Narath Carlile in Articles 5 minutes

The surprising gifts of planning well

This week I tried really hard to plan well, driven by the very stressful week that had just passed. I wanted to see if the solid/stretch goal method could help make my next week better.

I started by sorting my goals into either solid goals (ones that are challenging but realistic within a given timeframe) or stretch goals (ones that are higher effort and longer-term but yield bigger results). Once I had a list of solid goals for the week, I made sure I planned enough time (including the x factor to achieve those goals, and to do them well.

This sorting is harder than it sounds. It involves taking a hard look at yourself, and how much you can really achieve, and resetting your own expectations of what you will get done.

Surprisingly, taking the time to sort my goals also offered some delightful gifts:

The pleasure you get from anticipation was one. Looking at each of my proposed goals forced me to consider how I would do it well, and why I was doing it. I realized that this results in something that was surprisingly pleasing - the joy of anticipation. In a very busy week, even goals you look forward to can become stressors. But this time I looked at the week and while there were some busy moments, I also saw that I had *time enough* to do my most important tasks well - and I realized I looked forward to doing that!

The amazing experience of finishing the week feeling like I had won was the other gift. I had not experienced this for a very long time. Ending my week feeling victorious had tremendous follow-on effects including giving me a carefree Friday night and weekend, the space to plan some really wonderful life events, as well as allowing me to look forward to the week ahead.

If you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s how:

At the start of your week, clear your schedule for an 25 minutes to an hour. Get your calendar and your task trust system in front of you. Then prioritize and plan:

To Prioritize - Pick one task and do one of these things to it, either:

  • Delete it,
  • Defer it,
  • Delegate it,
  • or if you plan to do it, define it as either a stretch goal or a solid goal for this week.

Then repeat this process for every task on your ‘to do’ list.

To Plan Well - If you “accept” a solid goal, then block out enough time that week to do that task well. If you can’t do that, it’s most often for one of the following reasons:

  • You don’t have enough time available to do it well → In that case, your immediate next step is to break it down as much as you can and create realistic estimates of when you could get to each of those individual steps (and do them well).

  • You don’t know if you can get it done → This is a sign that you have some additional learning or discovery to do about that task. Make that your solid goal (instead of the eventual outcome). If you do a discovery spike on this task, then by the end of the week you should be much better able to inform your plan for completing that task in the following week. If someone is waiting for your outcome, make sure you communicate this change in planning/deliverable (you will be delivering more information about how to get this done, rather than just hoping that it will be able to get done in the time given).

  • You have to depend on others to get this done → This one is hard, since you cannot control if it will get done. Rather than scheduling time to nag or demand reporting on tasks, I’ve found it much more helpful to do work to help make sure this is an understood “team solid goal”, and to block off time doing things that will empower the team to get the work done. Useful examples of this are: creating space, taking on some communication tasks/meetings for them so they can have deep work time to get it done, doing mini-discovery spikes if they need it, or blocking off time for rapid reviews if you are reviewing documents or pull requests.

Using this 2-step process at the start of each week has helped me to have much better weeks (and weekends), and helped create better work-life balance. I hope it will help you too - drop me a line and let me know.