How to plan your week and track time by creating your Week Map
We often struggle to “find time”.
Find the time to exercise. Find the time to read. Find the time to socialise. Find the time to finish an important task.
Balancing your available time can be a challenge.
And yet, whenever we do have a spare hour, or even the whole weekend, too many people treat it like money found in a coat’s pocket. Because it’s unexpected, it gets assigned a value of 0 and spent on whatever next (unnecessary) thing comes along.
To make things worse, available time is often too little, too scattered, or too unpredictable to be used on any meaningful task. So it just gets used on the next default activity.
In the meantime, meaningful activities keep waiting.
So how can you maximise your time to boost your productivity and balance the different areas of your life, all while making everything less stressful?
Enter your Weekly Map.
The Weekly Map is an overall plan for the whole week. It considers your long-term goals, maximises your enjoyment, gives you positive time-constraints, and balances all the different areas of your life, so you can get lots done while looking after yourself.
And, just in case you’re wondering, it also leaves as much time as you desire for last-minute planning.
Let’s jump right into it.
Part 1: The forces influencing your week
Before going into creating your weekly strategy, let’s have a quick look at the invisible forces shaping your day when you don’t come prepared. Knowing what’s holding you back will help you better plan your week, and make sure you can improve your performance and maximise your enjoyment every week.
Missing the big picture
Most people plan the next hour, many plan the day.
With such a narrow perspective, it’s hard to be intentional.
No wonder we get stressed over a deadline we could have seen coming, or decide to lie on the sofa even when…we really wanted to go to the gym.
If things weren’t complicated enough, we engage a different part of the brain when thinking about the future than we do when thinking about the present: it’s easy to make a lighthearted decision about the future, only to become emotionally stressed when it becomes the present.
Willpower has a daily cap. Many studies have shown how our ability to make rational, intentional decisions diminish as the day progresses. No matter whether you’re deciding what breakfast to have, what task to work on next, or whether to say yes or no to friends wanting to meet: the more willpower you use, the less you’ll have left.
At a certain point in the day, you will go to your default choice, or the easiest one to take.
With a plethora of everyday choices, we squander our willpower on things that don’t matter, and have none left for things that are really important.
So when you plan hour by hour and miss the bigger picture, you’ll fall victim of your depleted willpower and take the easiest choice, rather than the most important or most rewarding activity.
In a 1955 study of the burgeoning bureaucracy within the shrinking British Empire, C Northcote Parkinson noted: “It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
This has since then been dubbed ‘Parkinson’s law‘.
You’ve probably experienced this yourself, suddenly becoming more focused, swift, and productive as a deadline approaches and available time shrinks.
Empirical evidence has been available for decades.
During the first world war, a decision by the British government to cut hours at munitions plants made workers healthier and also more productive.
In more recent times, Sweden has been trying out a six-hour workday, with a variety of companies cutting their working week to improve wellbeing. So far, companies involved have reported improvements in productivity and lower staff turnover.
And yet, when you miss the bigger picture, it’s easy to think you can just expand your current activity into the next hour. And then the next hour again.
Here’s a summary of all the things influencing your week.
Design your own time
In 1527, cartographer Diogo Ribeiro made what is considered the first scientific world map.
The largest empires at the time (Portugal and Spain in particular) developed an increasingly more accurate system of maps to help them define, understand, and navigate their way through the world.
Expanding tasks, last minute invitations, underestimating future commitments, other people demanding our time, and then work, family, reading, fitness,…the obstacles along your week are many.
To create a balanced week, draw your own Week Map.
This will help you define, understand, and navigate your way through your time.
Without a map, how will you get to your destination?
The freedom of maps
I know what you’re thinking.
Planning the whole week sounds scary.
And that’s exactly right. It sounds scary.
But it actually takes all the stress away.
Like a world map, it allows you to spot difficulties ahead, and come prepared. And, because it allows you to see the bigger picture, you can see the future consequences of your present choices.
Plus, we’re not just going to plan the week.
We are going to draw our own map, giving priority to what actually matters to us, regardless of what last-minute commitments look like.
Part 2: How to create your Week Map
Reactive vs Proactive
The biggest advantage of having a Week Map is that it allows you to be proactive with how you want to spend your time.
We all spend our 24 hours at the speed of one minute per minute.
The only choice we have is about what to do with those 24 hours.
The reactive approach only looks at one activity at a time: the next activity.
Sometimes it’s a text from a friend asking to go for a drink, other times it’s just the next task on your to-do list, or an email pulling you away from what you had planned for the next hour.
This approach relies on a first come, first served basis, and uses ‘yes’ as the default answer.
The proactive approach looks at the whole picture and makes sure that all the important activities get the priority they deserve. This is all about balance and progress between the different areas of your life, whether it’s work, fitness, family, friends, relaxing, learning, or whatever is important to you.
This approach is based on a priority principle and uses ‘no’ as the default answer.
The quickest way to switch from reactive to proactive approach is to realise that saying ‘yes’ is actually just another way to say ‘no’: Whenever you decide to use your limited time on a certain activity or with a certain person, you are automatically saying no to everything else. Even though it may be more important.
Design your Ideal Week
The first step to creating your Week Map is to…design your ideal week.
I first heard about this concept from Michael Hyatt, who uses a simple spreadsheet to plan the week you would live if you could control 100% of what happens. Total game changer.
This is your blank canvas to design your time: what would you do if you had control of all the variables in your week?
Once you create it, you won’t have to touch it ever again (unless you want to experiment or change your weekly rhythm).
I have created a template for you, which includes time tracking (we’ll talk about that below).
Sign up here and I’ll send you a Google Spreadsheet you can copy and use to design your own week and track time.
What to include in your week
Your ideal week should contain everything, from events to tasks you need to get done. In other words, include everything that takes over 15 minutes.
Sure, you probably don’t know what specific tasks you’ll have each week, but you can estimate your weekly workload and assign it an appropriate amount of time. For example, I know that I am going to need a certain amount of uninterrupted time to write every week, preferably broken into two chunks.
Putting it in my ideal week, and ultimately in my Week Map, allows me to make sure I always have time to focus and get lost in my own writing.
Sometimes it may take me slightly longer or shorter, and I will adjust (and then learn) accordingly.
Move it to your calendar
Boom. Now that you’ve designed your ideal week, it’s time to bring it all into your calendar and create your first Week Map.
I like to use Fantastical for Mac and iOS: I love the interface and how easy it is to add events and amend existing ones. However, you can do this in any calendar.
Look at your ideal week spreadsheet, and select the activities that repeat every single week. Then add them to your calendar, and set them to repeat every week.
Sometimes, you won’t know exactly what you will do or when it will happen on each specific week: if it’s an important activity, put a placeholder anyway, as it will ensure you don’t accidentally fill that with a reactive decision.
For example, I like to schedule my cooking time, social time, and me time on repeat: even if every week I see different people and do different things on different days, it makes sure I look after the important people in my life (myself included).
Other examples could be…team meetings and client calls: make sure you set a recurring time window in your week (and you communicate that to everyone else involved).
You can then adjust each week on your planning day to create your Week Map.
Should you use different calendars?
I used to use different colour-coded calendars for different things (writing, social time, exercising,…) but I stopped when I realised…they’re all part of my life.
Dividing them into specific calendars I was putting each activity against each other, instead of looking at the big picture.
However, I love to use emojis to connote each kind of activity, and I suggest you do it too, as it will help you understand your day and week at a glance, and learn from how you use your time.
Here are some of my favourites:
💕 = social or me time
🦄 = growth
💬 = coaching
💪 = training
📖 = intentional learning
💌 = replying to readers’ emails
…and a few more.
Don’t create too many, or you won’t be able to categorise how you spend your time at the end of the week.
Week Map time
Every week, set aside some time to plan the week ahead.
I like to do this on Sunday afternoon, but Saturday and Monday work too. Make sure you add this to your calendar, obviously.
This may sound counterintuitive, but investing one hour into mapping your time will pay back many times over as the week unfolds.
During my mapping session, I review my past week (more on this below) and plan out the next 7 days based on my weekly objectives, my ideal week, and how I feel on that particular week.
Here’s what to consider:
1) How you feel: maybe you want to sleep more, maybe you want to be more social or have more me-time than usual. However you feel, make sure you structure your week to include some of it.
2) Your objectives for the week: what do you want to accomplish by the end of the week? What will get you closer to your monthly goals?
3) Your commitments this week: whether it’s a flight to catch, a conference to attend, your mum visiting, or a night at the theatre, every week will be different.
4) What’s in your ideal week: when you start mapping, your calendar will already have lots of recurring events. Some will stay where they are, but others will be moved around to fit each particular week. Just make sure you have a great, balanced and fun week!
The all important rule
Using your calendar to create your Week Map is a powerful tool that allows you to take control of your time and have a balanced week.
As a side benefit, it allows you to rely on your calendar without having to remember whether you’re free or not, and weigh the consequences of saying yes on the spot.
Just open your calendar, and you will be reminded of your priorities and commitments.
This brings an incredible sense of freedom and removes the stress of having to take micro-decisions about your time.
You have to commit 100%.
If you don’t use your calendar for everything, you won’t be able to trust it, and you just get frustrated and give up.
The golden rule is: if it’s not in the calendar, it doesn’t exist.
Part 3: How to track your time to improve every week
The main challenge when it comes to scheduling your time is that sometimes you have to guess, and sometimes…you just don’t know how much time you actually spend on different activities.
If only we could look at our calendar and see everything we did during the week at a glance…
Track your time as you go
Mapping out your whole week in advance gives you a bird’s eye view of your next seven days, allowing you to prioritise and balance your activities. You can make better decisions without falling victim of the forces influencing your week.
Having your week map adds another great advantage: at the end of the week, you can look back and learn how you actually spend time.
You just have to do one thing: adjust your events as you go.
For example, say that you scheduled a whole afternoon to…write a blogpost (random example).
You factored in 6 hours, but it only took you 4.
At the end of the day (or right there and then), make sure you adjust that event to reflect what actually happened.
In those extra two hours, you might have…read a book or call a friend. Well, make sure you add that in as an event (and categorise it accordingly).
Then, let’s say you decided to move your workout from Wednesday to Thursday in order to see a friend for dinner. Or maybe you just didn’t feel like working out and dropped it.
Cool. Make sure you move or delete the event accordingly.
Your calendar needs to reflect and predict reality.
If you can only trust it 99% of the time, you will end up not trusting it and you will stop using it.
What to track
Now, during your weekly mapping session, look back and keep track of what’s most important to you.
For example, I like to keep track of how much time I spent writing and how much I actually produced.
This showed me that I am becoming a faster (and hopefully better) writer, but also that giving myself less time to write makes me more productive and creative.
Here’s what I track, and what I think you should too.
- Who I spent time with. 💕
This has lifted the quality of my life, and keeps doing so.
Writing down everyone I intentionally saw during the week shows me how socially active I have been, and whether it matched my mood and workload.I then go through the list and ask myself ‘why?’.
Any answer works here, but they usually range from “I enjoy spending time with them”, to “I helped them do x”, or “they helped me do x”.
If I don’t have an answer other than “I couldn’t say no”, I know something is not right, as I am taking time away from relationships that are more than a zero-sum game.
This has given me extra awareness, helped me upgrade my friendships and strengthen the ones I care about the most, since I am able to dedicate them more time and attention.
- How many times I went to the gym. 💪
On most weeks, this happens 4 times. Working out supports my energy levels, my health, my sense of progress, and my discipline.
If it’s less than 4 for more than two weeks in a row, this is a red flag to readjust my priorities and my workload.
- If I went on my weekly run. 🏃
- How many hours I spent on my number one business goal. 🦄
This allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of…my own progress. If I haven’t spent enough time on this category, I look at the rest of my week (and the goal itself) to understand how I can do better and regain momentum the next week.
- How many hours I spent on language learning. 🗯️
To put things into perspective, this is usually between 2-3.5 hours, and it’s the result of two daily 10 minute sessions plus a weekly call.
- How many hours I spent on intentional learning. 📖
This is, how much time I spent on a specific topic I intentionally want to know more about?
- How many weekly comfort challenges I did.✋
I currently strive for one or two.
Like mapping your week, tracking your time will take some commitment. If you did your homework and adjusted events during the week, it won’t take long (and you won’t have to guess).
The returns are incredible, as each week you will continue to upgrade your performance and overall happiness.
The week of your dreams
One last time mapping secret.
If you are working towards a major life change, including a new job, a new house, a new city, a new family, a new or growing business, or if you just want to push the reset button…I suggest you create the map of your dreams.
This is the kind of week your current constraints don’t allow you to live on a regular basis (yet), but that you aspire to build and live.
Following the exact same steps as in Part 2, map out the week of your dreams. What will you do once you have made that big change happen?
This is particularly important if you are working towards a life changing goal: deciding what your weekly life will look like will make it more concrete and give you an extra dose of motivation.
But it will also allow you to start from a blank slate before new commitments and old behaviours shape it out on your behalf.
It will create a clear goal for how you want to be spending your time.
Be the architect
Ok, now you have the principles, the steps, and even the tools to map out your week.
The first step is to move from the reactive approach, in which you always do whatever’s next and struggle to balance everything, to the proactive approach, in which you’re not afraid to say no and you prioritise your activities looking at the medium-long term.
In order to do that, design your static ideal week, and then move it to your calendar to create your week map. Every week, reserve one hour to map the week ahead and look at your previous week, so you can track how you spend your time, and learn how to improve every week.
Finally, you can take it one step forward and create the week of your dreams, in order to have a clear vision of what to aspire to, and start creating change daily.
Now it’s your turn to take action and design your own week, each week.
If you don’t do it, you will be always playing catch up, chasing rainbows wondering why you can’t ‘find’ the time.
Welcome to your best week yet.
Now don’t forget to set your monthly goals.