Planning Tools
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Planning Tools

Regardless of if you work full-time remote or hybrid there is naturally less structure when you’re not in the office. When working independently it’s important to anticipate diversions and plan for them. Here are some ideas to help you improve your productivity when working remotely or hybrid…and while on vacation or at the beach/shore/coast.

Weekly Planning 

When doing your weekly planning, identify the best times and places to do your work. Block out specific tasks for the place where they are most effectively performed. 

  • Project work, quantitative work, and focused work is best performed where you won’t be interrupted.  
  • Meetings, group work, problem solving and planning is great to do in person when possible.  

Plan Today’s Work 

Organizing your tasks by priority provides additional structure. Knowing what must be done this week and what must be done by the end of the workday keeps the focus on the right tasks.

When working hybrid, some find it beneficial to adjust their task list by changing CRITICAL and HOT to HOME and OFFICE, or add in subsections.

  • Be deliberate and identify what’s possible to do for the day depending on other commitments and amount of time the identified tasks will take. 
  • Add structure by identifying task start times and estimating duration on your “Today’s Work” list. This helps fight the “work expanding to the time available” challenge.

Delineate Work from Non-Work Screen Time

Be ruthless with your online reading time and social media time. Be selective about what you are choosing to spend your time reading and watching.

  • Set specific hours for online reading — that means articles, blog posts, texts, videos, and messages from well-meaning friends. If you stop for a quick read of everything that is sent to you, it will be hard to get enough work done. Experiment with blocking out time at the very beginning of your day, at lunch, or at the end of your day for personal reading.
  • Ask yourself, “what is reading this now keeping me from doing?” This extra nudge is helpful to keep you focused on the work you want to do.
  • Reframe and read without guilt! Build in a system to stop “reading on the ping.” Move what you want to read to a category or flag/label it for later. Then when you get back to it, you can enjoy reading without guilt.

Make and Use a Personal Dashboard  

Creating a tool to manage your own accountability is often helpful. You are doing this for yourself. There is no one to show this to, no one to judge you, and no one to applaud you. At the end of the day, it’s your life and your productivity. 

  • A personal dashboard is a simple tool that will help you monitor patterns for success. Additionally, it cues you to do your important work, builds habits, and helps you achieve your flow conditions.
  • This is especially helpful during times of change (Illness, babies, moves, new responsibilities). Once you’ve integrated the processes into your routine, the dashboard will have served its purpose and you may not need it any more.

Create a Workspace Conducive for Good Work

Most of what is written about working from home is about getting dressed first. I know plenty of effective people who work in their pajamas or exercise clothing all day. For most, what they wear doesn’t affect productivity. The bigger obstacle is not being physically set up for success. Having a workspace that supports good work is key.

Find a Quiet Space — Are you able to have a work conversation without interruption? While it’s great to have your kids close by, sometimes you need to be able to close the door and focus. If you are working in a “public” space, find a backup location designated for times you need quiet.

Create a Video Chat Friendly Zone — Of course, you want a quiet space where you can meet without interruption. And yes, good lighting and background are nice. However, you also want a space conducive to productive meetings. Do you have a supportive chair, enough space on your screen to open the chat and still see colleagues’ faces, room for your coffee or water, and space to take notes?

Have Supplies in Reach — Have pens, pencils, markers, sticky notes, letter pads, files, and your priority task list in reach. While your “office” may be your kitchen island, your dining room table, your back porch, or a comfy chair in your family room, designate a space (a drawer or cabinet close by) for the supplies that help you get your work done.

Set Up Your Technology — Many people say “I’ll do that later” and never get to it. Taking the time (or hiring someone) to get your tech set up makes a huge difference. Working from home shouldn’t be looked upon as temporary. Even if you only work from home one day a week, that’s 20% of your work week. You need it to be effective. 

    • Purchase the best internet connection possible. There is no time like the present to make this investment in your productivity. 
    • Get a printer. Is it connected to your devices? Sometimes nothing beats having a piece of paper to lay out in front of you or to read away from your desk. 
    • Create a real workstation with a mouse, keyboard, and second monitor. Buy a connector so you can easily hook your laptop in and out. A second monitor increases productivity exponentially. 
    • Designate a handy place to charge your mouse, headphones, tablet, etc. 

Intentionally structuring your time and space supports good work.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

With summer upon us many of us will be changing where we’re working from.  The following are things to consider regardless of where you’re working from.

Working Remotely

Working from home is not new. Many entrepreneurs have been doing it for years. Remote work has been knocking at the door of corporate America for some time. However, COVID brought it mainstream. The global pandemic and the high proportion of workers working out of the office have forced us to rethink how and where we work. 

Moving into the future, one thing we can be sure about is working away from the office, at least part of the time, will be routine. Knowing how to work effectively, regardless of location, is central to the success of today’s workers.

The biggest challenge about working remotely is lack of structure. When we no longer have to wake up at a specific time, commute, attend in–person meetings, network in person, and “go to work,” our time foundation shifts. Personal time and work time blend together. Many people are in work-mode all the time. 

When we leave home and “go to work,” natural guardrails form. By simple proximity, we are not doing home related duties or having personal conversations when we are at “work.”  Yes, we may take a call from a family member or spend a few minutes on a personal task, but we aren’t walking the dog, doing laundry, or letting the repair person in. 

When working from home we spend more time on “home” tasks than anticipated and that means it takes longer to get our work done. To avoid that work/life confusion, consider how to structure your time so there is separation between work and personal tasks.

Working Hybrid – Remote, From Home, and At Work

Productivity in the hybrid work environment focuses on mobility and flexibility. The goal is to work effectively regardless of location. Your office is often in your work bag.  

You already face the challenges of structuring your work time when you’re in the office. Hybrid work brings more complexities because now you also have to consider where you work and when. Building systems to support your productivity is helpful.

Going to work is helpful too. Humans are social animals and we are much healthier with human interaction. While not everyone looks to their work to fill their need for belonging, many do, at least to some degree. 

If we can structure our work and our time effectively, the hybrid model, working remotely or from home for Focus Work time AND going to the office to collaborate and connect, is the best of both worlds. But how do we manage our productivity on the move?

Remote and At Home

You now have much more control over your time. While your meetings are scheduled, everything else is fluid. No one sees your true start times or end times. There is no peer pressure about lunch breaks or coffee breaks. And no one is watching when you are actually producing.

  • You’ve gained time by not commuting. Does this allow you to exercise before you start working or sleep later if that’s what your body needs?
  • You have flexibility when you do your Focus Work. Quiet without interruption is ideal. Is it best to wake early and get a couple of hours in before family activities or regular work interruptions start or better to work in the evening when meetings and emails subside?
  • Can you walk the dog (or just take a walk) at midday for some fresh air and to reenergize?
  • Do you need to tag team with your partner, one working early and the other working late, to be sure there is coverage for the kids?
  • Do you need to plan start times and end times so you have enough structure to get results and know when to stop?

Hybrid

A hybrid situation, where you spend part of your time in the office and part of your time at home, has advantages as well. All the above holds true for your time working out of the office. When we add in a day, or two, or three in the office each week, good things can happen.

  • Time in the office can be energizing. Take advantage of the lift you get when you’re with others, understanding that effectiveness improves with a change of environment and social interaction (even for most introverts). 
  • Child care and family obligations shift. Going to work can provide a much-needed break. The flexibility enables you to be better in each situation.
  • Self-care continues to be important. Taking time for a walking meeting helps with your steps goal. Leaders are on the lookout for ideas to support the new normal. Tell them what you need.
  • Planning start and stop times in the office is helpful to creating routine. These time anchors provide benchmarks to keep you on task and effective.

With proper planning and consideration your summer work can be successfully executed regardless of where you’re working from. 


This is an excerpt from Chapter 13 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Pings are everywhere. They permeate our workdays and our time off. Interruptions are meant to be disruptive, yet people can’t seem to remember to turn off their audible beeps before going on national television or walking into an important meeting. 

Each time you get a ping, you are also getting a dopamine infusion to your brain. You are addicting yourself to interruptions. Those pings however, are undermining your productivity. That ping is costing you time. Research indicates when you are interrupted, it can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to get back up to speed for the task you were originally working on. In addition to the time cost, that notification could also be affecting your health. In a fascinating study from UC-Irvine, research showed that frequent workplace interruptions cause greater levels of stress and frustration.

I frequently observe clients simply ignoring their dings, pings, and pop-ups. Instead of improving productivity, they are reducing it by giving the user a false sense of security.

If notifications cost time and cause stress, and if we set them to cue us to move into action and then ignore them, resulting in missing an important action or deadline, those pings really are doing more harm than good. 

Are notifications useless? Absolutely not. The question we should be asking is how do we use them to support us?

Use Notifications Prudently and Intentionally

Prudently

  • Start by turning ALL your notifications OFF. All of them. On your phone, your computer, your watch, your laptop, your tablet, everywhere. (Think zero-based budgeting!) 
  • Then ask yourself — which top three sounds really matter? Go back and turn those three on. Turning everything off and then selectively turning some back on will yield excellent results. 
  • If you have a Smart Watch, take it a step further and always keep your phone on silent. You can set your watch to vibrate for important notifications. 

Intentionally

  • Used intentionally, timers and pings can help. Too many pings and you just ignore them. When they occur infrequently, they catch our attention and can support us.
  • Pings can:
    • Cue us to move into action such as check for an important email response, switch tasks, prep for a meeting, start finishing up a project.
    • Cue us to leave or get ready to leave.
    • Cue us to take a break as a motivator to continue working on a hard project.
    • Cue us an ending time is coming.
    • Cue us to be aware of how much time is passing.

Turning off automatic notifications and instead setting intentional reminders is much more efficient. Experiment with the following timer techniques:

  • Voice-activated personal assistants like Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant are easy. “Hey Siri, 10-minute timer” and you’re cued. 
  • Browser – type “10–minute timer” into your browser search bar and you’ll get a ping in 10 minutes.
  • Smart Watch and Smart Phone Timer – Whether via an app, voice activated, or by “complications” on your watch, timers are quickly set.
  • Time Timer® – An analog clock shows the passage of time through a patented red disk. As time elapses, the red disk disappears, helping create awareness around the passing of time. This is helpful for phone calls, meetings, and Focus Work. It is marketed to the ADHD community; however, I have seen it help busy people without ADHD equally well. 
  • Any timer that doesn’t automatically turn off – When it really matters, set a timer that requires you to get up out of your chair and walk across the room to turn it off. If you have a strong need to “just finish this one thing,” find a timer that doesn’t automatically turn off. If you work from home, try your stove timer. If you are in the office, try an old-fashioned alarm clock and place it across the room.
  • The Pomodoro Technique is based on using timers to help sequence your work. Think interval training for your work. Coined “Pomodoro” by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the technique uses a timer to designate work and break times. (It’s called Pomodoro, Italian for tomato, since Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer to cue himself into action).
    • The original Pomodoro Technique suggests you work 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat 4 times. After the 5th 25-minute work interval you take a 25-minute break.
    • Many of my clients, however, don’t find the 5-minute break long enough. This is another great opportunity to experiment.
      • Do you want a 10-minute break? Try 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off.
      • Do you prefer working to a logical stopping point? What if you’re in flow and don’t want to stop at all? Try setting the timer anyway. It can be motivating to know a break is coming even if you don’t take it.
    • There are numerous apps available for you to try the Pomodoro Technique. Experiment to help you determine your best work time and break time combination.

Timers and notifications can boost your productivity if you use them prudently and intentionally.  Experiment with these suggestions and watch how much more you get done.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

What if you could set yourself up to do your focused, deep, important work successfully?  What does it take for you to get into flow?  Why is it so hard to get started?

Deep focused work carries a fairly heavy cognitive load. To get results, you need to be fully present. That doesn’t just happen. Many productivity pros say it’s critical to do this work at the time your mind is sharpest. But THERE IS SO MUCH MORE! 

As important as it is to understand your body clock, it is equally, if not more important, to identify the conditions YOU need to be successful doing your Focus Work. Being specific and identifying and integrating these conditions will help you get into flow. 

What are Your Conditions for Success?

Timing

  • You don’t have to wake up early! Embrace your body’s natural rhythms and maximize your best times. If you are an early-bird who likes to wake early, great. However, if you’re a night-owl, don’t feel badly about it and don’t push yourself to be someone you’re not. The people who say “to be successful you have to wake up at 5 a.m.” are people who like to wake up at 5 a.m. 
  • If you do your best work at the crack of dawn, or 4 p.m., or 11 p.m., it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you own it and PLAN to do your Focus Work when you can get it done! 

Other Work

Do you need to jump in when your mind is clear and uncluttered, or do you need to clear the decks in order to focus? Consider the following:

  • Loose Ends – Do you need to tie up any loose ends that will take you off task prior to beginning your Focus Work?
  • Email – Are all important emails addressed? Would it be helpful to schedule email time before or after Focus Work to support turning it off during?
  • Social Media – Would it be helpful to schedule social media time before or after Focus Work to support turning it off during?
  • Information and Data – Do you have all the information you anticipate needing so you don’t have to stop as often? Every time you go to the internet to look something up, you are opening yourself up to the temptation to go off task. 

Audio Interruptions

  • Notifications – What if you turned off all notifications, pop–ups, and interruptions on your computer? There are apps that limit web–surfing and social media if needed.
  • Phone – Can you silence your phone or put it on do not disturb? Better yet, can you put it out of reach?

Environment

  • Digital Clutter – Can you close windows, apps, and other distracting technology?
  • Physical Clutter – Would you be less distracted if your workspace was cleared of clutter? 
  • Music – Would you be more attentive if you played music?
  • Location – Do you focus better in an environment where you won’t be easily interrupted, or in settings with background noise and activity?

Self–Care

  • Movement and Meditation
    • Will exercising or meditating before starting your Focus Work result in better outputs? (Test it!)
  • Sleep 
    • Are you rested? How much sleep do you need? Are you getting it?
    • What do you need to do to ensure enough sleep? Schedule bedtime? Limit screen time? Set a reminder that it’s time for lights out?
  • Nutrition and Hydration
    • What foods help you concentrate?
    • What foods give you brain fog?
    • Does coffee help or hurt? How much? With or without sugar?
    • Do you have healthy snacks or chewing gum handy to keep the brain online?

Breaks 

  • Will a walk, nap, or meditation support your outcome?
  • Are you more effective taking a break after a certain amount of time or would it be more effective for you to take a break after reaching a certain target in your work?
  • Is it helpful to schedule breaks using an app so you know you can’t stop working until the outside tool says you can?
  • Would you benefit from an app that tells you to get up and move?

Communication

  • How can you signal to your coworkers you shouldn’t be interrupted? 
    • Can you put a sign on your door or cubical? 
    • Can you wear headphones?
    • Can you inform your colleagues you are doing Focus Work and not to interrupt you unless it is really important?
    • Is there any good reason to NOT show your calendar as busy?


There are many variables to consider. The sooner you learn your personal conditions to do your important focused work, the better chance you have to actually do it!


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Many templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Planning Facilitates Action

The most valuable thing about planning is that it forces you to slow down and think! There are lots of proverbs about planning:

  • People who plan like to plan but they don’t
  • We plan, God laughs.
  • Life is what happens when you’re busy planning.

And the famous Dwight D. Eisenhower quote “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

From a productivity perspective, planning is indispensable. Are plans useless? Probably not. The question is how to plan most effectively.

For some, identifying individual steps is enough. They gain the greatest benefit from thinking through the plan. Others benefit from regularly referring to the plan. Still others like to refer to the plan and document their progress along the way.

Planning project steps makes the execution so clear that your move into action is logical and easy.

Plan to Plan

Assuming that planning will happen without intention will set you up for not planning. The first step is to plan to plan, and that means adding the action of project planning to your task list. Then when it’s time to create your plan you can follow my easy 6-step process.

Ellen Faye’s 6–Step Project Planning Process

  1. Grab a stack of sticky notes – Write down each task associated with the project on its own sticky Don’t worry about writing them in any order, just write as fast as the ideas come to you. Be sure to use a new note for each individual task.
  2. Put the sticky notes in order – Consider what has to come before another step and the most logical order to do the work. During this process, you may think of extra steps. Create sticky notes for those steps and insert them into the process. Try organizing your notes on a vertical surface like a window or blank wall. You will be able to see how things relate and be able to easily move your notes around.

post it planning

NOTE: Sometimes these first two steps are enough. If others are involved, it’s time sensitive or very complex consider adding in steps 3 to 6.

  1. Assign a length of time to each step – Jot down on each sticky note your projection for how long the step will take, be it 15 minutes, an hour, or a week. When making your time estimates be sure to include thinking time, ramp–up time, interruption time, and break time. A good rule of thumb is to double your initial time projection.
  2. Assign due dates – If you have a deadline, start with the last sticky note and write the deadline on that note, then using the time projection, work from the last note backward. Date each note with the day it is due. If you can’t make the deadline as projected, look to see where you can adjust your timing, or if the deadline can be extended.

If there is no hard deadline, start on the first sticky note and assign due dates moving forward.

  1. Assign responsibility – If more than one person is working on the project, it’s helpful to identify who is responsible for each specific task and write it on sticky note.
  2. Place for easy reference – Transfer the information to your Priorities Task List, share with your team, copy to your planner, or simply leave the plan up on the wall.

For some, the tactile act of writing out the tasks and moving them around on sticky notes brings the project to life. Others are more comfortable doing this electronically on a simple spreadsheet.

project planning template

Regardless of the tool, following the steps compels you to think things through, and that is the real value of planning.


This is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. The Project Planning Templates is included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

Unlock Your Productivity

The last many posts shared with you systems for creating your path to productivity. I bet, however, your asking yourself “how do I make this part of my routine?” The answer is daily planning  and weekly planning. These practices help you learn a process that in time will go on autopilot and you’ll just do it. 

At the beginning, planning will take time and practice. As you get comfortable with the processes and integrate them into your routine, it will take less time and become easier. Start by scheduling an hour each week for weekly planning and five to fifteen minutes each day for daily planning. 

This is a true investment in your productivity and quality of work. You won’t know the value until you start doing it and feel confident and under control. When you miss a week or a day, you’ll notice the difference. You feel the stress, the worry of not knowing. There’s nothing like an out-of-control week to motivate you to invest the time to plan. 

Life isn’t perfect, however, and sometimes you’ll miss the planning blocks. That’s ok. The system doesn’t fail if you skip; it will be there waiting for you. The idea is to jump back in, catch up, and not lose traction.

Your Weekly Planning Checklist

Weekly planning is a time to review, assess, organize, and prepare for your upcoming week. The Weekly Planning Checklist provides you with numerous options on what to do during your planning time. As with everything productivity related, all options may not apply to you. Review and select the ones that will support your best work. Test and experiment, ultimately crafting a checklist of your own.

Here is the menu of options I share with my clients for Weekly Planning

  1. Review Your Calendar – is everything on your calendar that needs to be? Do you have to prepare for anything coming up? Does anything need changing?
  2. Essential Structures – add in relevant commitments from your Time Map and Essential Structures
  3. Process Loose Notes (physical and electronic)  and Papers – clearing the decks once a week keeps you from losing track of important things. Once you are caught up it’s not as hard.
  4. Clean up Computer – close open windows, pasting relevant links onto your task list.
  5. Update your Task List – read over everything so you don’t miss something important. Move items up, down or off.
  6. Triage Email/Electronic Messages – review, delete, clear out, file/label, prioritize – whatever system you have – be sure you know what you need to focus on this week.
  7. Clear Your Space – if this is an issue for you take the time to clear the surface on your workspace. Return your dishes/mugs to the kitchen, put your supplies away. Physical clutter slows you down.
  8. Goal Checking – check in on your Goals and Intention periodically.  

When to Schedule Weekly Planning

There are many good times to do Weekly Planning: 

  • Friday afternoon is a good choice for some. They have their plan for the upcoming week so they can relax over the weekend. Sometimes it becomes clear that they will need to work a few hours over the weekend to be ready for the week.
  • Others like to plan first thing Monday morning. This can get a bit dicey if urgent things tend to pop up. Monday morning planning is most successful when done early before typical work hours begin.
  • Many of my clients prefer to invest weekend time to do their weekly planning. They find it worth the weekend-time trade off to spend an hour on Saturday or Sunday morning, or even Sunday evening, knowing when they walk into their office Monday morning they will be focused and ready to work.
  • A couple of clients like to plan mid-week because of the cycle of their businesses. 

It doesn’t matter when you pick to do your weekly planning. What matters is that you pick a time and schedule it as a recurring event on your calendar. You are giving yourself the gift of time and setting yourself up for success by creating and integrating a routine to keep you on your path. 

Your Daily Planning Checklist

Daily planning focuses on productivity and planning Today’s Work. It targets key planning tools to support you in doing the right things at the right time for the day ahead.

Here is the menu of options I share with my clients for Daily Planning

  1. Review Your Calendar – is everything on your calendar that needs to be? Do you have to prepare for anything coming up? Does anything need changing? Complete calendared reminders.
  2. Check Task List – does anything need to move up, be added, or marked off as completed.
  3. Triage Email/Team Messages – does anything need to be added to today’s to dos?
  4. Plan Today’s Work – what are your priorities for today? Make an achievable “Today’s Work List.”  If you completed it you can always add more, but start off being realistic. 
  5. Other Activities – such as daily tracking, clearing your desks of projects you aren’t working on today, and review of mantra’s on inspiring quotes.

Scheduling Daily Planning – Morning Launch or Daily Wrap 

Investing five to fifteen minutes at the start or end of your day pays off exponentially. Planning creates awareness around your priorities and helps you focus on the most important work. As with Weekly Planning, this may take longer as you figure out your own process. Over time you’ll do it without thinking, and it really will only take you a few minutes. If you have unique habits or you use the block of time for processing email then you’ll want to add more time; however, the daily planning of Today’s Work can be done quite quickly.

The Morning Launch and Daily Wrap have the same elements, you simply are doing them at the beginning of your workday or at the end of your workday for the next day. Morning Launch is effective for those of you who do better planning at the start of your day. Daily Wrap is effective for those of you who prefer to prep for the next day at the end of the prior day.

Not sure which is best for you? This is a perfect time to experiment. Try one week of Morning Launch and the next week of Daily Wrap. Which worked best? 

  • Which one did you do more consistently?
  • Which one helped you feel in control of your day?
  • Which one lowered your stress?

Again, not all components will apply to you. Review and select the ones that will support you best. Test and experiment to craft a checklist you will want to follow daily.

My clients tell me time and again that when they do their daily and weekly planning they are less stressed and more proactive, and if they skip it they aren’t. Isn’t that worth a try?


This is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Daily and Weekly Planning Checklist templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.