During any given week, you likely have a lot on your plate. And it’s easy to get overwhelmed, to get so bogged down that you’re not sure where to start. You may even miss a deadline sometimes because you either didn’t start a project on time, or it completely fell off your radar. And listen: It’s OK to make mistakes. We’re all human.
But, frankly, the majority of the time, situations like this can be avoided by doing one very simple thing: planning out your week ahead of time rather than flying by the seat of your pants. It’s critical that you learn how to control your work rather than letting it control you.
Doing this may not seem fun, and you may think you just don’t have time to do it. But you do.
In fact, setting aside a few minutes each week to set up your schedule will help you tackle each work day more strategically. You’ll start the morning knowing exactly what you need to check off and wrap up the day feeling satisfied with the work accomplished.
“Taking time on a Sunday night to look at my calendar for the week really helps keep the Sunday Scaries away and helps me start my Monday morning feeling calmer and more ready,” shares Alli Hoff Kosik, freelance writer and host of the SSR Podcast.
Building this habit into your schedule can help you feel less stressed before and during the week, too. Plus, it’ll likely make you more productive, meaning that time you set aside wasn’t a waste at all—it actually saved you time in the end!
Here are some tips on how to write a weekly work plan and hold yourself accountable to it.
How to write a weekly work plan
Start with a brain dump
Your brain is juggling a lot of to-dos—projects to complete, projects to keep in mind for later, people to follow up with, random one-offs, you name it. Plus, you have a bunch of things to do for your non-work life, too (someone needs to buy groceries and clean the cat litter, right?).
Grab a blank sheet of paper and write down every single thing you can think of that you need to do. Not just the things you need to do for work or right this very moment—everything. Get it all out of your head and onto the page.
Run through your new list and clearly indicate when each and every item needs to be completed by. Be very honest with yourself about this. There might be some things that you think you need to do today or tomorrow, but ask yourself: Do they really need to be?
If yes, then note that. But if you have a little more wiggle room, don’t pressure yourself to do it sooner than you need to. Conversely, don’t push everything to the very last second, either.
You may be tempted to go one way or the other. Either you do everything right away because it’ll feel good to check it off, or you think you have more time than you really do and end up rushing at the end. With both situations, you’re just setting yourself up for failure and inducing unnecessary amounts of stress.
For long-term projects that don’t necessarily have a deadline, do one of two things: Assign them an ideal “start by” date to make sure they eventually happen, or you can start a running list of low priority, nice-to-have projects on a different page.
Put it on your calendar
After listing a due date for each one, put everything on your calendar. This is where having a project management system can really come in handy.
Don’t worry about items not due in the upcoming week. Simply keep them on your bigger, all-encompassing to-do list that you can reference each week when you plan.
For tasks that need to be done this week, write them down on the day they’re due, also indicating how much time you’ll need for each one. This will help you account for other meetings you might have, and make sure you actually have enough time to do everything you’re planning for the day. Treat each to-do as you would a meeting with another person. You wouldn’t just skip it, right?
As a bonus tip, try overestimating the amount of time you’ll need for each thing. If editing a memo usually takes 30 minutes, for example, set aside 45. You want to build in extra time in case you get interrupted or it takes longer than expected for whatever reason.
Avoid jam-packing your schedule. Leave some empty space on each day. This will provide you with the flexibility you’ll need to adapt to urgent calls, sick days, project roadblocks, and more.
How to stick to your weekly plan
It takes about two months to form a new habit. Here are some tips that will help you hold yourself accountable until this new routine becomes second nature.
Choose a regular day and time to do it
It should be exactly like a recurring meeting on your schedule. You can do it at the end of each week to prepare for the next, or you can do it at the very beginning. Kosik, for instance, plans her week out on Sunday evenings. It’s all about what works best for you.
So, put it on your schedule at a time you think will be easy for you to stick to (or at least easier than most other times). For Kosik, this process takes around five minutes. But she’s been doing this for a few years, so she’s a pro. At first, try setting aside 20 minutes and see how that goes.
Set reminders and/or alarms
If you’re putting it on a digital calendar, set up the reminder function, such as a notification popping up on your phone or an email trigger (or both). As you build this into a habit, use technology to push this task to the front of your mind each week. Another good option is setting a recurring reminder on your phone, especially if you’re using a paper planner.
Tell other people you’re doing it
Once you verbalize a goal to someone, it becomes more real, and it will really help increase your accountability. So, tell someone you talk to on a regular basis about it—your best friend, your spouse, your favorite co-worker, your boss. Again, choose what works best for you. Even if they don’t even ask you about it again, simply speaking it out loud to them will be helpful when it comes to sticking to it.
Increase your productivity by writing a weekly work plan
This is such a simple trick to use. It’ll help you be so much more productive each week (and day). So, starting next week, dedicate five to 20 minutes each week to planning out your schedule. When you realize how much this approach can help you tackle your workload strategically, you’ll be glad you did it.