The Core Four: 4 Essential Elements to an Effective Planning System

There’s a lot to be said for reliability. As people learn that you’ll finish what you start, keep your promises, and follow-through with commitments; they’ll grow to trust you. Trust is a powerful gift granted to us by others. It’s something we must work to maintain through honest effort.

Highly effective people have a reputation for consistent follow-through. You develop this reputation as you put first things first each day. This not only requires discipline but also good planning tools, or planning components.

It’s easy to focus on only one or two components of planning when you schedule your week. For example: you’ll open your calendar, jot down all your appointments and your children’s appointments, and move on with your life. But doing that is like trying to build an office desk with just a hammer. Sure, you might come up with something functional, but it certainly won’t be cut to precision with drawers and a smooth finish. To plan effectively, you’ll need a system that contains all of the following four components in one place.

Tasks

Tasks are assignments you give yourself to complete during any given day. They don’t have a set time; they simply need to be done. These are the things you work to accomplish when you aren’t in meetings or appointments. This is how you choose to spend your time, whether at work or at home.

Tasks are catalysts to long-term success. As you break your goals down from insurmountable mountains to smaller, short-term climbs, and finally, to daily steps—you’ll schedule those daily steps as tasks in your daily task list. Tasks rooted in your goals are priority items. Once you’ve listed all your tasks for your day, look over your list and prioritize each item by value, A, B, or C. Then, number all your ‘A’ tasks sequentially, 1, 2, 3, etc. Do the same for your ‘B’ and ‘C’ tasks.

If you start with A-1, and work in order, you’ll be sure to get the most important things done first each day. If you find yourself interrupted, or if some items take longer than you anticipated, you can be sure that you at least started your day working on the most important things. This will help ensure that the things that matter most to you don’t slip through the cracks.

Appointments

Appointments are important and time-sensitive. Arriving promptly to your appointments is essential, because these events involve more than just you. Be sure to schedule time to travel to and from your appointments, so you won’t feel rushed, and so you can give the other party the courtesy of arriving on time. Schedule your appointments separate from your tasks so you can quickly recognize which activity is which.

Your daily appointments determine your tasks. As you plan each day, be sure to schedule your appointments first. This lets you assess how much time you’ll have in the day to work on the tasks that matter most to you. Only plan tasks that you know you can accomplish with the available time you have each day.

Notes

Keeping good notes is essential. Throughout the day, you’ll come up with great ideas, get assignments in meetings, and gather important information at Dr. visits and other appointments. Keep all that information on your notes page on the day you receive it.

For example: If you are in a meeting on March 22nd and you plan a follow-up meeting for June 3rd, make notes on your March 22nd notes page. Perhaps you need to bring storyboards to your meeting in June. Make a note of that. If you need to invite your graphic designer friend to the meeting, note that as well.

The next day as you’re quietly planning and looking over your notes, you’ll remember what you need to do in June. You’ll mark on your task list to contact your designer friend so she can get the meeting on her schedule. Then you’ll find your June 3rd planner page and write Follow-up Meeting 2:00 (3/22) in your appointments column. You don’t need to write the information all over again. Your parenthetical note will remind you to look at your notes page on March 22nd for all the information you need.

Contacts

Most of us keep our contacts on our phone these days, but it’s wise to keep a written copy as well—just in case. Regardless of how you keep your contacts, it’s important that you keep them with the rest of your planning system. Having your contacts’ information with you at all times makes it easy to plan on the go. This way, regardless of what happens, you can simply open your planner, contact the people you need, and continue forward.

Keeping contact information with your plans makes it easy to coordinate and collaborate with others throughout the day. Plus, it adds a sense of calm in emergency situations. You can use your alphabetized Address/Phone tabs to organize your contacts by first or last name, or by profession: P for Plumber, F for florist, etc. They’re great for sales contacts, supply vendors, and for friends and family.

Final Tips For Success

All of these elements should be integrated into one system for optimal success. When all of your planning essentials are working together in your hand, you’ll notice your efficiency increase. Be sure your planner is mobile enough to be with you at all times, so you can make new plans and change plans when needed. And be sure your planner is personalized and customized to fit your needs and your lifestyle.

As you set up your planning system, remember to use all of the tools available to you. Think of the acronym TANC—Tasks, Appointments, Notes, and Contacts—so you’ll have all you need to tank up on success.

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