When To Best Plan Your Time
A key component of effective time management is to regularly sit down and plan out the next few days in reasonable detail. The big question is, how many days? How far ahead should you plan? Can you go too far or too short?
As I talk about in the time management chapters in my book, you can indeed try to plan too far into the future and too shortly.
Planning out your precise schedule (barring time-specific appointments, like a doctor’s appointment) all day for this Friday when it’s now Sunday is not going to work. Too many thing are going to occur over the next five days that will likely radically alter your specific plans for Friday. Thus, micromanaging Friday on Sunday will just waste your time on Sunday and frustrate you on Friday.
On the flip side, you can indeed plan things with too short a time frame. People who sit down every morning at their desk and plan out their day are indeed being more effective than the person who never plans or makes to-do lists. However, the same-day planners are likely only going to address emergencies and urgent work, not important work. If you only plan out the next 12 hours, all the emergency/urgent stuff is going to scream at you too loudly for you to ever get the important work done… work that is more important than the urgent stuff.
I call the urgent/urgency work SW, or Standard Work, and the important work as IIW, or Improve Income Work. SW just maintains your current level of lifestyle and income. IIW improves your life and income. If you only plan a time frame of 12 hours or less, it’s very unlikely you’ll get regular IIW done.
Therefore, daily planning is bad (though again, better than no planning at all). Weekly planning is okay provided that once you get past three or four days from the current date, you allow a lot of flex time in your schedule.
A third option is the E3D system, that I teach in my book. E3D stands for Every Three Days. Under this system, once every three days, you sit down and plan out the next three days. You can switch this to every two days or four days if you wish, which is also fine. This prevents you from attacking every day and getting into firefighting mode, while not scheduling task items too far in advance when you have little control over them.
To be clear, I’m only talking about time management here. I am not talking about personal strategic planning or goal setting, in which you have goals, plans, and projects that project way out into the future, perhaps even years. That’s perfectly fine; once you’re in the realm of years, you’ve left the land of time management and are in the realm of long-term planning, long-term projects, and goal setting.
I have business plans that extend out to two and three years from now. My five flags plan extends out about ten years. But these things are not time management. Time management is about how I manage today and the next several days, doing so in accordance with my long-term objectives and lifestyle goals.
Everyone likes to manage their time a little differently, and that’s okay. If you like to plan out every week, go ahead and do so (noting what I said above). If you like to plan out the next two or three days, do that. If you’ve never actually managed your time, now is the time to start, particularly if you have any business or financial goals. Start with either the Check System or the E3D system, both of which I describe in my book, work with that for a while, and tweak as you go.
Just remember, you can not be successful without some sort of time management system.