Posted by Tom Gable
The following daily planning ritual, adapted from many resources, helps busy people manage multiple activities more effectively. Success requires establishing simple new habits. Some busy people use their personal process at the end of the day, so they are ready for a fresh start in the morning. Others like to go through these steps first thing in the morning, to refresh their memories, put the previous day in perspective and then update the daily and weekly checklists to plan and prioritize future actions.
Busy executives and PR account teams are buffeted by regular interruptions, outside demands (media and otherwise) and the internal churn of agency interactions. Our days are often filled with ambiguities and uncertainties. Establishing a daily ritual to plan and even create just a simple prioritized checklist can set the stage for more productive and effective work. Your road map for the day and week will make it easier to take the inevitable side trip or two, and then hop back on your personal Interstate Highway or more scenic planned route to resume your journey toward results. With a little practice, this daily planning and analysis ritual can take just 15 to 30 minutes. Once mastered, you will find it amazingly effective and liberating.
1. Clean Up – I found a common thread in the habits of our most effective clients and the many people I admire who lead top PR firms and share ideas with their fellow members of the PRSA Counselors Academy: they end each day by cleaning up all email, memos and other correspondence. Time management gurus recommend handling a message just once – decide what needs to be done with it immediately so you don’t waste time going back to it a third or fourth time before making a decision. Empty both IN and OUT email boxes; file the messages accordingly. It took me a little while to get into this ritual. But it is amazing to end or start each day with empty email in-boxes and sent mail boxes. As a former email pack rat, I found a huge feeling of accomplishment just getting rid of the glut and move emails into folders in an orderly filing system. Using the powerful search function in mail is fine for some. I prefer not having 4,238 emails in my In Box! As noted above, this means “single-handling or dealing with any piece of paper or email only once. Take action, respond, and delete, whatever. The time-wasting quagmire: setting something aside and going back to it over and over again. Procrastination and unneeded repetition are proven to be tremendous wastes of time.
1.a. Document – For those of us who keep time, record the time, which helps with analysis and perspective as well. I start the clean up process with the Sent folder in email. Those emails usually involve giving direction, tracking programs and sending materials to clients, the media and colleagues for action. The Sent folder provides a neat little chronology of the actions of the day.
2. Analyze and Put Into Perspective – Analyze what you’ve just reviewed quickly. It puts the day in perspective and starts the brain cogitating on future action items.
3. Record – Make a short list of major action items for the coming day and beyond if needed.
4. Prioritize – Assign your own code to prioritize action items, such as an “A” list or “B” or “C” list. Some people get more specific and number the list in order of how they plan to knock off each action item, i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc. Tinkering with administrative work or doing anything that doesn’t advance your plan are sure signs of procrastination and perhaps not wanting to deal with difficult challenges. Experts recommend attacking the hardest item first, so the rest of the day is a down-hill cruise.
5. Plan – Think about the day and week ahead. This is very much like looking at something with journalistic eyes — the five Ws and H (who, what, where, when, why and how). A quick thought process: what happened before and what needs to happen now, who needs to be involved if it requires additional resources, where, why is it important or on the list, how do we best make this happen and by when? How do we leverage resources as needed for greater impact?
6. Schedule – Some people make notes on their daily calendar on when they anticipate taking specific actions. This includes scheduling quiet time for research, creative or other activities that require concentration without interruption (turn off the cell phone, don’t look at email and totally focus on the task at hand). Block time for yourself. Schedule meetings with others as needed. Also, schedule to your strengths, such as blocking the time of the day when you are most creative for brainstorming and setting aside the dullest times of the day for administrative work.
7. Implement Your Plan – Manage and adjust as necessary. You’ll find you get into a rhythm and pattern. Knock off one priority item, then another, and build momentum. You gain confidence as you realize how effective you can be in taking control and managing toward results.
8. Celebrate! – Give yourself a high-five, pat-on-the-back, kudos, extra snack, glass of wine or other reward, for taking charge of your day, week, month, nagging issue, complex projects, etc. Take great pleasure is knocking off those items one at a time and in bundles.
As a caveat, developing this new habit is like any other new skill, it requires committing to the time to learn, practice and improve upon. Some people are instant masters of this. For others, it’s adapting the ritual to their own particular rhythms and strengths. Then, with regular use, this ritual becomes almost automatic and even more effective.
(Note: this is adapted from a chapter in the upcoming Fifth Edition of “The PR Client Service Manual — Managing for Results”)