Planners Work

Planning Mojo, The Social Dilemma, and More

October 15, 2020

Planning Mojo & Unpredictable Responsibilities

I’ve gotten a few questions related to planning when your days are relatively unpredictable and filled with ever-changing demands.

From Lily: “I’ve realised that the reason I’ve lost my planning mojo lately is that my systems don’t work well for my current role. I’ve moved into a management role with a team of staff. A big part of my day is unpredictable.

At 9am the day will be clear with a couple of meetings scheduled so I have some tasks planned in and then all of sudden I will get an urgent request that needs a response immediately; something else comes in due by the end of the day that requires a few phone calls to resolve; my boss’s boss pops by my desk to ask a question; I attend the meeting as planned; then a corridor conversation reveals that a staff member has a problem that I really need to meet with her about and…etc etc and then all of a sudden it’s late and my husband is texting me about dinner and those tasks from the start of the day are still on my to do list. I know that this problem is not unique to my kind of job at all – and in other fields this kind of juggle may actually have life or death implications so…

What does a morning planning session look like when the plan may change very quickly? How do I keep track of everything and make sure balls I drop are balls I dropped intentionally? How do I get the strategic things done AND make sure all the little fires are out before they become bigger problems?
And bonus points if the answer involves use of my beloved Hobonichi!

I thought this was a really interesting question. In part, because I know my job DOES have these sorts of issues — but they do not seem to block my planning mojo too much. I will either get an urgent patient-related request, or there will be a residency-related problem that was unanticipated, and sometimes tasks from the start of my to do list DO end up abandoned.

(Maybe Lily has a much higher volume of these kinds of issues – that is definitely possible).

In my process of laying out my day on paper each morning, I put the hard-scheduled items (patient care blocks or meetings) and then look at the available space remaining. Sometimes there isn’t much (patient days) and other times there is. I will then turn to the week’s goals and add a couple of things depending on the amount of space that appears to be there.

If something is urgent or MUST be done that day (I have a letter of rec I have to do by tomorrow, for example), it goes there first. I really REALLY try not to get carried away with the number of things I put on there because I KNOW urgent little things will come up.

Then, when things come up — as they inevitably do — I deal with them. I do not necessarily write them down and add them to my planner, to be honest, unless they are triggering some other big project that needs to happen in the future. They just happen, and maybe they push off my intended to-do items, and that’s okay. I do not always achieve everything on my to do lists! There may have been a time when I was ruffled about this, but at this stage in life I just migrate to the next day/week/etc.

If I see that something is being continually migrated, I will think about a) whether it really has to happen and b) if the answer is yes, figure out a protected block where I can at least attempt to just turn off all other inputs and get it done.

I do think that there are probably days that ARE less crazy for Lily and maybe she is able to get through her items as planned – but we do tend to remember the days when things go awry. I think having a record of life in the Hobonichi (here you go!) is a helpful tool to allow you to look back and see the incremental progress you have made in various areas even if every day does not go as perfectly choreographed.

Anyway, that’s my take! But you all are brilliant and I am sure Lily would be interested in other thoughts & opinions!!

The Social Dilemma

Let it be known that prior to watching this documentary, I did not need much convincing about the addictive and distracting nature of social media.

It has been the habit I have struggled with the most in recent years and quite honestly the past ~20 days with very minimal and controlled use have felt like an awakening. I have no desire to go back to scrolling as a habit.

I didn’t think the film was earth shattering; having read several books about “quitting your phone” and being a Manoush Zomorodi & Cal Newport fan, I felt like some of the lessons were a little . . . well, obvious. (PS: wish both of these had been included somehow!).

I already knew about the curated addictive features, the ways kids & teens get sucked in, and the fact that OUR EYEBALL TIME (ie, hours and hours of our irreplaceable lives) are the product these companies are selling and making BAAAANK from. However, one aspect that was powerfully emphasized was the way these platforms bring on more divisiveness and hate, as well as potential threats to humanity. I hadn’t really thought of that angle all that much, and I thought it was a good argument.

I didn’t really need more fuel for my Operation 100 fire; it’s been going really well. But I did enjoy watching it and felt it had at least something to offer. What did everyone else think?

Note: watching a documentary BY MYSELF ON A WEEKNIGHT is something that literally never would have happened pre Op-100. However, I have spent the equivalent length of time scrolling on numerous evenings.

Finally – look what came out! Yes, a review will be coming to BLP 🙂


  • Reply Lee October 15, 2020 at 8:43 am

    Lily’s question hit home for me as I have the same trouble. Frequently it’s based on someone not consulting others’ calendars before scheduling a meeting (a pet peeve since in my company we theoretically share our Outlook calendars publicly) – or someone deciding their deadline, and therefore mine, is suddenly ASAP. It’s been SO frustrating for me.

    Instead what I’ve been trying to do lately is a very simple “Top 3” method of planning, where I choose the 3 things that I think MUST get done on a particular day (I don’t choose them until the morning of), and that seems to leave enough time to handle everyone else’s tasks.

    I could definitely do better with saying no to things like this, though: “I’m really sorry, I can’t get to this today, but I can work it in on Friday” — NOT “but would Friday work for you?” because that gives them the power back. But, ugh, this is a very hard mindset for me to learn. Like, I don’t even do well saying no to my manager, who is a close friend/advocate, much less to higher ups.

    Anxious to hear others’ comments on this.

    And YESSS to all the Social Dilemma points you made! I need to make myself watch it again, and I want to tell ALL my friends and loved ones to watch it, for the good of humanity! Quite frightening.

    • Reply Hanna October 15, 2020 at 9:31 pm

      Omg, the “scheduling tool” in outlook is life saving! How can someone not use it?!?!

      I have also pushed back on every deadline I’ve been given to get stuff done this week. Why do you need this so soon? Why wasn’t it ready earlier? What can we do to stretch this?

      Good for you! It is hard to assert a more reasonable deadline, but certainly important to stand firm. Sometimes I turn it around/check priorities to make it easier… “I can do X that you gave me last week that’s due today, or I can do Y you have now, but not both. Which is more important to you?” Although that only works if they gave you/care about both tasks.

      • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 6:26 am

        I have been known to pop by people’s desk and say super cheerfully ‘Hi – it seems like you don’t know how to use the scheduling tool – can I show you how useful it is?’ Either they don’t know and I can show them, or they do know and they couldn’t be bothered so they’re a little embarrassed. I’ll admit it’s a slightly pass-ag approach but I try to make it soooo sweet and chirpy that it lands ok.
        I do love the ‘I can do x or y’ kinda approach you mention which is always recommended in career books etc and I have actually appreciated it when my staff use it on me…but unfortunately most places I’ve worked the answer is ‘get it done’!

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 16, 2020 at 12:18 pm

          haha i kind of love this!

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 6:20 am

      Glad it’s not just me 🙂 I have found that if I pick three (or similar) small realistic things to get done and cross them off I feel good, even if I do leave the office with a longer to do list than when I arrived (which is most days) So I will try to make that a consistent habit.
      I’m ok with saying no to people but I often I assume I can get something done, and then something urgent pops up, and then I can’t and then I’m behind the deadline instead of proactively requesting an extension so I think it’s about really learning what is and isn’t going to fit into a day.
      I’ll work on the proactive no but you work on being able to say no – it’s so important!

  • Reply Rebecca October 15, 2020 at 8:43 am

    It seems very Cal Newport, somehow, that he expects people to preorder that planner with NO IDEA what the planning pages actually look like!

    • Reply Amanda October 15, 2020 at 10:44 am

      I came to say the same thing!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 15, 2020 at 10:45 am

      I think he’s going to release a preview (he said it was uploading to amazon). So I think that’s coming 🙂

    • Reply Maria October 15, 2020 at 2:55 pm

      There’s an extensive (17 pages) and excellent “look inside” of CN’s new planner on his publisher’s website (Penguin Random House) that shows all the spreads and his commentary. I’d post the link but it’s unwieldy.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 16, 2020 at 5:38 am

        yay! I’m excited to look at it. Yes, and he also did promise it would be uploaded to amazon soon. I think he had to wait for his publisher to do it.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 16, 2020 at 5:39 am

        Here’s the link to the main page:

        • Reply Joy October 19, 2020 at 1:36 pm

          After looking at Cal Newport’s new planner, I’m SO tempted to buy one, but I already have a planning system that I love. I run from September – August so I’m firmly entrenched right now.

          For those of you who have planning systems you love already, do you ever splurge and buy a new planner? If so, do you use both, give yourself a leave of absence from your current planner, or something else?

          • Sarah Hart-Unger October 20, 2020 at 5:55 am

            Obviously MY answer is yes 🙂 (Especially this year.)

            One idea is – could you incorporate elements of his ideas/templates into your existing system? You could even buy it just to play with the layouts and read his intro and then see if you can make his style work. (I plan on reading it and playing with it but then likely using his ideas integrated into my own planners!)

          • Joy O'Toole October 20, 2020 at 10:25 am

            That’s a good idea. I’ll order one and see how I can incorporate it into my Agendio. Thanks.

    • Reply akapulko2020 October 17, 2020 at 7:37 am

      I basically did just that around a month ago when I saw it on pre-order from Book Depository 😆 Mostly because it was 15 usd or so and free shipping ( I saw it being pricier on Amazon ) and so I decided its worth it as part of my Planner Peace Quest I’ve only started a bit earlier .

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns October 15, 2020 at 9:58 am

    My job is also very unpredictable – my day is kind of dictated by what requests I get from sales. They are basically my client, and they have no way to predict what requests they will get from their clients… so I have little to no control over my day. But I always have a to-do list of things w/ due dates and then I put reminders in Outlook so I get pop-up reminders of important deadlines for things. But I do not use my planner for work-related stuff… maybe I am the odd ball who doesn’t do that? It would just be tooooo much to write down/move around as I pushed things to another day. So I have a to-do list in the notebook I use for work. My planner is only for my personal life, so appts, meal plans, books to read, etc.

    We watched Social Dilemma last weekend and thought it was pretty good. We found the fictional account of the family’s social media challenges to be a be a little, um, cheesy. And were those kids supposed to be in HS? The older sister seemed like she was in her late 20s/early 30s. It just didn’t seem very realistic? But we agreed w/ the points of the documentary.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 15, 2020 at 10:06 am

      agree about the family portion being cheesy! I also though the boy looked quite old and found that distracting!!! And yes the older sister appeared to be 30 but still attending high school? confusing.

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 6:31 am

      This week I’ve been trying to use the reminders in Outlook a LOT more and it has been helpful – I think I need to work on the habit of assessing every task, giving it a time on the calendar or in a batched slot, and setting ALL the reminders etc.
      I used to be in freelancer or consultant roles with a lot of deep work so my planner was invaluable – I guess I’m trying to adapt my systems to a very different context now.

  • Reply Irene October 15, 2020 at 10:31 am

    My #1 tip for this reader is at the start of every day I number my to do list. I write it out and then once I have written things out in the order I think of them I assign them an order based on the urgency and importance. My work is extremely deadline driven so the numbering is not usually too difficult to figure out although it takes some time management skills to remember some tasks which require more levels of sign off need to go before something with a closer absolute deadline. And then I’m crazy strict about going in order so I don’t waste transition time convincing myself to do a task that is less desirable. I think my biggest attribute is that I’m very good at putting stuff down and picking it back up so I can stick with this system even when my day is chopped up a bit with meetings. I know some people are big into time blocking but in my job if I waited for a big chunk of time I would not get anything done until everyone else left the office and that’s not an option now that I have kids.

    I have a million strategies to keep myself in order that probably don’t work for everyone but for me this is useful. I occasionally have tasks that are very emotionally tiring (to me, probably not other people) and I can’t face having to churn them out in one sitting. This system let’s me take breaks when I need them emotionally or mentally without losing track of my priorities.

    Wow that got long! Sorry

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 7:16 am

      Don’t be sorry – I really appreciate it!
      I think the discipline of going in order is a good tip. I have found it helpful to have the list of key tasks right on my desk so that when I’m interrupted or have to head to a meeting than it’s easier to see what I should get back to doing, rather than get distracted with my inbox.
      I need a million strategies to keep myself in order!
      “That’s not an option now that I have kids” – that’s part of the reason that I’m looking to improve here – I don’t have kids and I recognise that this job, how I do it right now, is not going to work if I do. I’m not going to ‘leave before I leave’ because realistically kids might not happen for me, but the level I’m at is the one level above where a lot of women with kids get ‘stuck’ in my organisation so I want to build good habits and strategies to ensure I can do this job well without having to do crazy hours, whether that’s to make room for kids or to embark on further study or…something else!

  • Reply Sarah K October 15, 2020 at 11:19 am

    My job is a lot like Lily’s – my task list is not necessarily a to-do list for the day, but more of a tracking tool for ongoing projects. I have all kinds of stuff pop-up and I would never remember it all if I didn’t write it down! Then if it’s something I can’t get to in the next few days, I move it to the task list for that day so it doesn’t bog down my daily to-do list until then.

  • Reply Marjorie October 15, 2020 at 11:36 am

    It sounds like some of these challenges that Lily is facing is more management-related than project-related, i.e., important but not urgent, or requires 1:1 time with the staff member who pops up in the hallway needing help. There is a lot of mental overhead in dealing with these random pop-ups: the actual conversation itself (info-gathering, and usually it’s incomplete), figuring out if a meeting needs to be held for more extended discussion, determining who needs to be at that meeting, figuring out the structure of the meeting, the meeting itself, and then the outcome of that meeting. Multiply that, say, 3x a day, and poof — someone else’s priorities are now yours.

    (And I could totally be misreading the situation, so take my tips with a grain of salt!)

    Management is an interesting position to be in because you’re in this nether zone where you’re neither in a true leadership position (more of a “people leadership” position) but neither are you now an individual contributor, so much of your day can be completely taken over in air-traffic-control mode. Presumably the reason why Lily was moved into management is because her own leadership team believes that she has the potential to join them in the “true” leadership ranks, so this is a great opportunity to actually start learning and exercising true leadership. And true leadership is not at all “manage all the things and all the people”.

    So what I would recommend is that Lily learn how to empower her staff and maybe even her boss to be more proactive and deliberate in how they approach her with their problems. If, for example, a staffer interrupts her in the hallway about a crisis he needs help with, Lily can:

    * reassure the staffer that she will guide him to the solution and she has his back (as a good manager and leader should)
    * ask him to define the problem specifically and in detail: what is the actual problem? who is involved? what is the desired outcome?
    * ask him to brainstorm potential solutions. Spend a half hour or even just ten minutes just brainstorming solutions, either solo or with other teammates.
    * ask him to outline a path from the problem to the solution. What resources does he need? Time? More staffing? What is a realistic deadline in which all of this can be accomplished?
    * Have him write down all of this into a memo in detail. And *then* — this is critical — have him write down at the end of the email what the next step he thinks should be. Schedule a meeting? Do more research?
    * Then have him email all of this to you.

    This not only shares the responsibility of the problem but also will force him to really think through the problem and come up with solutions to it, rather than relying on Lily to do ALL of the above (which sounds like what’s actually happening). This can be especially tempting if a person was promoted to management from the ranks — presumably Lily was such a reliable high performer, a “get it done” kind of person, that now that she’s in management, many of the folks in the rank and file still see her that way and assume she’ll help them get things done.

    A conscientious and high-potential team member should see this as a way to really prove himself and his skills and give him the opportunity to showcase them. Someone who balks and insists that Lily “do” all of this work for them is likely just a team morale problem waiting to happen.

    If she’s in management on her way to leadership, her role really needs to be to empower her team to do more of the work, so that she can spend more of her time actually *in* management and developing her leadership skills.

    Given her new role, I recommend that Lily also consider hiring an executive/leadership coach. Her company might have that resource already available, but if not, it’s totally worth the investment in her career!

    On a different note, I was JUST going to ask if you were going to cover Cal Newport’s planner! I went ahead and ordered it even though I, too, was miffed that he couldn’t be bothered to upload some preview pages (it literally takes minutes) to the Amazon book page. Can’t wait to hear the review!

    • Reply Erin T. October 16, 2020 at 11:29 am

      This is super helpful to my husband who may receive a promotion into a managing role (fingers crossed). I’m passing along to him. Thanks Marjorie!

    • Reply Danielle October 16, 2020 at 5:05 pm

      This was such a helpful comment. Thank you!

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      Many thanks for your time in writing out such a thorough response Marjorie – I really appreciate the advice. I agree that what I’m struggling with is that jump from individual performer to manager, and it’s really helpful to frame it as part of a journey to leadership. I have definitely thought about hiring a coach and I know that every cent I’ve spent on these kinds of things has paid itself back x10 – I had put it on pause due to covid but will start to research again – many in my area focus on civil service OR private sector careers, and as I’ve done both and may to do both in future I’ll need to find the best fit.
      I do have a really fantastic team, which really helps with being a new manager. In my case, the hallway kind of interruptions don’t come from lack of initiative to solve problems but often from either a) it genuinely being the kind of thing that will require manager approval (this organisation is SUPER hierarchical and risk averse my team really do have to get my sign off on a lot of things) or b) a more personal issue (eg last week it was a junior team member quite upset because she’d heard someone else’s transfer was approved and her’s was rejected so we took some time to talk that through). However, I really like the coaching style of management you describe and I do try to adopt this style myself. I also have a tendency to take way too many action items on myself instead of delegating them to team members so I will try to work on that!
      I do try and seek the right balance between getting my ‘stuff’ done and being there for my team – I want them to feel supported and ‘backed in’ – and on reading your advice I think I need to keep working on making sure I’m being intentional about choosing between when to respond with ‘hey I can see you’re really upset about this – let’s talk a walk and talk it over right now’ and ‘hey I can see you’re really upset about this – let’s make a time for a coffee tomorrow to discuss it properly’

      • Reply Marjorie October 17, 2020 at 6:51 pm

        Super glad that y’all found it helpful, especially Lily! Much of the credit needs to go to my longtime (28 years!) mentor and BFF, who is a college senior VP and has coached me as I have moved up the ranks in my own industry and shared much of his own hard-earned experience and wisdom.

  • Reply Nikki October 15, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    I’m literally taking notes from the comments section. Thanks for featuring Lily’s great question! The only thing I’ll add, is a note I have jotted down in my planner this year from an Oliver Burkeman article (that I think I found through a link in Manoush Zomorodi’s newsletter within the last few months) that “there will always be too much to do – this realization is liberating… you needn’t berate yourself for failing to do all, since doing it all is structurally impossible…”

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:28 pm

      Ooh – thanks for the reminder to start following Oliver Burkeman again – I love his stuff. And I agree with that quote – some roles I’ve had have been ‘plan carefully and tick every box’ kinda roles, while others have been ‘it’s impossible to do everything so let’s assess and decide which fires have to be put out and which can smolder’ kinda roles. This one is definitely the latter so it’s important to keep that mindset.
      I’ve started writing or pasting little quotes and cartoons into my 2021 hobonichi so I’ll add that one in 🙂

  • Reply Elizabeth October 15, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    Hi! I love all the ideas for Lily that have already been mentioned. The one I’m surprised that hasn’t been said before is: is it possible to start work an hour earlier, with the door closed, not logged into email or any office messenger platform, and tackle the most pressing task on her to do list? You often mention how much your quiet early morning time helps, and this advice is also often shared by LV. Basically, if you can take care of the most important task of your day before others start interrupting your day, you’ll feel much better when it comes to the end of the day, even if you spent the rest of the day in triage with others’ work/assignments/issues. It can also be great time for “important but not urgent” work that so often bears the brunt of being pushed off in the face of fire drills.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 16, 2020 at 5:38 am

      Ooh, love this! Very good and simple potential strategy.

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:33 pm

      This is definitely something that is working for me – unfortunately I don’t have an office (sharing a big open plan office space with my team and every other team is definitely exacerbating my situation!) but sometimes I get in early and work at a coffee shop for an hour or so and crank through the important things. However I need to work on really identifying a realistic number of task for those times, and proactively scheduling in things for those slots. And also on being happy about what I DID get done, instead of lamenting the continued backlog…

  • Reply Coco October 15, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    i watched 1/3 of social dilemma and quit. As you, I deliberately quick social media (deleted apps) from my phone and never looked back. It was easy actually and my screen time has gone down to single digits as I only use it for quick search in google. The funny thing is even sometime (maybe once I week) I open FB or instagram I get bored within few minutes and close them.
    life changing!

  • Reply Hanna October 15, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    I’m not in management, but do get a lot of sporadic tasks throughout the day (with some long projects and regular updates thrown in). My main thing is using a weekly/rolling work task list instead of daily. Usually as time clears up I can pick a few off, but if it gets unwieldy I can organize it in a few ways: the important/not important vs urgent/not urgent matrix, by time needed (helps when I have 10 min to reply to an email vs 2 hours to dig into something big), or task type (answer emails, read/review documents, tasks in a certain application I don’t use often, etc).

    Also, no shame in “hiding”. My boss used to encourage us to schedule a meeting (alone), find a room far from where we sit, and crank stuff out. Now that we’re mostly WFH, we use the “do not disturb” function on our chat and close outlook for a bit. Even 1 or 2 hours of this a week can make a big dent.

    Lastly, I 2nd the reading a book/doing a short course/finding a mentor that can help you navigate management. I technically don’t have anyone below me, but still 100% “delegate” at times, push deadline assumptions, etc. But it took a lot to learn/feel out what is right (*cough cough* we’re conditioned as women to handle everything, not ask for help, not assert boundaries, etc).

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:37 pm

      I love the ‘hiding’ – I probably can’t use that strategy too much, but as you say, even 1 or 2 hours a week could help. Per Laura Vanderkam’s advice, I need to think weekly for this and the coffee shop strategy above, rather than neglecting these strategies because I can’t do it every day.
      I would LOVE book recommendations!

  • Reply neuromd October 15, 2020 at 10:34 pm

    This is such a great comments section and I agree with everyone above. It’s taken me over twenty years of professional life to figure out a good system for me. I would advise Lily to step back and answer some questions: What would an ideal day of work look like? Why I am upset at the end of the day when I haven’t done certain things? I am in academic medicine where things like doing research and publishing papers in medical journals count for the most weight when it comes time for promotion. But I am also in a clinical position where I am on call 24/7 for 50% of my time (usually every other week or every two weeks) I used to resent getting interrupted by my pager going off, but then I decided that hey, more than 50% of my time (I run outpatient clinics too) is supposed to be spent with patient care, teaching residents, and BEING THERE for my colleagues. People call me for my expertise so I decided to EMBRACE the interruptions. I remembered what it was like to be an intern in the emergency room having to call the subspecialist for advice. The perfect situation would be when they answered promptly, let me explain the situation, didn’t make me feel stupid, answered my question in a clear way, gave me a plan for the patient that was doable, and even taught me something during the call. After I started being ALL IN for getting paged, I felt my days (and nights!) were more meaningful and enjoyable. I guess this is my long way saying that maybe for Lily, BEING THERE for co-workers is the main point of your job. That said, I would follow everyone else’s advice above and learn to be a top-notch manager as well! Learning how to delegate will help, as well as taking a look at all the fires that you have to put out, and figure out if there is a way to prevent all the unexpected, last minute stuff from happening in the first place.

    Now, that’s all fine and good, but I also realized something else this year, and that is that patient care and teaching activities are like email in that it is never-ending. And things that are never-ending need to be batched, because I could literally spend all of my days dealing with “things that come up”. So of course, I answer emergency pages right away, but everything else is batched into blocks during my day. And then, I prioritize research blocks if I can. Research is my “deep work” in that it is harder, takes sustained concentration, and is usually long-term, i.e. takes many weeks, or even months to complete, as opposed to patient care or teaching activities which usually take anywhere from 20 min to a few hours. I also started tracking my research projects (this is where the Hobonichi comes in!) In the front of every Hobonichi are yearly pages with a ten boxes for every day of the year. (See SHU’s August 10th post for a picture). I write down a research task (i.e. compile annual report, review paper for journal, write discussion section, write abstract), something discrete that will take around 10-20 hours to complete. Then, I log how many 30 min blocks I spent on the activity that day. (I can have up to ten projects going at the same time because of the 10 boxes). This helps keep me on track because I hate when a day goes by and I haven’t done ANY research blocks. It’s also satisfying to see projects completed over multiple days.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 16, 2020 at 5:37 am

      WOW! I LOOOOVE your idea for use of the yearly planning pages. And what a great insightful comment as well.

      I am interested to see how my next call week goes, because my previous way of dealing with the stress of call was honestly – excessive scrolling. Instead I will try to embrace the “requests for my expertise” as you put it. What a great comment -thank you!

    • Reply Erin T. October 16, 2020 at 11:37 am

      What a great use of cognitive reframing! Not a clinician but an academic researcher. This comment is so so helpful and your reframing about calls is helpful for me with mentoring. I often get emails (used to be in-person drop-ins, but COVID…) from interns and researcher assistants that are very similar small interruptions to your calls. Mentoring is a huge part of my job so I will use this strategy and see how it works. (I assume it will be quite successful.)

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:53 pm

      Fantastic – thanks so much for sharing this wisdom. It’s a nice reminder that developing systems is an ongoing process – I think a couple of changes of role, combined with covid, and moving house mid-lockdown has thrown me off and so I need to reassure myself that things will come together if I’m consistent about testing and adopting strategies.
      I do like your point on BEING THERE. I want to find the intentional balance between what I need and what my team needs and what my broader department needs.
      I do like your idea on tracking ‘project’ blocks – my monthly pages are quite neglected so a row of the monthly boxes might also work well for this strategy

  • Reply Sam @ Eye to Wonder October 16, 2020 at 8:45 am

    This was so needed to read today. Yesterday everything went totally out the window with wifi problems, and trouble shooting, so I will definitely try some of these strategies next week.

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 10:57 pm

      Good luck – let us know how you go! And yes, some days are just a write off and you have to take a deep breath and just start again. Last week I spent a chunk of precious time prepping for a meeting (another manager was on leave so I had to fill in for her and wasn’t fully across the project) and then about 5 mins into the meeting our fire alarm went off and we were evacuated! We had to cancel the meeting and reschedule – and by then the other manager will be back. Oh well. Planning is important but sometimes life has other plans!

  • Reply Emma October 16, 2020 at 9:19 am

    In answer to Lily’s questions, my job hasn’t changed, but I’m now supervising virtual schooling at the same time so constantly interrupted, so my normal time block strategy wasn’t working as well. There are two things that are helping:
    1) A focused block in the early am (6-8ish when my husband is watching the kids)
    2) Choosing smaller, more focused tasks that fill no more than 50% of the time when I’m working/virtual schooling. I used to be able to just say I’ll work on this project for two hours, but now I have to choose a more discrete task (15-30 minutes) that I might be able to finish before I’m interrupted and this makes me feel less scattered or annoyed about the interruptions. It also makes it easier to come back to the task post-interruption, as I don’t have to remember where in the project I was.

    • Reply Lily October 16, 2020 at 11:00 pm

      I’ve been using a spreadsheet to manage tasks and I’ll try adding a column for focused vs ‘can work on with interruptions’ to help with what I do in my morning blocks at the coffee shop vs what I work on when I’m ‘on the floor’ – thanks!

  • Reply Martha October 17, 2020 at 10:38 am

    My last job was as a manager of a small engineering team that supported 24/7 manufacturing so we had to respond to issues that came up with the equipment and quality complaints while also managing improvement projects. When I started in the role all of us were spending 90% of our time responding to issues and when I finished it was about 30%. (I was also part-individual contributor). We first clearly documented what was in and out of scope for our jobs by talking to my manager and other department managers. We were able to shift some of our work to the technicians (some paperwork and also teaching them to troubleshoot using flow charts we made) and some to other departments (with their approvals). I worked with the groups that we supported and set up meetings every 6 months to understand and get a forecast of what was needed from us and also to remind them what we support and don’t support. This way we could plan for requests from those groups and also push back on things that we aren’t supposed to support. Finally I told my team to not accept meeting requests or work requests if it’s not in our defined scope of work and gave them a decision matrix to determine if they needed to work on a request immediately or if it could wait. I helped them with techniques to push back on requests that could wait (such as explaining the alternate priorities). Personally, I didn’t accept any meeting without an agenda and a clear reason for me to be there (and rejected anything that conflicted with my current meetings as long as it wasn’t an emergency). We met every week to quickly review our workloads and plans for the next week and to discuss priorities. We also had 1:1’s every 2 weeks but I also (like the other commenter) decided that if anyone came to my office I would be cheerful and embrace helping them, despite the interruption. Hopefully some of this is helpful!

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 17, 2020 at 12:50 pm

      Hi! Sorry your comments did not go through initially – it just got auto-filtered b/c it was long 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 17, 2020 at 12:51 pm

      And i love your take on meetings!

      • Reply Martha October 17, 2020 at 3:51 pm

        Sorry for duplicate posting! I never really comment on blogs so I was confused when it didn’t go through.

  • Reply Martha October 17, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    My last job was as a manager of a small engineering team that supported 24/7 manufacturing so we had to respond to issues that came up with the equipment and quality complaints while also managing improvement projects. When I started in the role all of us were spending 90% of our time responding to issues and when I finished it was about 30%. (I was also part-individual contributor).

    We first clearly documented what was in and out of scope for our jobs by talking to my manager and other department managers. We were able to shift some of our work to the technicians (some paperwork and also teaching them to troubleshoot using flow charts we made) and some to other departments (with their approvals).

    I worked with the groups that we supported and set up meetings every 6 months to understand and get a forecast of what was needed from us and also to remind them what we support and don’t support. This way we could plan for requests from those groups and also push back on things that we aren’t supposed to support.

    Finally I told my team to not accept meeting requests or work requests if it’s not in our defined scope of work and gave them a decision matrix to determine if they needed to work on a request immediately or if it could wait. I helped them with techniques to push back on requests that could wait (such as explaining the alternate priorities).

    Personally, I didn’t accept any meeting without an agenda and a clear reason for me to be there (and rejected anything that conflicted with my current meetings as long as it wasn’t an emergency). We met every week to quickly review our workloads and plans for the next week and to discuss priorities. We also had 1:1’s every 2 weeks but I also (like the other commenter) decided that if anyone came to my office I would be cheerful and embrace helping them, despite the interruption.

    Since my days could change a lot, I would make a list of the things that had to get done for the week, and sometimes also for that particular day, and refer to that when I had breaks of time.

    Hopefully some of this is helpful!

  • Reply Alyce October 18, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    I just got a promotion and am managing a team of 10 lawyers. I’m also still doing a lot of my old job too, until my replacements are trained (which, believe it or not, may take a couple of years). I’m also figuring out how to adapt my planning processes to fit the demands of my new job, so I’ve taken notes from a number of responses. A couple of planning related techniques are helping me as a new manager:

    – My calendar used to be much more static and planned in advance that it is now, and I could do a weekly review on a Friday in order to plan out my week without worrying that a weekly plan would be obsolete. Now, the plan changes too frequently, so checking in daily to review my schedule and items I need to accomplish is essential. I still do a weekly review, but every couple of days I do a “daily” review of the past few days. I tend to do mine in the evening after the workday is over (and after getting my daughter to bed), so that I can catch loose ends that might otherwise be missed and set me up so that I’m ready for the next couple of days. I like doing it at night when I’m not tempted to actually complete items (unlike in the morning when I’m still mentally fresh and might try). It’s just a 15 minute review of emails from the past few days, getting them sorted into the right folders, flagging high priority items in my Hobonichi, putting low-priority items on a separate low-priority to do list, identifying items that need to be delegated. My Hobonichi is integral to this, since I’m able to lay out my priorities for the next day without being weighed down by the items that were priorities the previous day or priorities that were established for the week. I don’t see how I could ever use a planner that didn’t have a daily page because of the frequent changes
    – I constantly re-evaluate priorities, and have to be very mindful about not letting my focus get swayed by the item/request that came in most recently, or the item that has been on my plate the longest. My office doesn’t generate its own work – we get requests for assistance from the 25 or so different offices we advise. One office’s top priority may actually be a pretty low priority relative to an item that comes in from a different office. In my role, a work item that was the top priority the day before might not be the top priority the next day, even if the task didn’t get accomplished when it was the top priority. So I’m always mindful of what’s most important for me to be working on.

    – Perhaps most importantly, during my weekly review I schedule five to ten (1 or 2 per day depending on what my schedule looks like) 1-2hr blocks of time on my calendar for the upcoming week, which I use to tackle work items that are squarely on my plate. I try to use these scheduled times to work on the items that will never be top priority but still need to get done, though occasionally these blocks get co-opted by high priority urgent matters. I also aim to schedule these blocks at key inflection points – when I know I have a more intense work item to review with a hard deadline – I will schedule a block in the hours before that deadline. I treat these blocks like I would treat a meeting scheduled with others, and I don’t accept meetings scheduled on top of them, I don’t answer the phone during those blocks, and if I were physically in the office instead of working remotely, I would close my door and not answer if someone knocked. (Though I read that you work in an open office – if that were my situation, I would get noise cancelling headphones and let people know explicitly that when I’m wearing them, I am not available.) I did tell my direct supervisor that I was doing this, and let her know that I would be available to her if she needed to talk to me, but the only reason why I gave her that option is because I know she won’t interrupt me unless it truly is urgent (or something quick and really funny that I would actually love to hear – I’m always open for an interruption that will make me smile or laugh because I’m really not that disciplined). My supervisor understands exactly why I need to schedule this time and is supportive of it.

    – I work on establishing and enforcing boundaries with the people who want to do drivebys for advice. Some of my team members seem to prioritize all work as equally important, which means they treat minor issues as urgent emergencies, and they can dedicate an hour to discussing something that merits a 10 minute conversation. Knowing that, I’m extremely discerning about when I will let them discuss their issues with me, or how long I let them talk about something, or tell them clearly that they’ve spent too much time and energy on a (relatively) low-priority item. I think being explicit and straightforward about these things is the only hope I have to build their own judgment about prioritizing their own work appropriately.

    But really, the key takeaway is that planning methods have to change as our lives change. My planning system is totally different than it was in high school, which changed in college, and then fell off in my post college years when my life was pretty simple and uncomplicated and pretty easy to keep track of in my head. It became more formal again in law school, which I kept up until having a baby, at which point planning was fairly low priority during my first year of parenting. I only started up again in earnest this calendar year, only to have the pandemic throw everything off for a few months before getting back into the swing of things. Planning is a really a dynamic tool that has to change and grow as we do.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger October 19, 2020 at 5:27 am

      LOVE this comment! I am going to share parts of it on BLP as long as that’s ok!!

  • Reply Lori C November 2, 2020 at 6:15 pm

    I’m reading this via the email newsletter and I’m so glad you are checking out the time block planner! I have been tempted, but already have 10,452 planners for 2021. Can’t wait to hear your review!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.