We all want to be better at managing our time. We’d like to set goals, lay out a plan for accomplishing those goals, and consistently follow the plan. Meanwhile, we want family-work balance, enough rest and recreation, and having a sense that what we’re doing is worthwhile.
These are things that I want for myself, and I suspect many of you are the same. In the process of looking closely at the way I plan my day, I identified three core principles that help me achieve those things.
I call these the three principles of optimized planning, and they make the basic foundation of the Zeitgeber planning system. They are purpose, focus and balance.
When I plan, I need a way to set the course for what I want to accomplish. This is a really basic concept, but sometimes, I find myself just planning the day/week/month, without having a clear idea of why I’m doing all these activities and tasks.
Setting a purpose is a big-picture, big-rock approach that forces me to be proactive.
I can easily fill my schedule with activities. But what am I doing that will give me the sense that I’ve moved forward with a personal goal? What am I doing that will help me “level up,” as my kids are prone to say? What are my big rocks?
Leveling up could mean taking steps to gain skills, knowledge, or experience that I didn’t have before. Maybe it means having a more organized home. Or establishing a new habit. Helping my kids improve at school, or be better at a sport. It could mean finishing a quilt, scrapbook or website.
Those are all good goals. But if I don’t plan them into my day, there’s less chance of them happening.
I use the Project Master Plan to list those projects and have a sense of how much time I’ll need to accomplish them. Additionally, the rest of the Zeitgeber planning system helps me funnel those projects into my monthly, weekly, and daily planning.
Those projects in my plan won’t happen by themselves. They need to be broken down into action steps in order to be done. A project list with action steps helps me plan intentionally and with a purpose.
Focus in optimized planning comes at several levels.
There’s the big-picture, big-rock “what is my purpose” level, which helps me keep the important stuff in mind. Creating a master plan helps me identify what I really want to accomplish over time. There are many worthwhile activities in the world, but they don’t all make it into my plan.
Once I have my big rocks, my monthly and weekly planning is designed to give precedence to those projects. This is where the Monthly and Weekly Project Plots, and the weekly schedule come in.
I recognize that I have only so many available hours every week. They don’t miraculously multiply, ever. My project plots help me prioritize how to use that precious time.
The Zeitgeber system also helps me focus throughout the day. The Zeitgeber dial gives me a visual representation of how many hours are available to me. If I have an appointment, those are marked on the dial ahead of time. Then I’m able to see how much remaining time I have every day.
The Zeitgeber Planner page is also designed to help me prioritize the big-rock tasks every day. Ever heard of Franklin Covey’s time management matrix?
I’ll go into this more in a later post, but briefly, the Zeitgeber planner is designed to list only the important tasks in the matrix. Quadrant 1 tasks (important and urgent) are to be managed so they don’t go out of control and create consequences. Quadrant 2 tasks (important but not urgent) are focus items, so they don’t enter into urgent/crisis mode.
Balance in a planning system is about accomplishing what’s important. But it’s also about making sure that I’m taking care of myself.
Am I getting enough sleep? Am I exercising? Am I spending time with the important people in my life? Am I working enough on meaningful projects (yes, this is a legitimate concern if one is prone to frittering away time on unimportant time-wasting activities)?
Since I color-code my activities on the Zeitgeber Dial, I’m able to quickly see how I’m spending my time over several days. Maybe I’m sleeping too late too often. Or I haven’t spent time on personal work, or volunteering.
Taken as a whole, the Zeitgeber planning system helps me be more intentional with my time. I use it to identify and focus on what I need to do monthly/weekly/daily. And it reminds me of the importance of taking care of my health and my family and other relationships.
These three principles of purpose, focus, and balance are what tie the system together. It’s been an effective tool for me, and I hope that it will help you optimize your day, as well.