5 Simple Ways to Get Ahead of Your Work Week
We’ve talked before about the fact that there’s no such thing as an ideal work week. Especially in ministry, there are going to be emergencies, crises, meetings that can’t wait, and situations outside of our control.
That said, I’m still a firm believer that we should plan for an ideal week, and we might just be surprised at how much we can get accomplished by that simple act.
I’ve found that my best weeks always start the previous week (that’s deep. Write that down.). For me, Thursdays tend to be a bit of a quieter day. I have few meetings and typically have uninterrupted stretches where I can think, plan, and play catch-up. So for me, Thursdays are when I get out ahead of the next week and develop a plan for how I’m going to attack it.
Here are five simple processes that I follow as often as I can in order to plan for a smooth week as often as ministry allows:
1. Calendar: actual, practical, potential
Applying these three filters to my calendar gives me a reality check: what did I actually get accomplished this week? What are the bare-minimum practical things that must happen next week? Where is there potential for me to add things next week, or map out the weeks to come?
Mapping your ideal week is an exercise that takes a ton of time at first, but it gets more streamlined as you go. But there’s no way for me to develop an honest assessment of what might happen until I get a true look at what has happened and has to happen.
2. Projects: what do I need to move forward?
The end of the week is a great time to take stock of what’s coming up, and the potential roadblocks that’ll keep you from getting there. On my very best, most productive Thursdays, I’ll jump ahead in projects to figure out what I’m waiting on from people, and I’ll drop a quick note:
- You mentioned you’d share that document with me. Can you send that over?
- I know we’re meeting next Tuesday. What do you need me to have ready?
- Our team gathering is coming up in a few weeks. What role do you want me to play?
Flagging those conversations will often mean that you’re ready to hit the ground running on Monday morning.
3. Tasks / inbox: what can you do or defer?
I’ll often find myself at the end of the week with a couple of dozen (give or take seven dozen) unfinished tasks or unanswered emails. They’re the detritus of the week that has built up and threatens to loom over my weekend and put a kink in my Monday morning.
So follow David Allen’s Two Minute Rule: if you can do it or answer it in two minutes or less, get ‘er done and get it off your plate. If you can’t, set a time to do it the following week, in conjunction with #1 above. If it’s an email, send a note to the original sender, letting them know when they’ll have your answer, and then use Gmail’s snooze feature to bring it back to your inbox that day. If it’s a task, reset the date for the following week. I recognize that’s cheating a bit and feels like you’re just kicking the can down the road, but there’s something about a clean inbox going into the weekend that removes a little stress.
4. Environment: clean up your mess.
I’m confident that my fellow cubicle-dwellers rarely read this blog, but for those who do, they’re crying foul right now. Yes, I’m really bad about violating this principle, but on my best weeks I make sure it happens: leave your workspace cleaner than you found it. Wash your coffee cup. Toss those meeting notes you don’t actually need. Sanitize your desktop, keyboard, and mouse. Those are tiny actions that amount to a few minutes at most, but they make a world of difference when getting the following week started.
5. Turn it off and set expectations.
I recognize that for most of us in ministry, it’s hard to ever be totally off. People’s crises don’t conveniently line up with a 9-5 work week. Blithely turning on an out of office reply isn’t a fix-all.
That said, we can still manage expectations on our days off. Setting your away notification in Slack or your out of office in Gmail or Asana helps your co-workers and congregants know that you’re not as connected as normal, when they can expect you to check back in, and who they should reach out to should they need someone immediately.
How do you get ahead of the game?