How to Plan Your Week for Maximum Effectiveness

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "First Things First" by Stephen R. Covey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you plan your weeks in advance? What activities take precedence as you design your week?

A week encompasses a natural balance of life: It includes work or school days, evenings, and weekends. Weekly planning is a balanced compromise between daily and long-term planning. It connects a bigger-picture perspective with day-to-day actionables.

Here’s how to plan your week for maximum effectiveness.

How to Plan Your Week

In his book First Things First, Stephen Covey explains how to plan your week to make the most of it.

When planning ahead, most people prioritize urgent—but not important—activities. If you want to make the most of your week, you should reverse this approach and prioritize activities that are important—but not urgent.

One useful strategy for scheduling your priorities is to create time zones. Time zones are blocks of time that are set aside for high-priority Quadrant II activities, but they are more flexible than specific appointments.

For example, you may create a three-hour time zone every Saturday morning for family time. This doesn’t mean that every Saturday you’ll have family time that starts strictly at 9 a.m. and concludes by noon; rather, blocking out this time helps you schedule other activities around it and channel family activities into that time zone (when possible). 

At work, you might create time zones for one-on-one meetings with employees or long-term planning. You may not always have meetings to fill those time zones, but when you do get a meeting request you’ll already have the time blocked out to schedule it. 

Time zones create established time for certain activities that other people become aware of and can plan around; your friends know you’re most likely going to decline any invites for Saturday morning plans because it’s your family time, and your employees know they can most likely plan to sit down with you on a Tuesday afternoon because that’s your time zone for meetings. 

Don’t fill your schedule with time zones, but use them to ensure you allocate time for high-priority activities. If a one-time event disrupts a time zone—such as a mandatory conference call during your time zone for one-on-one meetings—you have the flexibility to move one-on-one meetings to another time slot during that week without losing the time altogether, and by the end of the week, you’ll have still accomplished all of your priorities. 

Strategies for Evaluating Your Week

The value of each week is not just what we accomplish during it, but what we learn from it and how we apply that to the weeks that follow. That’s why it’s also important to evaluate your experiences from the past week to inform your choices for the coming week. This creates an upward spiral of growth. 

Through a continuing cycle of organizing, acting, and evaluating, you increase your self-awareness, strengthen your connection with your conscience, and increase your capacity to implement constructive habits and act effectively. 

Using a personal journal or making notes on the back of each week’s schedule may be helpful in your weekly evaluation practice. Some people find it useful to create a list of five or six questions to ask yourself before you begin planning for the following week. 

Your questions might include some of the following: 

  • What goals did I achieve? 
  • What pushed and empowered me to achieve these goals?
  • What challenges did I face?
  • How did I overcome these challenges? 
  • Did I make the best use of my time by accomplishing these goals?
  • Did my commitment to accomplishing these goals steer me away from opportunities that could’ve been a better way to spend my time? 
  • Did reaching these goals add to my Personal Integrity Account?
  • Which goals did I fail to achieve? 
  • What prevented me from reaching these goals? 
  • Did I make better use of my time by not accomplishing these goals? 
  • Did these choices add to or withdraw from my Personal Integrity Account?
  • Which unmet goals should carry over into the coming week? 
  • Did I dedicate time for renewal, reflection, and recommitting to my mission?
  • Did I dedicate time each day to sharpening the saw? 
  • How did my renewal impact other areas of my life? 
  • How did I create synergy among my roles and goals?
  • How did benefits and strengths in one role strengthen my performance in other roles? 
  • Which true north principles did I use this week? What was the impact?
  • Which true north principles did I fail to use this week? What was the impact?
  • How much time did I spend in each quadrant? 
  • What are the main lessons I can take away from my experiences this week? 

When you reflect on these questions, be honest and self-aware — the more honest you can be, the more it will benefit you and your future. Connect with your conscience as you make these evaluations and use your creative imagination and independent will to imagine how to plan your week in view of the lessons you’ve learned.

See Your Week in a Larger Context

Just as it’s important to connect the big picture of your life to your daily and weekly time management, it’s critical to evaluate your week in a larger context. In addition to each week’s evaluation, do monthly or quarterly evaluations of your experiences and your lessons to gain a greater understanding of patterns and habits you may not notice on a daily or weekly basis. 

During these evaluations, you may want to ask yourself some of these questions:

  • What patterns of success or failure do I recognize in how I set and achieve my goals?
  • Are the goals I’m setting both realistic and challenging? 
  • What obstacles impede me from achieving my goals?
  • How can I improve my patterns or process for setting and achieving goals?
  • Do I create unrealistic expectations? If so, how can I adjust them?

Deeper Understanding Leads to More Profound Results

When you begin using the Quadrant II organizing process, it’ll most likely take time to shift from your old paradigms of efficiency and your previous time management habits. But as you continue to use the organizing system and internalize the principles that guide the process, you’ll have a deeper experience that produces more meaningful results. 

Reflect on how the six steps of the Quadrant II organizing process encourage you to put first things first

  1. Connecting to your mission makes you aware of your first things and sparks the passion of vision that energizes you to pursue those first things each day. 
  2. Reviewing your roles reminds you of the ways you can accomplish your mission in a balanced and synergistic way. 
  3. Setting goals guides you in using your time as effectively as possible and helps you determine the most important things you can do each week to achieve your mission. 
  4. Weekly organizing allows you to prioritize the most important things in your schedule, and fit other, less important tasks around those priorities.
  5. Practicing integrity in moments of choice allows you to pause and connect with your conscience to ensure each decision you make is aligned with your mission and principles. 
  6. Weekly evaluation helps you to turn each week’s experiences into lessons to create an upward spiral of learning and higher living.
How to Plan Your Week for Maximum Effectiveness

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  • How to work effectively, not just efficiently
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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