Maybe its just me, but life sure is demanding sometimes. It seems that in any given day, there is always something that comes up unexpectedly, pulling me away from some per-conceived course of action or goal I am working towards. Like everyone else on the planet, I have goals, dreams, and desires that actually fall outside of my eight (sometimes nine, ten, or eleven) hour work day. I intend to work towards some personal goal or project before or after my day job, but then life shows up with its unexpected demands and my most noble intention to accomplish X or Y goes out the window. To combat this recurring pattern,I devised a very simple tool that helps me stay focused on my outside-of-work intentions and goals throughout the week. It can be completed in about 15 minutes, once a week.
The Simple Weekly Grid (SWG) is, as the name implies, simply writing out a table of seven rows and three (or four) columns. On the left hand side of the table is each day of the week, Monday through Sunday. At the top of each column is an outside-of-work time block. Your column titles may differ from mine, but the idea is to block out roughly 1-2 hour time blocks for your morning, lunch, and night time periods. My column headings are AM1, AM2, LUNCH, and PM. AM1 represents 520-620am, AM2 is 655am to 755am. PM1 is some one hour period after 630pm.
After setting up my row/column headings, I easily start filling in the cells for each day/time block. Because I like to do mentally demanding activities when my mind is freshest, I allocate proof time to the mornings before work. I generally get my exercise time in on my work lunch break. Night time is usually the hardest time to stay on track, especially after an exhausting work day. Still, if I write the night time task down, I am always much more likely to accomplish it.
Two additional points. First, I like the idea of using pen and paper to write out my Simple Weekly Grid. The science isn’t clear on this yet, but the act of physically writing something out reinforces it in the mind more so than typing it. Also, I may not be in front of a computer, but want to crank out a SWG while I am on the go. Writing by hand makes that possible. Second, I find it best to do a SWG before the beginning of my week – i.e. Sunday afternoons. I try to spend a couple hours getting organised and preparing for the week ahead. But sometimes I don’t have two hours on a Sunday to spend planning. However, I can always find 15 minutes to write up my SWG for the week.
I should also point out that, except on incredibly focused weeks, do I stay 100% fixed to this schedule. It serves as a rough approximation of the “extra-curricular” activities that are important to me outside of my work life. But because I think about in advance and plan out my week quickly and systematically, I don’t have to stress about what my priorities for the week are. I simply let the power of habit and the Simple Weekly Grid take over and by the end of the week, I can look back and see a blazing trail of effortless accomplishment.