Planning: Mapping Out the Year

Eariler I shared that every December I spend a few weeks, reflecting about the previous year and where I want to go in the new year. Part of that process is looking at what I’m commited to for the new year, and clearly understanding what time I have available and what time is completely full.

This has become critical for me, because I tend to overcommit. Large, complex projects and say, baseball or soccer season, are usually not good mixes. I get stressed out and end up working a lot of nights. So, I’ve re-employed a technique I used to use when I was a training manager and coordinating software implementations, and that I used when I was coordinating communications projects – a Production Calendar.

Once upon a time I used to use a monthly calendar with big squares, so then I could just write events on a post-it note and move it around as projects moved around. Now I use a large, laminated, yearly calendar like this:

Using a color-coding system, I write with Vis-a-Vis markers any work commitments I have, any conferences I’m speaking at or attending, and any vacation time.  So then I can see, from my desk, just by glancing up, what is going on when.  The process also helps me see how my work is balanced through out the year (or not…)

Personally, I like to have alternating periods of intense work followed by really light work.  One of my clients is a technical trade magazine that  I help edit and coordinate the production cycle on. Every two months there is an intense burst of activity – a flurry to get things pulled together and out the door. After which, I really like taking some time off to just spend with the kids and do small projects.  By looking at the production calendar, I can see where my ups are and where my down cycles are. And then I can plan accordingly.

It also helps me set expectations with my family. For example, last April looked like this:

I was away for a week, speaking at a conference, then came back to two very large projects overlapping each other. Not great planning on my part, but both timelines were set and needed my attention. By looking the calendar ahead of time, I could tell my kids and husband what to expect that month, and point to the next month and show them where the down time would be.

I usually set this up at the beginning of every year, and then update it as needed through out the year. My large projects are usually booked out months in advance, so that is helpful, but it also allows me to see where I might need to do some extra marketing work or what I call “stirring of the pot” to see if there’s any work coming down the line, or conversely block off time for known, upcoming projects and be able to say “I’m sorry my calendar is booked until…” if things are really busy.

This has been a great tool for me. It doesn’t replace my monthly/weekly/daily planning that I do, but it gives me a year at a glance to know what is coming and where I have some flexibility.

This entry was posted in On Balancing Life, On Working at Home and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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