Sunday, October 7

3 Reasons You Should Plan Your Week in Advance (and how to do it)

I started weekly planning while in college.

Overachieving Duke student that I was, I made a spreadsheet, printed a copy for every week of the semester and hung them on my refrigerator. This was the trick that let me graduate college in 3 years.

When I started working with InterVarsity, I kept my weekly planning in place. It's been 8 years and I have the same system. Every week, for over a decade, I sit down and plan out my week (that means I've done this over 500 times).

Here's what my weekly calendar looks like (this was last week):

Weekly Schedule ... gotta love the color-coding

Here are 3 reasons I think this practice is important:

Planning frees up decision energy

We have thousands of decisions to make every week. And I don't know about you, but I find decision-making exhausting. In the midst of a busy day or a busy week, it's so easy to let things slip by because you don't have the mental or emotional energy to make a decision.

What am I going to do this week? What am I going to do today? What am I going to do next?

Front-loading these decisions in your week frees up decision energy for you to use on the day of. If I know I have time to answer the e-mail, I can pump that decision energy into the content of the email. If I know what my week is going to look like, I can make quick and accurate decisions about my availability and capacity.

And I can push my limits.

Planning helps you identify patterns

Where does your time go?

6 years ago, I noticed that I was spending 5 nights every week on campus. I was newly married and Amy worked during the day. My 5 nights every week schedule left us with little time together. When she said she felt like we weren't spending much time together, I had the data to back her up.

Over the years, my planning process has uncovered wild imbalances in my Staff work. One year I did almost no fundraising. Another year, I spent all of my time with my student leadership team (and no time with non-Christian students or future leaders in our chapter). Another year, I went weeks without dedicated time to pray for the ministry.

Establishing a planning process can help you make sure you cover your bases, make sure you don't let the urgent crowd out the important, make sure you're doing what you need to be doing.

Planning gives you permission to stop

This is the last major benefit to planning.

Ministry jobs, like a lot of jobs (parenting, teaching, sales), don't really let you know when you're done. You could always work more. You could always do more.

I've discovered that I'm prone to trying to do more than I can do. I'll work longer hours, skip Sabbath and retreat days, push and push and push. And at some point, this practice yields diminishing returns. I work more but get less done. I work longer but, being exhausted, don't work well.

In the heat of the moment, I don't want to stop. I want to keep going. Answer one more e-mail so I don't get yelled at by my boss. Spend one more hour on campus in case that student decides to stop by. Read one more chapter so that I'm drawing from a deeper well this week. More. More. More.

On Sunday afternoons, more isn't attractive. My Sunday planning moment has less heat. In that moment, more looks like less. Less health. Less efficiency. Less time with my wife and son.

Planning grants perspective enough to help me to stop. Some days, it's the only thing that gets me to stop. Some days, it's not enough. But without it ... well ... without it I'd be in a lot of trouble.
So, what do you think? Are you interested in planning your week?

Here's how to get started:

Start by tracking where you spend time. 

To paraphrase Andy Stanley: You've got to be knowing where your time is going. This is the first step of stewardship. God has given you a limited amount of time. Where are you spending it?

Time is like money in this way. If you don't know where it's going, you can't give it directions. What good would it do for you to map out an ideal week only to realize you failed to include enough sleep? (I'll tell you what it does ... it gets you a C+ in Calc 3 and it makes your parents worried).

Take a week or a month and track your time. Even if you don't take this thing any farther, you'll benefit from this practice.

But you should take this thing farther. You can do it.

Create your system.

While you're tracking where you spend your time, you can start to develop your system.

I like to use an Excel spreadsheet. I've used the same document for 8 years. I just save over the top of the old one. I keep it on my desktop and open it first thing every morning. Simple. Fast. No internet required. Transports to any computer easily.

My day tends to run from 7am to 10pm. I end up working on weekends a lot, so I included weekends in my calendar. I don't need a ton of precision, so I can break my day into 30 minute blocks. When I was in college and working at the roofing company, I broke it into 15 minute blocks.

Lastly, I love color-coding. It gives me a good glance at my week: what's major and what's missing. I color code and count. How much time gets invested in each category? Off to the right of the calendar, I total these together. Right now, I target 40 hours with InterVarsity on average and 10 hours with Crossway.

Commit for one month.

You won't really know if it helps or not until you've done this for a month. Seriously. Make a short-term commitment. Try it. If it helps, keep it. If it doesn't, toss it.

Pick a day and time and place.

Sunday nights in my office. Every week. That's where I do my planning.

The key to almost every new discipline involves getting specific. Where and when will you do the thing you want to do? Planning to plan is almost as hard as planning itself.

Do it.

Write out how you'd like your week to go.

You can adjust it on the fly. You aren't setting this in concrete and signing this in blood. This is just the draft of your week. You're laying down the bass line. You can still riff. Don't panic.


Before you start the next week, glance back on the week you just finished.

Were you missing a category? Were your guesstimations on where your time would be spent close to what ended up happening? What can you do to improve your planning, to make it more useful to you?


Seriously. That's what the comments are for. What's the point to picking up an awesome new discipline if you can't share it with anyone?

Are you a master planner? Do you have a better system to share? Did you try this and find it helpful? Miserable? Let me know.


  1. I have always considered myself a masterful planner, that schedule is impressive! Nicely done. :-)

  2. Anonymous8:15 AM

    This was really helpful - simple - and easy to adopt. I am also a fan of color coding - and I have never throught of tallying up the hours dedicated to each task so I could look for balance. Thanks!