The Benefits of Planning Your Week in Advance

Use a paper planner to lay out everything that needs to happen, including fun.

Moleskine weekly planner notebook
Moleskine weekly planner.

-slav- / Getty Images

Going back to regular life after eight months of COVID-induced lockdown and social distancing has felt like a bit of a shock. My three kids are back in school and I'm working longer hours in my job. My husband is still working remotely, as his employer hasn't yet recalled workers to their physical office, but most of our family's extra-curricular activities have resumed, thanks to an almost non-existent COVID caseload in our region of Ontario, Canada.

Once again we are scrambling to pack lunches in the morning, squeeze in three separate music practices, make sure the laundry's done on time (with masks freshly washed for each day's use), plan and prep weeknight meals. It feels chaotic because I'm rusty; it's like I've forgotten how to juggle all these busy lives. But slowly it's coming back, thanks to my trusty paper planner that finally has a use again.

Old readers of Treehugger may already know of my great love for paper planners. I've used the exact same one (Moleskine, weekly, medium-sized, usually red) for a decade. That planner feels like the key to my life; I don't know where I'd be without it. What follows is my advice for mapping out each week ahead of time, to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Why a Weekly Schedule Matters

There is a quote from Roman stoic philosopher Seneca in Nir Eyal's book, "Indistractable," that I love:

"People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy."

The philosophy is integral to planning out your week – this notion that your time is precious, full of potential, and must be fiercely safeguarded. By planning out each weekday, you retain control over your time and prevent others (and external forces) from taking it over.

The consensus among experienced planners is that having a weekly routine is crucial. It allows you to be razor-focused first thing on a Monday morning because you know exactly the direction in which you're headed and what needs to happen. 

Figure Out the Big Things

Take some time each Sunday to think about what has to happen the following week. Most weeks will have the same basic building blocks – the "big things" that never change because they're an integral part of your routine. These go into the planner first.

Everyone's big things will look different, but for me it includes putting in a full workday, ensuring each child practices their instrument for a set amount of time, getting at least 8 hours of sleep, cooking a good meal with leftovers each night, and working out 4-5 times. I also need two hours of quiet downtime in the evenings and time to work on personal creative projects. Nothing else gets added until these have been entered in the calendar.

There are different approaches to blocking off the big things. Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, assigns a theme to each day of the week, i.e. Mondays are for management and meetings, Tuesdays are for engineering and design, etc. You don't have to be that precise, but following a pattern does keep productivity on track.

I like the advice given by Adrian Iliopoulos, creator of the Da Vinci Schedule, who says that Monday should be your "deep dive" day, and that mental freshness can extend all the way to Wednesday. Take advantage of the break you've had on the weekend to get the hardest, deepest mental work done at the start of the week, and push the "soft" easy jobs till Thursday and Friday. 

Think About the Small Things

Next come the small things that change week by week – medical appointments, coffee dates with friends, children's birthday parties and play dates, a haircut or a massage. I have rules for these sorts of events: they must be scheduled late in the afternoon or in the evenings, once I've finished work, or on weekends. I try not to let anything impinge on my prime work hours between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. Not only does it prolong my work day because I have to make up that time, but I feel it diminishes the quality of my work.

Set Your Goals

If there are specific things you need or would like to accomplish in a given week, list them and plan for them. These could be personal goals or professional goals that fit within the time you've designated to get work done. Executive coach Rafael Sarandeses recommends setting five weekly goals and three daily ones. That's a generous number that's sure to keep your momentum going.

Have a Morning Routine

I'm a firm believer in morning hours setting the tone for the rest of the day. I think it's important to get up at the same time every day because doing so removes one "wild card" element from the day. It doesn't have to be early, but it should be consistent.

Leave the Planner Out

A small but important step is to leave the planner out in a central place where it can be used and seen easily by you and any other adult family members. Mine lays open on the kitchen island most days, which allows my husband to see the full week at a glance. It also allows me to write down whatever appointments I've booked as soon as I get home.

Planning is a habit that must be cultivated, but it's so worth it once you get into it, especially if you have a busy young family to manage. Give it a try and see what a difference it makes.