Planning for Productivity

Judith Guertin

How is your planning system working?

Planning for Productivity

Have you ever heard the expression: “What gets planned, gets done?” Getting started on the path to greater and more satisfying productivity begins with three things, a goal, a planner and planning. So, let’s get started!
First, what is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? If you get the desired result, what does it look like? Is it an article, a presentation, an eBook, the Great American Novel, an event plan, or your (fill in the blank) product?
Let's use the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where and why) used by reporters as a place to start your list or to interpret the list given to you by someone else.


  • Who? Am I the person who will be doing these tasks or are they more appropriately completed by some other person in the organization, an assistant, or even an outside contractor?
  • What? What will be the result if you follow the steps in your process?
  • When? When do you expect to be done? What is the very next step, what are the steps for the next week, the next month. How long until you are finished?
  • Where? Is this work to be completed in house, on a business trip, during a specific event, at some other location, at a client site or some other place? Do you need to build in time for travel, or possible delays?
  • Why? What is the reason for this work? Is there something similar already in use? Is this busy work or is it adding to the bottom line? We all need to accomplish regular and routine tasks that do not necessarily add to the bottom line, and they need to be done. If, however, this is all you work on you cannot accomplish the higher value items that bring revenue into your business. Think about the “why” of your activities regularly. It may just be that something that seemed a high value, high priority item last week is now much less important, or it has timed out and is no longer important at all or does little to add to the bottom line and does not need doing at all.

Now that you have thought about your goal, you are ready to move forward with PLANNING in time. By planning in time I mean putting it on your Planner or Calendar. I see many people who have wide open calendars (except maybe for their dentist appointment next week...) I know, I know, it feels tedious to do this part, but getting it off your mind and  is what will get your project moving! Wide open space on a calendar are often a sign of not much getting done. You may not believe this, but structuring when you will do things actually makes you more productive.  Think about the friday before vacation.  I bet you have a list of everything you need to get done before you leave.  I also bet that you get more done in that one day than in the week preceeding it.  Why? Focus and planning, not letting yourself take your eye off the important work that needs to be done and having a reward coming for completing your tasks...whoo hoo...VACATION!

So, let's be a little more like the vacation prepper...First, what are the options for writing steps down? What have you used in the past? Planners come in all shapes and sizes, some are paper based, some are digital and some of you use a combination of the two. Does it really matter what you use? Well, it does not matter so much what tool you use, but that you consistently use the tool that you choose. When I ask clients how productive they have been, I can guarantee you that when they have taken time to plan, to write things down and to plan their steps in a system, they get awesome amounts of work done.

My clients use a wide variety of Planning tools: WorkFlowy, Dynalist, Wunderlist, Google Keep, OneNote or Evernote. Some use tools like Asana, Trello, Airtable and the list goes on and on. Some clients love to use Mind Maps and Kanban Cards. Each person will have their own preferred tools. So, don’t feel bad if you like something different than your coworkers. Use what works for you. That said, there may be times when your boss or your team may need to use a specific set of tools that are not your preferred system. Life is not perfect. Use the tools you prefer where you can, and use the others when you must.

Paper or Digital, or both??? If you are not a digital planning tool devotee, no problem, I see executives all the time who get great results with a plain old paper notebook. There are many studies that suggest that the act of writing things down on paper helps aid retention whether they ever look at those notes again. Do try to avoid the "back of the envelope system" though, you know... you write on any scrap of paper a few thoughts to jog your memory and they become part of the "pile", never to be seen again.  A notebook is a consistent place to find information you are writing down.  Put a date and the topic on every page to help you find the information later.


For those of you who love digital tools, one word of caution about looking for and downloading numerous apps; in many instances the time you’ll spend looking for the best app, can become just another distraction. So, if you already have a system that works for you, don’t feel guilty if you do not download yet another app. Again, the key is to understand what you like, and what you will actually use. Remember, that many of the tools that came loaded on your computer when you purchased it may already have many of the features you need. All you need is some training to get the most of what you already have.


Once you decide where your plan will be documented use your calendar /planner to give it a time slot for the next step you plan to do. If you find it hard because you really don’t know how long it will take, you are not alone. Don’t let your uncertainty stop you. Just start with a block of time and see how you do. You will learn by practicing how long things take. I like to call this, "being an observer of your own life." You plan, make an appointment with yourself and see how long the task actually took.Set a timer to the amount of time in your plan and go do the task. Often you will be done before the time block has finished. If your plan needs more time to complete, make another appointment with yourself to complete the task. Once you practice doing this process you will become more in tune with how long things really take. Does it take an hour, a half hour, half a day…practice will help you understand and plan more effectively each time. Step by step, next action by next action you will get those tasks done.

Not sure what the best tools are for your planning toolkit?  I would love to help. Let's talk!


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