The Working With… Podcast

How Long Should You Be Spending On Planning Each Day?

September 9, 2019

Podcast 99

Are you spending too much time planning each day and not enough time doing? That’s the question for this week’s podcast. 



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Episode 99

Hello and welcome to episode 99 of the Working With Podcast. A podcast created to answer all your questions about productivity, GTD, time management, self-development and goal planning. My name is Carl Pullein and I am your host for this show.

This week we have a question about time spent planning and reviewing. It’s a great question to follow up on last week’s podcast. 

But before we get into this week’s question, as we are now getting close to the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, now would be a great time to begin thinking about what you want to accomplish in the next decade. That’s right, I did say a decade. We are about to start the 2020s and that gives us a fantastic opportunity to think about what we would like to achieve over the next ten years. 

I am reminded of a saying Tony Robbins repeats and that is “most people over-estimate what they can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what they can accomplish in a decade”. 

If you want to create a life that brings you joy, happiness and prosperity then you can. But it does start with knowing exactly what it is you want. Figuring out what changes you need to make to the way you live your life today to achieve that goal and then taking the necessary action to make it happen. 

If you haven’t taken my Time And Life Mastery 3 course yet, now would be a great time to do so. The course is designed perfectly for the next decade as it guides you through the process of discovering exactly what you want, then shows you how to build motivation and momentum to do the right tasks and build the right habits so that each day you move that little bit close. 

Now is the time to plant the seeds for the life you want and Time And Life Mastery 3 will guide you all the way. Details of the course are in the show notes.

Okay, it’s now time for me to hand you over to the mystery podcast voice for this week’s question.

This week’s question comes from Adriana. Adriana asks, Hi Carl, I sometimes feel I am spending so much time planning that I do not have enough time to do my work each day. How much time do you spend planning each day and what do you plan? 

Thank you for your question, Adriana. I’ve always been curious about how long it takes people to do their daily and weekly planning. I did ask David Allen how long it took him to do his weekly review, but he rather diplomatically didn't answer the question. 

The truth is it depends. If you’ve been away on a business trip for a week and have not had a moment to yourself throughout the trip, your planning and reviewing when you get back is likely to take a while. If you are at home, doing your normal daily routines, then it should not be taking you too long. Ten to twenty minutes for a daily review and plan and around forty to fifty minutes for a weekly review. 

What I discovered was if you skimp on the weekly review, that will have a knock-on effect with your daily planning. If you are not entirely confident you have all the right tasks scheduled to show up when they need to show up, you are going to be wasting time in the week double-checking your projects to make sure you haven't missed anything. That’s almost like having to do a full weekly review every day. If that's happening then you are spending too much time planning. 

Let’s look at what’s involved in a daily review. First, clear your to-do list’s inbox. Get tasks into their right projects, add labels and dates if they need to be done this week—or before your next weekly review—and then review what you have planned for tomorrow against your calendar. 

Things change during the week. New meetings and appointments could have been added so you do need to make sure you haven't overloaded your day with too many tasks and appointments. 

Now if you’re following the 2+8 Prioritisation technique, you would now select your two objectives for the day and the eight other tasks you want to complete tomorrow and then you’re done. 

In total, that should not be more than ten to fifteen minutes. 

The rest of the time you should be doing your work. 

Now if it is taking you longer than that, Adriana, then take a look at how you are doing your weekly review. I find most problems with planning and reviewing start here. 

The weekly review is about getting clear—that means clearing your inboxes, making sure your projects are up to date and it’s about deciding what you will work on next week. For the things you want to (or need to) work on next week, you date the necessary tasks so they come up when you want to see them. 

Remember, this is a weekly review and if you are consistently doing a weekly review you only need to add dates to tasks for the following week. Anything that does not need doing next week should not have a date unless a particular task has to be done on a specific date because you will be reviewing all your tasks again at the next weekly review. 

By only dating tasks one week ahead, you will avoid task overwhelm and you will maintain a lot more control over what you are doing each day. Of course, any new tasks you collect that need to be done before your next weekly review should be dated. If it doesn’t, don't date it just drop it into its appropriate folder. 

This is where a lot of issues arise. When you have a lot of tasks with what I call “wishful dates” on them—tasks that do not really need to be done that day—then you will spend a disproportionate amount of time each day rescheduling tasks. Now, I know why people put ‘wishful dates’ on tasks, it’s because they do not trust their system. The reason for not trusting a system is because a proper, consistent weekly review is not being completed. It’s like a vicious circle. People claim they do not have time for a weekly review, yet by not doing a weekly review they spend more time having to reorganise their to-do lists every day. It’s a false economy. Do the weekly review and you will spend less time during the week having to reschedule and plan your days. Trust me on this one, I’ve been there, made that mistake and learned a valuable lesson. A good, consistent weekly review means I can spend more time doing during the week safe in the knowledge that what I am working on are the right things that will move me forward on my current projects and areas of focus. 

If you add up the total time spent each week on planning then you are looking at, say, fifty minutes for a weekly review and twenty minutes per day for your daily planning. That’s around three and a half hours per week. If you work a forty-hour week, then you are looking at just over 10% of your work time each week spent on planning. That’s a good ratio.

For me personally, I have my daily planning down to around ten minutes per day and because I do a weekly review every week, my weekly review takes about forty minutes. I know which projects need careful reviewing and which project just need a cursory glance. I also know which projects don’t need reviewing on a week to week basis. That’s what happens when you get consistent. Planning and processing times drop. 

My whole COD system (that’s Collect, Organise, Do) is based on the idea that you spend around 90% of your day doing and roughly 10% of your time planning and processing. If you haven’t taken the free course yet, then there’s a link to the course in the show notes. 

Email can cause a few problems here. If your work is heavily email dependent, you may find you need to spend a little more time processing. However, email just needs attending to—keeping your inbox clear as much as you can and separating out actionable email into an “action today” folder. Just make sure you clear out your action today folder every 24 to 48 hours. Try to resist the temptation to forward email to your to-do list manager. All that does is clog up your inbox and create duplication. Instead, just create a repeating task to remind you to clear your action today folder in your email. That way you do not have to keep switching between apps. However, that said, replying to actionable emails is doing work, it’s not planning or reviewing.

Hopefully, this answers your question, Adriana. Really it comes down to making sure to give yourself fifty minutes or so at the end of the week to do a good weekly review. Add dates to the tasks you know you need to do the following and remove any dates from tasks that do not need doing. You can always add a label or tag to tasks you would like to do such as ‘next actions”, so on days where you have been brilliantly productive, you can move into that label or tag and start working on some of those. 

Then at the end of each day, give yourself fifteen to twenty minutes to process your inbox and plan your day for tomorrow. Once done, sit back, relax and have a wonderful night’s sleep. 

Thank you for your question and thank you again, to all of you for listening. It is such a wonderful pleasure to be able to put these podcasts together for you each week. 

And if you have a question you would like me to answer on this show, just send me an email - or you can DM me on Facebook or Twitter. 

It just remains for me now to wish you all a very very productive week.