Mondays come around fast, and you can always count on those open tasks you didn't get to last week to be eagerly awaiting your return - on top of this week's agenda of course.
Heading into the week without a game plan can leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and lead to workplace burnout – especially when you can’t seem to make a real dent in your to-do list no matter how hard you work. Taking the time to create an effective weekly work plan can increase your productivity and performance. While 70% of people use a to-do list to ensure they get their most important tasks done, most tasks take twice as long as we think they do, making it almost impossible to get through all of your work without some realistic planning. Let’s walk through the benefits of a weekly work plan, the 7 steps to create, and how to get started with a free work plan template to help you optimize your time and get more done every week.
What is a weekly work plan?
So, you want to get organized, save time, and get more done. A weekly work plan is a task management process that helps you organize and plan all the tasks you want to accomplish in a week.
Developing a work plan is an important, yet far too often overlooked, part of an effective task management strategy. You’re probably already planning out all of your to-dos every week, but without a strong work plan with actionable steps, it’s hard to determine what to prioritize next and find time to get everything done. Surprisingly (or not), only 53.5% of planned tasks get completed every week. And if you’re reading this, that’s probably not the statistic you want to contribute to!
Benefits of planning out your workweek
Did you know that for every minute you spend planning for a goal, you’ll save 10 minutes in executing your plan? Mapping out your workweek in advance allows you to work decisively throughout your day and maximize the task time you have - without having to wonder what the heck you should do next.
Here are the top benefits of building a weekly work plan:
- Reduce decision paralysis during task work
- Stay on track with your goals
- Predict obstacles & challenges
- Reduce context switching & time waste
- Say no to more meetings and requests for your time
- Reduce stress & improve confidence
By taking the time to plan ahead, you can build more structure into your workweek and create the focus time you need for your task work. And creating a productive weekly work plan doesn’t have to be complicated!
How to create a successful weekly work plan
So are you ready to step up your time management game and build a more productive structure into your workweek? Here’s how to create a productive weekly work plan in just 7 steps that will help you save hundreds of hours this year:
1. Schedule time to plan
It takes only 10-12 minutes to effectively plan an entire day. By dedicating just one hour to plan your whole workweek, you can save 2 hours a day and start every Monday feeling relaxed knowing your goals and expectations for the week – and have a clear plan of what you’re going to work every day.
The best time to schedule your weekly planning time block is usually between Friday afternoon and Monday morning so you can go into the new week fresh with your plan of attack. The most important thing is just getting it onto your calendar so you can defend this time and make it a habit every week.
2. Organize your to-dos
What better place to start organizing your to-dos than with a list? We know you’ve probably got a few floating around, but it’s time to consolidate these into a master list of everything you need to do. For all you busy professionals, this is probably already pretty well started in your project management app’s task list, but try to dig a little deeper. What tasks have you been putting off over the past few weeks? Are there any to-dos that you discussed but didn’t record? Any long-term projects that need foundational tasks done sooner? Now that you’ve collected all of your to-dos, let’s update this master list in your favorite project management app for easy automation, organization, and better collaboration with your team.
And of course, this is not a one-time project. Add to this list as new tasks and projects come up, and review your master list every week in your planning session to analyze what you accomplished and what’s on deck for the next week.
3. Prioritize & estimate your goals
So you’ve created your to-do list, now where to start? Before diving into the work, take the time to prioritize what’s most urgent and important, and how long each task will take to complete. And while you might feel a strong pull to just prioritize the most urgent, make sure to also consider what’s most important for your short and long-term goals. You might find the Eisenhower Matrix helpful in balancing your time management across big picture projects and everyday tasks, and deprioritizing distractions that don’t bring you any value.
To protect yourself from being spread too thin (especially on weeks where everything feels important and urgent), be critical of your task list. This will ultimately allow you to prioritize and accomplish your most meaningful work, and stay clear on which goals matter most. And as always, communicate and ask questions with your team. The most productive teams are the ones who are working together toward a shared goal.
4. Analyze your availability
Now that you have a prioritized task list to work from, let’s take a look at how much time you actually have available. And what better place to analyze your time than your calendar! Take a look at your week to see which meetings and appointments you’re obligated to, how much time you need for your regular routines, and finally, what time you have left over for your tasks. Is this enough time to get through all of the work you want to accomplish? Do your most productive hours overlap with your time available for task work? Is there anything on your schedule you should deprioritize under the work you really need to get done this week?
The average person is really only productive for 3 hours a day, which is why it’s so important to critically analyze and optimize your time around your priorities. The key is to plan in a way that fits around your availability so you can avoid work overload from trying to fit in more than you can manage.
5. Schedule time blocks for your to-dos
If you’re new to time blocking, it’s the incredibly productive habit of scheduling your day on your calendar in dedicated time blocks for the individual tasks you want to accomplish. A lack of time for focused work is actually the number one contributing cause to burnout, reported by 63.4% of professionals. The simple act of time blocking can increase productivity 80% by helping you reduce context switching between tasks, decision paralysis on where to start, and defend time on your calendar to work on your to-dos.
When blocking time for your weekly work, it’s also helpful to group together your shallow work tasks – those non-cognitively demanding tasks like email, Slack, or pruning your to-do list. By blocking out 30 minutes to get through your shallow work in the morning, and again at the end of the day, you can keep those small to-dos from bleeding into your cognitively demanding deep work task time. The average person maxes out at 4 hours of deep work a day, so scheduling long, dedicated time blocks to focus on just one or two priority tasks can help you enter a flow state where you’re up to 500% more productive in that limited time.
6. Stay flexible for change
Even with the best laid plans, you can always expect a few curve balls thrown into your week. New high-priority projects, business opportunities, bug fixes, etc. are always going to arise, and for you, that means more meetings and tasks to fit into your jam-packed schedule. Your weekly work plan needs to be flexible to unexpected changes, and capable of shifting your priorities around to accommodate what's best for your team. But how do you stay flexible with your entire week already blocked out across tasks and meetings?
Instead of spending hours playing calendar tetris to manually reschedule all the work you have to deprioritize for your new to-dos, you can automate this process with the help of smart time blocking tools like Reclaim.ai. Reclaim automatically blocks time for your tasks directly from your project management apps, but keeps these time blocks flexible for new changes and allows you to reprioritize your entire schedule in one click.
7. Analyze your weekly productivity
By the end of the week, you’ll certainly feel like you got more done, but how much did your productivity actually improve? How many hours were you able to defend for task work? What percentage of your planned tasks were you able to accomplish? Were you able to say 'no' to more non-priority requests for your time?
If you’re using an awesome free productivity tool like Reclaim.ai, you can automate a calendar time audit every week to track time across tasks, meetings, free time, even how much time you’re defending for your personal priorities. By monitoring how many tasks you were able to complete, which ones are still open, or left overdue for next week, you can keep improving your weekly work plan and also celebrate the awesome week you just pulled off!
Free weekly work plan template for max productivity 💪
So, what does a super productive weekly work plan look like? While every professional has their own unique work requirements and commitments, we built this free weekly work plan template for you to get started and customize to build your perfect week:
- 8:00 - 8:30am: Morning catch-up - Check in on emails, Slack messages, and new tasks assigned to you.
- 8:30 - 12:00pm: Deep work focus time - Time to work on priority tasks that require intense concentration (this is the time of day when the average person is most productive!)
- 12:00 - 1:00pm: Lunch - Refuel and take a break from work!
- 1:00 - 1:15pm: Afternoon catch-up - Review your inbox, update your task list, check in with colleagues on collaborative tasks.
- 1:15 - 4:30pm: Flexible time for meetings - Since the average person is most productive in the morning, try to keep your meetings to the afternoon! If you luck out with no meetings, use this time for your tasks.
- 4:30 - 5:00pm: End-of-day catch-up - Submit any deliverables, follow up on requests, and catch up on email one last time.
- 5pm - morning: Personal time - If you haven’t already, set your working hours in your schedule so you can defend your personal time from being overrun by work and prioritize time with your family, on your health, and of course, on some fun!
- Wednesday: Schedule a weekly no-meeting day to focus on independent, distraction-free task work. No-meeting Wednesday is a great way to break up the week, but any day will do!
This sample work plan is a great starting point to optimizing your week around your priorities, and you can find more weekly schedule templates online to personalize for your needs.
It gives you a minimum of 3.5 hours of productive task time on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, and a full 7 hours on Wednesday! That’s 21 hours of productive task work a week, while still defending an hour a day for catching up on your non-cognitively demanding shallow work tasks. You’re also defending this time without annoying your colleagues with a schedule that blocks your availability, while still keeping those meeting hours flexible for additional task work when possible. A perfectly balanced workweek!
Have a better workweek
Investing as little as an hour of your time in planning can get you big results, creating a less stressful and more productive week focused around your true priorities. Use the free work plan example above as a foundation to start applying the benefits of a weekly work plan, and personalize it based on what you need for your role.
By organizing your task list and making real time for your to-dos in your calendar, you can create a more effective plan for your most important work priorities. Goodbye Sunday scaries, and welcome to the confidence of knowing you’ve got an awesome game plan for the workweek!
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