My planning system

I've evolved a system that really works for me and I am anxious to share. Unfortunately, it is hard to explain, so I wanted to post my first attempt to explain and get some feedback. The following is from a blog entry:

There are so many planning systems out there, but only one matters- the one that works for you. I have evolved my own planning system after years of trying others. I have to say that this planning system has been a miracle for me. It borrows heavily from the ideas and thoughts of others, but it is uniquely mine.

Before I get into specifics, I would like to outline my issues with planning. First, I love planning and thinking about planning and reading about planning more than doing. I admit this. However, I also love the joy of accomplishing something, which can't happen if I spend all my time thinking and reading about planning. So, I needed a system that gets me going and still feeds my desire to play with planners. (If you are in my boat, you know what I mean. Do you get excited by a new planner concept? Do you love notebooks/pens/office supplies? Does reading the term "personal planning methodology" get you as excited as a kid hearing the ice cream truck?)

My second issue with planning is that I have what I call a "muddled mind." Although I am not dumb (several Ivy league degrees hang crooked on my wall), I have trouble sorting out what I should do. Which project is important? How does it relate to my overall focus in life? Hmmm...these questions are hard so why don't I look for a planner?

I long to join the ranks for people who can just do it.

So, without further ado, here is the system. I will give the nuts n' bolts first, then the reasoning behind it.

1. The system is designed around goal setting, except that it is goal setting in reverse (will explain). For the first seven days, you set 5-8 goals per day. You must achieve at least 5 of these goals. If you achieve 5 goals per day for a week, then you continue to set/achieve 5 goals per day, but you also add to this 5 seven day goals. Thus, after you get used to daily goal setting, you add in weekly goals. After you have done this combination of daily/weekly goals for 4 weeks, you set four week goals. Then, you move on to 12-week, 24-week, and one year.

To move to 7 day goals, you must achieve your daily goals for 7 days. To move to 4-week goals, you must achieve your daily/weekly goals for 4 weeks. To move to 12-week goals, you must achieve your daily/weekly/4 week goals for 12 weeks. And so on.

The idea behind this is that you learn goal setting step by step. After setting daily goals, you get a sense of what kinds of goals work for you, so you can move on to weekly goals. After setting weekly and daily goals for 4 weeks, you get a sense of how to set a longer term goal (weekly) and break it down into daily steps.

If you were to only set daily goals, it would be hard to ever achieve multistep, long-term projects, However, it is hard for some of us to set goals. Hard to think ahead, plan what needs to be done, etc. With this system, you learn goal setting. The other great thing about this system is that is creates incredible momentum. You accomplish something everyday. You get the high of writing something done and checking something off. You start to look forward to your "next step up," moving to the next level of goal setting.

In the beginning, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, many of your goals at the start will be clearing backlog. That is certainly okay. As you get better at using the system, the backlogs will clear and your goals will focus more on projects and long-term improvements. Second, at the beginning you should try to achieve things that pop out at you. Maybe 30 minutes cleaning your desk. Or a walk outside. Anything that gives you immediate positive feelings so you will keep going.

Now, the fun part for us self-improvement/planner junkies...

There is tons of information about planning projects, goals, about self-improvement, motivation, etc. In the past, I would read all this stuff and not be sure how to implement it. This system I have described gives you a framework for using all of this. You will need to read about project planning and goal setting to make this system successful. You will have to tweak forms and create systems. None of this will be theoretical anymore, because your focus will be on your goals and keeping with the system. Every project planning form will be tested in this system. As long as you move forward and hold on to this system, none of this is a waste of time.

One of the best things you can do is to find and do goal setting exercises. You know, like listing 100 you want to do before you die, drafting mission statements, etc. If you are like me, you love this stuff. More importantly, all of these exercises will help you generate goals for the system.

Brainstorming becomes a blast because you know you have a framework to achieve.

I keep a binder of projects divided by category and spend at least an hour a week brainstorming. I also have a binder of motivation quotes and articles.

This system may seem simplistic to those who have spent hours evolving ways to manage to-lists. The great thing about this system is that it works in harmony with whatever else you've got. All you have to do is identify the goals for the relevant time period. It makes whatever system you are already using better and it makes you actually use whatever system you have. I have to look at my project lists, I have to brainstorm, I have to consider my roles in life. I have to set priorities. Covey's quadrant jumps out at me now. My five goals are "golden" in that they represent my real commmitments.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

More info

Wanted to add more information about this system.

An obvious question is what happens when you miss a day/week, etc. At first, I would try to just move all the deadlines over to accomodate the miss. However, this became a mess with trying to track deadlines, etc. Now I just make up for it in the next goal period. If I only hit four of my weekly goals, I have to do six the next week.

Second question is whether urgent items go on a goal list. My practice has been that if something needs to get done today or tomorrow, it goes on my list. I hate to clutter my goal list with these urgent items, though. I cheat on this by doing the urgent item as early as possible and then making my goal list.

There are also must items that are recurring. I have always had a daily home checklist (mostly mental- stuff like laundry). I hate for these to go on my goal list, so I do have daily and weekly checklists. If I am doing my checklists, this stuff stays off of my goal list. If no, it goes back.

Even more

Finally, wanted to add some information about how my 5goals system is set up.

I carry a small notebook. The last five pages are my capture list/inbox. Whatever you want to call it. I write down things that need to get done, whether they are specific to-dos or project ideas, etc. I go through this list daily. Moving items to the appropriate spots. (more on this). When the five pages are full, I rip the pages out and start over after carefully going through each item on the list. I have a tab to make the to-do list so I can flip to it quickly.

I write "week" on the first page and then I set up a page for each day. The back of the preceeding page is for notes. Thus, the first page says "week", the next says "monday" and so on.

My day pages are set up in a free form way but I always have my 5-8 goals listed and my checklist (same items every day, although some don't apply every day- don't have to make dinner if we are going out). I generally reserve two inches straightdown for free form scheduling. I also have a small "on the horizon" section to remind of important things that didn't make my goal list. Notes go on the back of the preceding page.

On the weekly page, I have (depending on where I am with my goal setting) my weekly goals, and my monthly goals. I also have a list of the set weekly committments/appointments. (I don't have many that are set in stone.)I guess this is like the hard landscape in GTD.

In the back of my notebook, in a folder, I have a printed calendar and lists of goals for the 4-weeks, quarter, etc. The list is a three column table that just says "deadline" and "goals" and "type" (four week, quarterly, etc.) The weekly goals don't go on here, as they are listed on the individual pages.

In a separate binder, I have four sections. One is marked "projects", one is marked
brainstorming", one is marked "motivation" and one is marked "resources." The binder is big.

The brainstorming section is for free form brainstorming. Here, I clip and paste pictures, ideas, articles, etc. Anything that can possibly lead to a goal idea.

The projects section is divided roughly by life areas. It is where I more formally plan out projects and, as per GTD methodology, try to reduce ideas to next actions. I also keep an on-going project idea list here, which is lifted off of capture list in my notebook or generated from doing exercises, etc. I am always on the search for better project planning pages to improve my goal setting.

In the motivation section, I do exercises-defining my roles, mission statements. There are tons of such exercises all over the web. I don't worry about doing this stuff perfectly. All of this functions as a way to generate ideas and keeps me connected to the higher level planning.

The resources section has articles, etc on planning, goal setting etc. For example, I have Covey's quadrant, the GTD methodology, list of TQ factors, etc.

I have corresponding sections in a folder on my computer that serve the same function. For example, the resources folder on my computer has links to articles that I have not printed.

I have an in-box on my desk. My calendar is on my phone and syncs to the computer. On a daily bais, I set my goals, review the to-do list, review my longer term goals, go through my in-box, and sync my calendar. On a weekly basis, I set my goals, review my longer term goals, plan my hard landscape, and spend at least an hour brainstorming and doing exercises. I have index cards at my desk that list what I need to do for daily planning (review to-do list, etc.) and weekly. The cards are printed and I check off what I've done in pencil and just re-use.

Because I love the motivational stuff, some of my goals are always committed to learning in this area. For instance, today I am starting to listen to a 7 part Brian Tracy series. One of my goals is to listen to the first segment. A longer term goal is memorizing the TQ factors. I don't know if this stuff is ultimately useful, but it something I feel compelled to do it. At least now it is a planned part of my life!

Could you post a pictures of your pages and layouts?

There is so much information to digest, a visual aid would be welcomed. :)

Yes and no for me

I like the system for finding goals as described in your first post, which seems a useful 'bottom up' approach for finding goals lost in a collection of tasks.

You've got some really good ideas here and it's obviously working for you. Which is what matters!

For me, I'm all for "less is more" and like very streamlined planning systems with as few components as is practical. So I can't see the value (for me) in - day pages and week pages and goals and projects and brainstorming and motivation and resources and an inbox and a computer calendar and a phone calendar and cards with to-do lists etc etc. (From experience I know that if my planner is larger than an A5 notebook or heavier than a couple of comic books then I won't carry it)

I'd probably cut it down to - a combined day page and to-do list and in-box, combined week page and short term goals, long term goals, calendar and projects. Then the brainstorming, motivation and resources would be separate from my planner.

Why do posts keep disappearing?

I keep reading responses to my posts and then the posts seem to disappear. In fact, I write a response and then get an error message that the response I am replying to does not exist! How can this be?

To the disappearing posters

Don't know what happened to the comments and questions that were on this thread. I swear I'm not crazy! But this is in reponse to those posts (and some that still seem to be there).

1. This system is premised on the idea that goal setting/achieving is a fundamental skill for success. My definition of a goal is simply a planned specific objective. By specific, I simply mean that it is something that can be checked off as having been accomplished.

2. Goal setting/achievement requires specific skills and habits. Hats off to those who have these naturally, but I suspect that these boards attract people who are still working on this.

3. One of the habits needed for goal setting is simply the discipline of planning to do something and then doing it. It sounds simple but there is a tremendous amount of power in being able to say "I'm writing these five things down and I am going to do them today." You learn to trust yourself. You start to get excited about what can get done when you trust yourself to do it.

4. One of the other skills needed for goal setting is the ability to backward plan. For example, if you set a goal to start a business in one year, it is the ability to plan backwards in time to figure out what needs to be done to achieve this goal.

I think that in most people it is a skill that needs to be honed. In my system, the first "long-term" goals you set are weekly ones. Achieving five weekly goals hones this "backward planning" skill. If you say that this week you will clean the garage, then, first, you need to define "clean the garage" in a way that allows you to check it off when complete. Next, you need to take your definition and break it into steps. You need to look at that goal every day that week and make sure it is moving forward.

Do this with five goals for four weeks and you now know how to set a weekly goal.

5. As you move on to four-week goals, this skill only needs to get sharper to succeed. Believe me, it takes practice and discipline to move from daily goals to weekly goals, weekly goals to four-week goals, etc. As you "move up", you develop more skill and confidence.

6. My success with this system: lost 25 pounds, started a business that looks on track to make 6 figures in the first year, found a business partner (didn't know how much I needed one until I started getting good at this backward planning stuff), spent more quality/memorable time with my kids that I could ever have imagined (stuff like reading great books together, creating a nice garden).

7. The progressive goal setting is the fundamental part of the system. My daily planning page, my brainstorm binder- all of this is the framework to support the goal setting. I need to know what I need to do (my notebook does this) and I need to have somewhere to plan and dream and incubate my goals (my binder does this). As long as a person has a place/way to track and a place/way to dream, the specifics don't matter.

Try it!

This system is easy to try. Just grab an index card and write down 5-8 things you will do today. Make sure you do at least five. Do the same thing for seven days. If you get less than 5 goals accomplished one day, compensate the next day.

Do the same thing for the next seven days, except add in 5-8 7-day goals. Write your daily goals on the front of the card and the 7-day goals on the back. Do this for a full-four weeks.

I jokingly use karate belt levels to measure my progress- makes it fun. If you do the first seven days, you've earned your yellow belt. If you do the next four weeks, you have earned an orange.

This will take 35 days:

first seven days: 5-7 daily goals
next four weeks: daily goals plus weekly goals

Disappearing Posts == SPAM Removal

I have been doing a heavier-than-usual amount of spam/spammer removal. That would account for some of it, but I never touch an actual response. You may have seen these postings. They appear in groups of four or five with a generic greeting for a subject and some generic comment for a body. But if you look at the poster's profile, it is only an hour or three old and has lots of inappropriate and undesirable links in it.

Bloody Vikings ! :)

In this thread, I have only seen two responses -- one from Katrina and one from Anne-Sophie.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

disappearing posts

One of the posts was from someone called hello and one of the other from someone called helloo. (I believe that is correct). Or perhaps that was the name of the post? One comment was just asked "where can I learn more about this?) (or something to that effect).

Weird, huh? When I first logged on this morning it said that there were six new posts!

That was SPAM

it has been removed.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Could you provide a link or

"In the motivation section, I do exercises-defining my roles, mission statements. There are tons of such exercises all over the web"

Could you provide a link or appropriate search patterns for the exercises you mention? I tried searching and could not find anything, maybe I don't know what I am searching for.