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plan Tag

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?


  • 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?


  • 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?


  • 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?


  • 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?


  • 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.

to do list pro secrets

We’ve been talking about your to-do/task list the last few posts. Here are my favorite pro tips for an effective to do list.  With the new year upon us, it’s a good time to tune up your processes.

Capture Your Thoughts

  • Use your list as a capturing device. If you think you’re going to remember everything without writing it down, you simply won’t remember what you’ve forgotten. And if you really can remember EVERYTHING, this probably won’t be the case as you get more and more responsibilities, in and outside of your work.
  • Get in the habit of capturing thoughts as you think of them. Capture new to-dos directly on your list, make a note and put it in a specified place that you check when updating your list, or send an email or message to yourself to cue you to add the task to your list.

Be Concise 

  • Your task list will serve you best with fewer words. The more words, the more visual clutter and the more difficult it will be to see what you really need to do. The purpose of your list is to cue you into action. The brain works off of cues; it doesn’t need full explanations.

Projects Don’t Belong on Your CRITICAL or HOT List

  • A frequent stumbling block in task management is that people put projects on their task list. This is where project planning will serve you. What steps do you need to take to create the workshop? 
    • Brainstorm the steps onto either an electronic document or on individual sticky notes. Taking time to think through the steps makes everything easier.
    • Once you have the individual steps, then you can more easily put them in order and see if anything is missing. 
    • Now that you have the steps of your plan, you can decide when you will execute on them, adding them to your to do list in individual steps.

Removing Things from You List Is Good Too

  • Guess what! Just because something is on your task list doesn’t mean it needs to stay there. Life changes. Priorities shift. What seemed like a great idea three weeks ago may not sound like a good idea today, or next week, or the week after. 
  • Before leaving a task on your list ask yourself:
    • Is this task still important?
    • Is there someone you should check in with and discuss if the task is still a priority?
    • If this task has been on your list for a long time and you still haven’t done it, how important can it really be?
  • Removing unimportant things from your task list ensures you are focusing on your high-value work. 

Update Regularly 

  • Doing the right tasks at the right time supports your goals, intentions, and priorities. To execute on your tasks, you need to keep them top of mind. 
  • For a task list to keep you focused and directed, it needs to be maintained. Without proper maintenance, it quickly becomes obsolete. Your investment of time and energy to set it up is wasted. 
  • Planning puts you on the path to better productivity. If you want to be more effective and less stressed, a properly maintained task list is an indispensable asset. 

This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.

In my last blog post I introduced you to the Priorities Planning Method. My method helps you identify which tasks to address NOW. When your task list is used and maintained following this methodology, important tasks won’t get lost, and you will feel confident and under control.  

The key is to organize each task into categories:

The CRITICAL Category – These are tasks that you must do now, today, or perhaps tomorrow. If there is no option to delay, it goes here.

  • Must be done today (or tomorrow at the latest)
  • Must be done or you can’t stop working for the day
  • There is NO OPTION; you must do it

The HOT Category – Tasks that are bubbling up to CRITICAL go here. These are the things that need to be done this week or in the next few days or there is a consequence:

  • You will miss a deadline
  • It will cost you money
  • You will be embarrassed
  • You will let someone down who is important to you
  • You will let yourself down
  • You won’t ever get to your high-value work

Filter questions, questions that help you see the situation more clearly, help you determine which tasks are HOT.

  • Does this task help me meet a goal or intention?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t do this task on time? 
  • If I don’t do this task in the next few days, will I miss an opportunity or will it cost me money?
  • If I don’t do this task, who suffers?
  • If this task doesn’t get done, will I let myself down?

Don’t skip over letting yourself down. Your work performance and satisfaction are affected by your ability to prioritize some of the things that are meaningful to you. It is easy to put everyone’s tasks in front of those that will inspire and motivate you. This is a great opportunity to start prioritizing yourself. 

The SOONER Category – Needs to be done soon, but not this week.

The LATER Category – If it can wait until LATER or if it is something you’re just thinking about doing, it goes in the LATER column.

Other Categories That May Be Helpful

The benefit of limiting yourself to four categories is that it’s easy to manage. If you are keeping a paper system, you can easily fit the four categories on one piece of paper. If you are managing your tasks in an app or spreadsheet program, you may want to add more.

Waiting: The WAITING category is for those items you’ve taken action on and are waiting for someone else’s action before you can proceed. The value of the waiting list is it keeps your CRITICAL and HOT lists clean and filled with actionable tasks.

Completed: The COMPLETED category is like checking off a task. Moving an item to COMPLETED feels great. Additionally, you can use this to verify the status of a task, or simply to have a running list of work you’ve completed.

Projects: A PROJECT category can be created if you would like to have a dedicated column for projects you are working on. Alternatively, the online template tool provides space for project work to be planned out and assigned into CRITICAL – HOT – SOONER – LATER categories.

Ideas: Sometimes ideas come to mind that aren’t ready to go on your list, but you don’t want to forget them. You can add an ideas category to your priorities planner or keep a running list on a notes app. 

Other Categories: Sometimes something will pop up that can be its own category; things to pack for vacation, things to discuss with your team or boss, ideas to capture relating to a specific project. When creating another list makes sense, please do so. Just remember to delete it when it is no longer relevant. 

Taking the time to organize your tasks may seem wasteful, but it helps you become proactive in your work. The only way you’ll know if this can work for you is to try it!

This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.


In my last blog post I introduced you to Time Mapping. This week we move on my personal favorite step of The Productivity Flow Framework: The Priorities Task List. 

Tasks without sequence are like an unordered list of directions. What if I told you that you could have a to-do list that delivers the right tasks in the right order at the right time, like a conveyer belt delivers the next item to build a product? Using my Priorities Task List methodology  gives you the ability to adapt your list to any tool or situation you wish. And it can serve you the rest of your life, because once you learn it you won’t have to figure this out ever again. 

You can have this kind of productive list. There are two conditions for this system to work: 

  • YOU have to trust the system.
  • YOU have to use the system. 

That’s it. Like many of the things I share with you, you’ll find it reasonably simple. Too simple to work? No, not at all.

How about so simple it can’t not work. It’s time to reengineer your list! Your task list should support you, not stress you out or overwhelm you. It should manage your actionable tasks for you. We start by dispelling some common list mistakes: I call them List Land Mines.

Land Mine 1: Projects not tasks

What I See: A huge reason people get stuck getting through their lists is they include multi–step projects. To be effective, lists should consist of simple actionable steps. 

Diagnosis: Project paralysis 

    • When the project is too large, it becomes overwhelming and gets skipped until it’s almost too late. 
    • When the project isn’t planned, it is unclear where to start and what to do next.

Instead: Projects are easier to address and complete when they are broken down into actionable tasks. Key steps should be integrated into your list. When you are clear on the steps, it’s easier to know what to do next.

Land Mine 2: The big, long list

What I See: Many people keep their tasks on one big, long running list. Often a notebook or phone note of page after page of actions. They spend the majority of their time trying to figure out what to do next.  Then, when they are checking the list, they start by looking for something that might be important. On the paper list, asterisks and codes go in the margins, and completed things are crossed off. On the phone list, maybe things get deleted. Or maybe not. Alternately, there is the multiple-lists method. Every time you think of something else to do, you start a new list, or add it to the closest napkin or envelope back you can find. 

Diagnosis: The big, long lists are simply a bunch of words. It doesn’t help you determine what is important, nor does it organize the tasks in a way that helps you identify what needs to happen next. Multiple notes of actions are equally problematic. You end up writing the same task down over and over, which makes you feel like you have more to do than you actually do. Or you can’t find your list so you start a new one. However, you’re not sure what’s on the list you can’t find, and that nagging feeling of missing something important persists.

Instead: You are going to compartmentalize things on your task list by priority. And you will sort and group at the same time. When you unload the dishwasher, do you take all the silverware out and put it on the counter, then sort the forks from the spoons and knives, then put them in the silverware drawer? Or do you spread the utensils all over the counter and leave them there? No, you go from the dishwasher and sort the silverware directly into the correct compartments in the utensil tray. You are going to do the same thing with your tasks. Just like you need compartments for the spoons and forks, and just like you know where to find the knives in your kitchen, you are going to create compartments for your tasks. That way you will know exactly where to put what you need to do and where to find what you need to do next.

Land Mine 3: Rewriting over and over again  

What I See: Time spent copying over big, long lists onto new big, long lists.

Diagnosis: What do you have to show for that hour or two spent copying your endless list? Just a new endless list and more frustration. You are not advancing your productivity.

Instead: You will learn how to create a self–maintaining system. Regardless of tool, you will learn how to keep your list current. It’s a better use of your time to review, prioritize, and move into action than to rewrite.

Land Mine 4: Leaving updates to chance 

What I see: You occasionally update your list when you feel like it or when you’ve missed something important. There is no process.

Diagnosis: Updating after you’ve dropped the ball is too little too late. You add to your stress and are being reactive rather than proactive. 

Instead: It’s important to build a routine around managing your tasks. A good list is one of your most powerful productivity tools. Remember, however, it only works if you maintain it.

Land Mine 5: Expecting the Tool to Fix the Problem

What I see: You’ve bought countless planners. You’ve downloaded innumerable apps. You keep looking for the magic tool. Up until now, every attempt you’ve made to integrate a new task list has involved buying a tool. That’s like buying books before you know how to read or pads of college ruled paper before you know how to form letters. 

Diagnosis: The tool is secondary. It is not the solution. That’s why all those apps and systems you’ve purchased haven’t worked. Until you have a good methodology, you’ll continue to be frustrated.

Instead: Stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll tell you all about the Priorities Planning Method.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of my new book Productivity for How You’re Wired available on Amazon. Worksheets and online templates are included via the time tools link discussed in the book.