Posted by: Simon | April 25, 2008

How to focus your time each week on what really matters

“The greatest tragedy in life is to spend your whole life fishing only to discover that it was not fish you were after.” – Henry David Thoreau

One of my favourite podcasts is from the guys at Manager Tools. Mike and Mark range across a bunch of subjects useful to anyone that has subordinates or aspires to. It is in fact listening to them mid last year that introduced me to Getting Things Done (GTD). One of the more recent podcasts concerning calendar management really struck a chord with me. In it they talk about their steadfast belief that a manager should focus in one week chunks as far as their calendar goes – not one month, not a quarter and not one day at time. Their rationale was that this was the optimum amount of time in terms of achieving outcomes that form part of bigger picture (akin to one’s 20000ft areas of focus and 30000ft goals) as it gave you enough time to get stuff done while at the same time ensuring that if the week doesn’t go according to plan (which one ever does?) then at least you can course correct before the larger goal becomes difficult to achieve.

This notion dovetails very nicely then with the GTD concept of a weekly review. Essentially that time of the week when you sit down, stop doing or defining your work and instead take stock of where things are at, what needs to happen next etc. While many people will question the value of taking the time out each week to do a weekly review, it’s often not until you’ve experienced the control you gain from doing so that this value becomes apparent. It frustrates me now when I can’t get a weekly review done.

While I’m planning out my forthcoming week (once I’ve gotten up to date) I ask myself what it is I want to achieve in that time frame. I use my 20000ft areas of focus and sometimes my 30000ft goals as inputs into this process, to provide some perspective. Much of the time, of course, I have projects at the 10000ft level that I need to move forward and they play into the mix as well. The important point here is I am consciously deciding what is most important for me to achieve in the coming week. I try to have 3-4 things only – to have more just increases the pressure and the subsequent sense of failure if you come up short because of unexpected work hitting you. As I do with my most important tasks (MITs) for the day I try to get my weekly MITs done as early in the week as possible.

So, focusing on your calendar in one week chunks is very important – but only if you’re disciplined enough to do a weekly review. You can’t do one without the other.

How do you ensure your time each week is focused on what really matters?

Photo: Mike Rohde



Responses

  1. With the job I have now, I am very calendar driven. If it is not on my calendar, it won’t happen. I am in the process of starting my new business. Planning ahead will be especially important because it will cost me $$$ if I don’t plan ahead and git-er-done! (Texas talk).

  2. Thank you for this write up. You’ve sussinctely described my GTD missing link(s) and kept it interesting to boot. I’m just trying on this GTD thing for the first time and the picture you paint of the GTD concept of a weekly review was just slightly clearer than what I’ve gotten from the book so far. Very helpful.

  3. @Laurie: Sounds like weekly planning and review will be crucial for this new venture, at least initially.

    @Justin: No problems. If there’s one ‘key’ to GTD I’d say it’s the weekly review. Invest the time and you won’t regret it. Best of luck.


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