I love planning and organizing things. I also love making frameworks and defining processes. And of course, I have my preferred way of keeping tabs with all of that. When I couldn’t find a 2019 planner that suited my planning and organizing style and goal setting methods, I made one for myself. If you want peek how it turned out, you can preview it here.
Planning for success
I think planning and goal setting should serve efficiency and successful outcomes. It shouldn’t become a project itself. We need planning, but we don’t want to get lost in the activity. I don’t think planning for the sake of planning is either efficient or helpful.
But just enough of good and efficient planning and goal setting can turn an overwhelming and stressful project into success.
In my line of job, I have to make long term strategic plans as well as shorter term actionable and tactical plans. Few times a year, I have to plan what my team — myself included — will be designing in the next 6 – 12 months. This plan will then be edited and updated many times during the year.
The second layer of that plan is to create more detailed snapshots that span from two weeks to a couple of months. The goal is to understand the big picture and the day-to-day actionable tasks. But waaay before putting projects on a timeline, I need to be clear on what it is that we are trying to achieve — and how.
Setting actionable goals
I’m a solid checklist girl. I like to see all things I need to do in a list form. And oh the joy of checking something off that list! So for me, it is clear from the beginning, that at some point I’ll be making a list of all the things I need to do for achieving a goal.
Sometimes — especially in the beginning — projects can seem like a massive, overwhelming undertaking. And this can quickly become intimidating. To help avoid that overwhelm, I like to start chopping the project off to smaller achievable goals — or milestones, if you will.
This helps with organizing the tasks in my head, and eventually on paper. For each goal or milestone, I start drafting next steps. These are the actual concrete things I — or someone else — needs to to in order to achieve that goal.
Once a massive project is chopped in goals and corresponding next steps, it doesn’t seem overwhelming anymore. Now, it has become a plan of action — a roadmap to success.
After I know what needs to be done, I need to plan when everything will get done. And what resources I have to get them done. I’m a visual thinker and just writing things down or making a list won’t be as effective for me. So, I’ll draw a visual time line.
For this, I like to use Gantt charts. Gantt charts are a quick and convenient way to visualize how long certain projects will take. I especially love Gantt charts for project planning, because it clearly shows which tasks or phases will overlap. And this I find critical with resource planning.
After the planning is done, I get to work. Like I mentioned earlier, I love checklists. It’s my way of keeping myself accountable and on track.
If I’m particularly stressed or have an overwhelming amount of overlapping projects and tasks, I might chop tasks into very detailed to do lists. I find this very helpful, because that way I can always return to the list to check what I need to do next. And it saves my brain power for more strategic or creative thinking not having to remember all the next steps in my head constantly.
Setting goals or milestones, defining actionable steps to achieve those goals, and placing it all on a timeline are the corner stones of my efficiency. When working with a team, I will validate these plans with team members and stakeholders to make sure everyone is bought into the plan.
For each day, I make a to do list for myself. This is a list I don’t have to show anyone. It’s for me. I love the bullet journal style of keeping lists and tracking simple. And the little visual icons and lists that come with it. (What I don’t love about the current bullet journal movement is that it has exploded into elaborate art and craft activity. It’s fine and wonderful as a hobby. But it wouldn’t serve me in my hectic project schedules.)
The secret ingredient
I’m passionate about constantly improving my process and working efficiently. This extends beyond my working life, because a distracted or anxious mind is not efficient, strategic, or creative.
There are many things we can do to relieve stress, make ourselves feel more calm, and optimize our performance. You can exercise, eat healthy, and meditate. All things that are important and beneficial.
But for me, in addition to trying to include all the previous in my daily life, practicing gratitude daily has been life changing. I’m prone to unnecessary worrying and ruminating on negative thoughts. Practicing gratitude helps me focus on the positive things in my daily life and reduces the negative thoughts and worrying.
There’s scientific proof on the effects of gratitude to our mental and physical health. One Medical has pulled together a nice and concise list of studies about the positive effects of gratitude. In short, gratitude can improve your productivity, performance, relationships, sleep, heart health, mental strength, and stress coping skills. I can’t think of many other things that have as many positive effects.
So, in order to help myself stay focused, I do a daily gratitude journaling activity before bed. Basically I list at least 3 things I’m grateful that day. If I have more time, I’ll also try to write about the feelings I’ve had during the day, as it’s been proven to be beneficial, as well. And just before I put my journal away, I read my 3 things I’m grateful today one more time and try to really feel deep gratitude towards those things.
Making efficiency beautiful
I already mentioned I’m a visual thinker. I’m also a graphic designer and I get tremendous pleasure from seeing beautiful things, especially beautifully designed layouts.
When I started to look for a planner for 2019, I wasn’t able to find one I liked. Most of the beautifully designed planners I found were either huge with overwhelming amount of activities or plain with just calendar and room for daily notes without any visual elegance.
After the initial frustration, I decided to create a planner that includes exactly the kind of project planning activities and daily exercises that help me keep focused. That is: just enough of planning — not planning for the sake of planning.
I also wanted to feed my aesthetic side, so I decided to make it the most beautiful planner I’ve come across. I made sure the layouts are elegant and flawless. So that even without any flourishes the planner pages are pleasing and beautiful.
But I also love beautiful pictures and illustrations. So I decided to add a stunning monthly opener to delight the beginning of each month. Since I started this project in halfway through December 2018, which is rather late for creating a planner, I decided to use stock illustrations. While I draw and paint, I’m not professional illustrator. So, creating those myself would’ve taken significant amount of time and effort.
I curated each illustration carefully to ensure they all match together. I added typography on them to create a connection to the month. I changed grouping, enhanced colors, and positioned the illustrations to my liking. And the result of wonderful! I couldn’t be happier.
Oh, and most importantly, I made the planner in portable size: 6 x 9 inches. I want to be able to work wherever I feel like or need to at any time. And I don’t want to drag a thick, big, and heavy thing with me. So, portability was important to me.
Already during the process of designing the planner, I got so many admiring comments and inquiries of where to get one, that I decided to place for sale via print-on-demand service. If you want one, you can order it here.
If you love efficient planning, goal setting and tracking, and checklists, you definitely want to check out my planner. I took the most critical piece of every activity and included it in my planner. See the pictures below.
I included empty templates for Gantt charting (12 month template and 3 month template):
In the beginning of each month, I’ve added a goal planning spread with goals and corresponding next steps:
Each month also has a monthly view for goal tracking:
Born and raised in Europe, for me the week starts on Monday. And that’s how I like to plan it. I also wanted to include simple checklists and my daily gratitude practice to my planner:
And last but not least, few examples of the stunning monthly opening spreads: