4 Elements of Effective Planning

By Justin Hitt, Strategic Relations Consultant, https://iunctura.com/

How busy are you? If you are like the average business owner or employee, you are extremely busy! In fact, it seems like the more we try to relax the busier life gets. Even though our business life contributes to most of the activities of our day, it is not where most people want to spend their time. Today, I am going to share with you 4 elements of personal planning, because what you do with your personal life reflects on your business life.

If you want to change something at work, perhaps earn more, or have greater job satisfaction, you must always start with yourself. Change always begins with you. I will introduce you to four elements in effective personal planning. These elements are "mapping periodic tasks and roles," "life events and your calendar," "financial events and your budget," and "what can you do today."

Mapping Periodic Tasks and Roles

Each person is responsible for certain tasks and roles as they interact with other people. When you are not able to fulfill these roles, it creates a difference in expectations that causes stress. In many cases, others may expect you play roles that you are not even aware of being required to perform. In fact, you may even have roles that you regularly perform and do not even realize it.

To get a better handle on the roles in your life, it is always helpful to put a label on them. For example, this could be as simple as labeling them as the role of father, mother, sister, or brother. However, in some situations, it is more complex -- I know women who have played both the role of the mother and the father. You can even be a brother, son, father, and friend all at the same time without even considering any career related roles.

Many find organizing personal roles by organization is a simple way to get started. This allows you then to create a small list of sub roles for each organization to define the roles and responsibilities you have with more detail. I am a member of a family, a church, a fraternity, a community, and a company -- all roles, with specific sub roles for each. If you have more than 10 roles and 5 sub roles per each, consider only working with those that are most important in your life.

You cannot do everything, so it is important to decide what you can do. Be honest with yourself, it is not easy to be an employee, a business owner, a father, a t-ball coach, and a scoutmaster all at the same time. I know people who have tried, and they just burned themselves out. Call it spreading yourself too thin! Decide what is important to you and concentrate on those things, even if it means you have to tell a few people "no."

Learn to track what you do

You cannot become a more effective personal planner unless you first understand what you currently do with your time. Understanding what you have done each day and each week helps you understand where you are spending your time and how you organize your priorities. I hear many exclaim, "Where has the time gone?" Tracking and journaling your time will give you the answer. For those who are not familiar with journaling, journaling is simply periodically documenting what you do through the course of a day in a consistent manner. This periodic record gives you a record of the day�s events. Tracking is more than "to-do" lists; it is developing a clear understanding of exactly what you really do in the course of a day. Now you can see exactly what you do, keep a sheet of paper with you to jot down what you are doing every 15 minutes. This time journal will provide (after a few weeks) a clear map of "who you are" and will provide the ammunition you need for more effective planning.

Your time journal will start revealing patterns in your life, and possible additional roles you play. Over the course of several months continue your journal and try this exercise. Fold a sheet of paper long wise into four columns; label them daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly. Review your time journal looking for important activities and roles you plan on a periodic basis and record them under the appropriate column. Note only the important items, any unimportant elements of each day should be omitted from your life and replaced with something of value. Later these "sub roles" can be distilled into a separate sheet for each role, but right now you just want an overview of your activities ? some tasks may even be grouped into roles you did not even know you performed.

If you are not overwhelmed by now you should be. You will find that you do all kinds of things that you really do not want to, even many things that you were not aware. Some people say that is life, however, it is your life and let us group the related activities to define your roles. Your roles are what you are required or expected to do, they priorities that organize your life. Being a product of your choices, choose to keep the performance areas best suited for you.

Prioritize and clean up

Many things in life you are required to do, many things that you want to do, and some things just have to be done. Each of these activities take a certain place in your life, put them in their places or they will place you. What will it be? If you do not choose, your actions (take control of your life) then your actions will control you.

Arrange your roles according to their importance in your life. How do you see your priorities? Do you put your family first, or maybe your career? Your roles should be listed based on your needs and from this, your tasks will be ordered.

Remove those lesser roles from the bottom of your list. However, in most cases the work still needs to be done. Learn to delegate these roles to others, whether it is your children or consolidate them into a new role of manager over those you hire to do the work for you. In most cases the time you free up will improve your quality of life and be worth every moment in which you must manage others.

Overall learn to define your roles, track what you actually do, and prioritize these items so you can focus on what is important in your life. When you have each of your priorities straight you will gain more time and reduce the stress related to conflicting roles and a busy schedules. Start today, all you need is a piece of paper and a few moments each day to jot down what you are doing. After organizing these lists, you can open up your mind and relax, because they give you better clarity in your individual life.

Life Events and Your Calendar

Once you have a handle on your roles and responsibilities it is time to look at those life events and interactions between others. Your life events govern what you do and in many cases, what you wish to do. We will discuss what life events are, the importance of planning, and how to "back time" your events into a calendar.

What life events are

Every experience is interrupted or enhanced by life events. Life events are anything that happens to you or that you want to happen over a particular period. A life event is more than just birthdays and anniversaries; it is vacations, goals, and anything else you could desire in your life.

Life events are so important, including both celebrations and sorrows; they are the changes that interrupt each day�s activities and makes life worth living. As pleasurable as they may be they still require some planning so they do not interrupt your regular roles and responsibilities but enhance them. An unexpected transfer in your job could wreak havoc on your entire family; however, with the proper planning could be the best thing that has ever happened to them. "It's not what life gives you; it's what you do with it that makes the difference."

I am not advocating planning every moment of every day and functioning like clockwork. I am advocating being prepared for changes and opportunities so you can make the very best of them. In the gauntlet of the daily grind, many times these things are forgotten. Knowing what events you will face will allow you to include them in your life very simply. Through defining your life events you will start seeing a calendar emerge, dotted with many exciting things to look forward.

Importance of planning in advance

Planning allows you flexibility over the actions required and desired in your life. Advanced planning can be as simple as a small calendar or as elaborate as a "life plan." Since you are probably already busy, let us look at a simple calendar to start with.

First, find a calendar or an electronic calendar then in pencil mark in all major events for the next 12 months. These can include birthdays, vacations, and anything else that takes up a whole day. Do this for only a year, anything that happens beyond that just list on several sheets of paper (mark those items down for the next two years, next 5 years, and next 10 years.) You can also include the dates in which you would like to accomplish certain goals by.

You will want to regularly review these lists, make sure you use the sort of calendar you can easily carry around with you. Many recommend a small Daytimer book or the Palm Pilot as a great portable calendar because of their size and flexibility. Remember, reviewing and organizing your life events calendar is a great way to fill dead time between meetings or any other time you may wish to fill.

Later you may find a large folio calendar and a diary can help you develop a life plan which addresses your next 20 years as well as addresses your estates 100 year plan. Whichever calendar method you use, make sure it is simple to manage with a few minutes each day. No sense spending all your time planning, when implementation is where things are done.

How to back time your events into a calendar

Some of your life events will take longer to accomplish than others, however, all life events need some lead-time to be started. The lead-time of the event determines how soon before the target completion date you need to start. Back timing as introduced by Dr. Neil Fiore in his audio program Conquering Procrastination is working backwards from the completed event looking at what had to be done to reach that final point or objective.

If knowing you have a major holiday this Friday and the things you need to accomplish in preparation for this event take you four days, then you should start before that previous Monday to get these items out of the way. This methodology prevents you from doing things at the last minute by making you aware of the advanced need to start, as well as providing a mechanism for advance planning.

Remember you do not have to rush anything if you start early enough. Back timing also helps you see where you are going to have an overlap in events and helps you shuffle these tasks so they all fit in the day available. When tasks overlap and you know in advance, you can take the steps necessary to eliminate a possibly stressful day in the future.

On your calendar, mark the "lead time" necessary for each "life event" over the next 6 months. This will give you some idea when you need to start. For each life event in this period, list three things you need to do to achieve or prepare for the event as well as note the time necessary to complete each. Use very high-level tasks (which may contain multiple sub tasks that you will address when you get closer to the event).

Figure 1: Sample Mapping of Life Events

Through knowing your life events, having a regular calendar, and the use of back timing you can potentially head off time related problems before they even happen. This allows you more flexibility in your planning and addressing your roles. Start today to list out your major life events, and then back time into creating a better picture of your future.

Financial Events and Your Budget

Previously, I have talked about your roles, and life events - now we move along to your financial events. Your financial events are both income and expenses as they happen through your life. Those financial things you must do on a periodic basis to maintain and improve your standards of living, provide for your family, and make life more enjoyable. Sometimes life events and financial events are one in the same. In financial events, we will look at how financial uncertainty causes stress, the importance of planning for the future, and using back timing to generate a budget.

How financial uncertainty causes stress

Planning for future financial events not only eases their burdens but also makes you aware of your current needs. Your financial future needs to include goals, like going to college, a vacation, or even sending your children to college as well as plan for unknown events like natural disasters and repairs. Planning for financial events reduces the stress related to the difference of what you need and what you have during a financial event.

Have you ever not been able to pay your bills? If you should ever be in this situation, you will know that the lack of money causes as much hardship as being wasteful with too much money. The uncertainty of not being able to fulfill a financial obligation causes more pain and anxiety than anything else.

A solid financial plan, which includes savings goals, would provide you enough security to get through an occasional hard time. In fact, it will help you live well within your means so you can quickly get back on your feet in the event you lose your job or a primary source of income.

The more accurate you can make your financial calendar and budget, the better handle you will have on your financial situation. This handle reduces stress and allows you to achieve more. Set aside a few hours each week to update your books, and a few hours each month to review your plan. Your financial plan will reduce the uncertainty in your life by helping you to also plan for things like retirement, extended illnesses, or an unfortunate loss of life.

Importance of planning for the future

If you are not already keeping track of your every expense, have a list of all your insurance policies, and know where all your savings and investments are, now is the best time to start! You will also want to review your life events calendar noting any related expenses (or incomes) for those events you have posted. Also, note your expenses and income per each major role you play in life, simple lists of average monthly expenses will do fine. (These expenses could include dues, equipment, related taxes, and more). It is sometimes helpful to list several subcategories under each role like:




Housing, Utilities, Food, Clothing, Transportation


Training, Transportation, Equipment


Charity, Transportation, Dinners, Activities

Table 1: Roles and Subcategories Related to Expenses

Advanced cash planning can allow you to map out your entire financial life and try different scenarios. Sure, this does take some time on your part, but wouldn't it be better to know your dreams are possible by seeing them on paper first? This will surely make achievement simpler by providing you with a plan.

You will want to produce a solid financial calendar for the next 12 months. After that time, use lists of financial events, because it may be difficult to put an exact time on events until you are closer to reaching them. As time and you progress, keep moving things from your lists into the next 12 months.

Regularly (at least monthly) review the activities on your financial calendar to make sure you are still on schedule. Make the necessary adjustments and better tune your future events based on the achievements you have already made. A useful measurement: average weekly expenses and average weekly income -- you will always do well if you spend less than your average expenses and earn more than your average income. This simple budgeting advice will help guide your spending and direct your earnings.

Using back timing to create a budget

Notice we have not talked much about budgets yet. Budgets are worthless unless you first start with what you want to obtain, and then determine what you need to earn to obtain it. Starting with the end in mind you can determine what your monthly, weekly, and daily needs are -- this is what your budget becomes.

You will plan your earning goals based on your anticipated needs. Build up to each event estimating each expense and documenting them with the calendar item (or under a column for the particular month, like on a cash flow.) This simple type of budgeting helps you slide your financial events along the calendar to best fit your income, or better fit your income based on your financial calendar.

As your information becomes more detailed, you should start to notice places where your cash available cash will be thin. By creating a cash flow, you can literally predict the future and anticipate currently unseen financial problems. A financial calendar also helps you see clearly rewards that you have put in your plan. Rewarding yourself in your financial plan reduces splurges and keeps you on track by thanking yourself for a job well done.

Financial planning is more than just keeping receipts, use a financial calendar to plan the future and anticipate financial events. You can accomplish this simply with a few sheets of paper or get more complex with one of the many financial software products available, or maybe even a bookkeeper, depending on your needs. Either way planning your financial events or having a budget will help you achieve financial success much sooner than any other way.

One day at a time

Deciding what you can do and doing the most important tasks today limits regrets. If by the end of the day you run out of time, you will know that at least you have completed those things most important to you. With this you will not have to worry about forgetting something very important because you are either already, working on it, or it has been completed earlier that day. Imagine the relief of knowing that the most important pending tasks of the day are already completed.

From the most powerful king to the weakest child everyone has the same twenty-four hours. The most successful and effective planners make the most of the moments they have by doing only the most important things in their lives. These things have the greatest impact on their results, and provide the most satisfaction in their lives.

Address first things first.

Stephen R Covey stresses in his excellent book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in great detail the power of placing the most important tasks to be completed before anything else and sticking to their finish. When you only work on the things that are most important for you to complete today you simply get more of the right work done. High priority tasks when accomplished usually clear a related lower priority task it may have caused. Working each day doing the most important things you can do in that twenty-four hours will get more done in a lifetime than in any other method of doing things.

Use your list of roles, life events, and financial events to layout the priorities of what you will do today. Maintain consistency and list the ten most important things you will accomplish this day, do not worry about tomorrow or next week, and only concentrate on the current day. This list of tasks in order of priority will give you a clear picture of the items on hand.

If your list is greater than ten items, focus on the most important items first then what you do best next. Any other item of the list you should delegate to someone else to accomplish -- especially if the other person can do it better than you can. You do not have to do everything, only the most important things. Do not waste other people�s time with unimportant tasks; only delegate items that would be important to those who receive them. Other individuals must gain something by completing these tasks, or they will not do them, and do a better job than you could do considering the circumstances.

Working with your list

Remember you are one person, so create and maintain only one list. Use a sheet of paper or a notebook, but each day create a new list only long enough to complete that day, carry over those items you have not accomplished and drop the ones no longer needed. Consolidate all reminders and do not do anything unless it is on your list.

After you have made a list of all the pressing issues you need to address, use it as your daily guide to accomplishment. Since it has been evaluated and sorted by the most important items you know starting from the top you will be working on only the most important items. Work from the top of your list and check off each item as it is completed. If you are stuck on an item, then just circle it and move on to the next one. A little note will help you get back on topic for this important issue when you reevaluate your list the next day.

Always start at the top and work your way through.come back to any items, which have had delays and keep pushing until you have reached your days end. At the end of each day review your progress and carry over those things that still need to be completed adding any items necessary from your events calendar. It is okay not to complete everything as long as the most important items (places 1-3) have been completed. In all cases, completing these top items will bring you more satisfying results than anything else possibly could.

Live each day one day at a time, do first things first, and maintain an activities list. Doing these things will help you get anything done and help you more effectively plan your life. You could even forecast your activities by listing out things you will need to do in the future as they relate to life events. Life is less stressful when you know what is going to happen, where you have free time, and what you can focus your energy on today. Start right now with a list of what is important for you to finish today and know completing the first item is your first step to future success.


You business performance and satisfaction can be greatly enhanced by effective personal planning. You are giving yourself more time to do what you want while fulfilling the many roles of your life. The four elements of effective planning are defining periodic tasks and roles, managing life events and a calendar, managing your financial events and budgets, and defining what you can do today. It is simple to create the lifestyle you want when you have a method to achieve it.

Effective planning does not happen by magic, it takes planning and a methodology (approach) to making each day successful. Implement these steps each day and you will find everything in your life starts falling into place, your projects will complete on time, and your life will be more eventful.

© 2001 Justin Hitt, All rights reserved.
/ magic-one | personal-planning /

Justin Hitt is a strategic relations consultant with the Center for Strategic Relations. He is available for limited consultative support of professional organizations serving other businesses. Call +1 (877) 207-3798 or visit https://iunctura.com/

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