In the 3+ years that my team worked for 6 weeks and took 2 off, this spreadsheet helped us improve communication, increase productivity, and strengthen our culture. Here’s how we use the sheet and why I think it can help you.

6min video about the different categories, distractions, and hours to plan per day

Trying to plan tasks on your calendar is awful

Daily tasks move too much to be on your Apple or Google calendar. When we attempted to schedule our tasks on a calendar, it felt like a collapsing waterfall. If one thing went wrong, it messed up everything else.

So, we started to plan in a spreadsheet instead.
This Weekly Planning Google Spreadsheet.
You can make a copy of it and start to plan your week right now.

The biggest benefit — it allowed us to see how many hours of work we had lined up. Not just open space in our calendar to say “sure, we can take another meeting.” We needed to understand that scheduling another meeting meant we were adding more hours of work onto our day.

And when that happened, we needed to rearrange tasks, sometimes moving those tasks between days. But when we did that — we wanted to move things based on the number of hours a task required. Not by how much open calendar space it looked like we had in our day.

This spreadsheet allowed us to do that.

Click to access the weekly planning Google Sheet

Plans don’t always work out

The goal with this sheet is not to have a perfect week, where everything goes according to plan. Instead, it’s about having a framework in place that allows you to accomplish your tasks while accounting for…well, life.

Things happen.
Every day.

Whether it’s COVID-19 or a client emergency, something will always come along that attempts to derail any plans you’ve put in place.

Many people take this to mean, “I shouldn’t plan anything.” But just because things come up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan at all. It means that we just need to plan better — next time.

This is where having a framework, such as this spreadsheet, comes into play. When you have a system, you have a place to put things.

The same way you have folders on your computer to store documents, you need a place to store your tasks. And not just the task itself, like Asana or Trello, but the task with how long you’re going to spend working on it.

The whole world seems obsessed with tracking your time after you’ve completed a task. But by planning your time before the task occurs, it will help keep you on track. You may even begin to finish items sooner when there is a fixed stop time in place.

Planning takes practice

With these weekly planning sheets, you get to review hours before they happen. A lot of time tracking programs are rooted in the idea of tracking your time after it has passed. With this framework, you’re more concerned about planning your time before the task occurs.

This type of forward-thinking isn’t innate; it’s a practice.

A skill.
One you need to develop.
And one that can be developed — in just 30 mins every day.

Every day my team is encouraged to spend the first 30 minutes planning. To write out everything they need to accomplish that day; personal or professional.

A brain dump.
Each morning.

Because every day! something new happens to us. Every day we need to make small corrections to stay on course.

By listing these tasks in the spreadsheet:

  • It tallies the amount of time we will spend
  • It allows the flexibility to move these items between based on the time you have available. Not the false, empty space shown in your calendar.

Use this planning time to build your schedule for the day. Look at each task listed on your sheet and create the same task in your calendar.

Genuinely. This small change to your morning will help your day run incredibly more smooth, while also helping you become better at planning in the future.

Parkinson’s Law will help you work

A task is going to take the amount of time we allow for it.
And dammit, we know this already!

We’ve done this since we were in school. Remember when a teacher gave you two weeks to complete an assignment, but you were able to complete it in just six hours the night before it was due?

THAT was Parkinson’s Law.

You have 3 categories of “work”

Over the past four years, I have found that every task fits into one of three categories. You’re either planning something, communicating with someone else, or doing work by yourself.

Daily planning setup

Planning time

Planning time is for any task that requires your brain, a place to write things down, and a calendar. Planning time is spent alone, without distractions, but may include interactions with other people to get questions answered. Usually 30 minutes at the beginning of each day.

Communicating time

Perhaps the most vastly underestimated and unaccounted for part of most days. Communicating includes any time spent interacting with other people or responding to requests. This includes:

  • Replying to messages in project management applications like Basecamp, Asana, Slack, Teams, or Skype
  • Going through emails
  • Any meetings — in-person or virtual
  • Responding to client requests in forums or support-based applications
  • Working with a consultant or advisor
  • Office hours
  • Client check-ins

Anything that involves interacting with another person should be listed under communicating.

While we often skip over communication time, it’s essential to know how much of your day is consumed by communicating with other people.

Especially now, when more people are working from home and getting pulled into video meetings or group chats.

Unplanned communication tasks often pull you away from completing other items. Creating that moment at the end of a day when you feel like you worked your ass off, but you didn’t get anything “done.”

Similar to “doing” time, you want to limit distractions when you are working on communication tasks. That includes scheduling time to check email.

Reserve time in your day to check email and only do that — check email.

And when you’re not checking email, quit your email program. Seriously, turn it off. You’ll feel alive!

Warning! — trying to get this area under control is ridiculously complicated. It is also crucial to effectively managing the rest of your day.

A bad habit to break: checking email, feeling productive

Email is an auto-generated “to-do” list for a lot of us. We get that rush of completing an email and removing it from our inbox. Similar to the feeling of checking off a to-do, but it’s a false sense of accomplishment.

Email is a part of your day, but too often, we’ll make it our primary task. A never-ending primary task. A default application that we continuously revisit when we don’t know what else to do.

We want to be productive when we’re working. Not distracted.
And these days, you probably have plenty of other things at home to keep you distracted.

Start looking at email as a task — an item you need to complete.
Block out time for things like email and messaging programs.

Try, just try checking it at 10am for an hour, and again at 2pm. Ideally, start your day with email closed for the first part.

Instead, knock out that first big task, THEN go into the email and project management tools that will probably hijack your day. At least you’ll have completed that first big task.

Doing time

Doing items are reserved for anything you will work on by yourself. Alone. Things that don’t require input from anyone else. Something that allows you to close off all distractions and focus on completing.

For doing tasks, you should already know what you need to “do” for these. You shouldn’t need to spend time figuring out how to complete the task, you should be able to jump in and work on it.

What I love about this is that it turns in to a race against time. I already know what I need to do — now I want to see if I can get it done in less time than I allowed.

Weekly planning sheet available on Google Sheets

Plan for only 6 hours per day

As you place time in each day for planning and communicating, you may be shocked to see how little time you have for doing.

For a typical 8-hr workday, we plan for 6-hrs of tasks. This includes planning, breaks, and projects. A hyper-planned 6-hr day should break down into:

30 minutes of planning
+ 5.5-hrs of email, meetings, and tasks
+ 4 breaks at 15 minutes per break
+ 1 lunch at 60 minutes
— — — — — — — — — — — —
= Your 8-hr Workday

By planning for 6hrs/per day, each person has 2hrs of flexible time. Though we don’t want to, we can cut into breaks and lunchtime should we find tasks running over, and we need to work more efficiently that week.

My team cannot work like this.

“Too many things come up in a day for my team or me to possibly work like this.” — You, that’s what you say!

Again, this does not mean you shouldn’t plan at all.
Just, plan.
Plan for things to pop up.

So instead of planning for 6hrs/day, only plan for 4. Set aside 2hrs every day for things that just “come up.”

Over time, look to work that number down. Maybe next week it’s only 1.5hrs, then 1hr. Continue to re-evaluate those items that interrupt your day and try to have fewer interruptions next time.

Planning for 2 hours of tasks that will pop-up during the day

What happens when you don’t finish something in time

Move the item to a different day. Or, reexamine the task and see if there’s another way to accomplish it that will take you less time. Either way, it still needs to get done. You can push it off to the end of the week, just means you may have to stay later on Friday to get it done or do it over the weekend.

Why this works

A lot of the smarter diet regiments begin with a simple concept — track how many calories you’re putting in your body to understand how many you need to burn. When you do that, you become more cognizant of what you’re eating.

That’s all you’re doing here, becoming more cognizant. Only instead of food, it’s about where you’re spending your time — starting to understand where your time and attention get pulled away in a day.

I think every person can be incredibly productive; while having time for themselves and their children. It’s a matter of managing your time. Like a ledger for your finances, this is a ledger for the most valuable asset we have in life — time.

Work in 6-Week Cycles

Join our free, virtual coach on our website at http://6weekcycles.com. You’ll receive an email each day, over 6 weeks, to help you through your first cycle.

Joe Martin is a Chicago entrepreneur. His book, 6-Week Cycles, teaches people how to work for 6 weeks, then take off for 2. With appearances on TV, radio, podcasts, and a 2019 TEDx Talk, he promotes new ways to communicate and build corporate culture among remote teams.

Entrepreneur, author, and TEDx Speaker who believes real world interactions are more valuable than digital ones.

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