The best advice often seems blindingly obvious in hindsight. After taking it, you wonder how you ever survived without it.
A little over two years ago, I picked up one of those habits myself: the weekplan. It was partially inspired by several of my co-workers, and partially by a story from Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.
The story is a (perhaps apocryphal) tale about Andrew Carnegie, the greatest business magnate of his generation. I’ve included it below:
It was 1890, and there was a cocktail party here in Pittsburgh. All the movers and shakers were there, including Carnegie.
He held court in the corner of the room, smoking a cigar. He was introduced to Frederick Taylor, the man who was becoming famous as an expert on organizing work.
‘Young man,’ said Carnegie, squinting dubiously at the consultant, ‘if you can tell me something about management that is worth hearing, I will send you a check for ten thousand dollars.’
Now, ten thousand dollars was a great deal of money in 1890. Conversation stopped as the people nearby turned to hear what Taylor would say.
‘Mr. Carnegie,’ Taylor said, ‘I would advise you to make a list of the ten most important things you can do. And then, start doing number one.’
And, the story goes, a week later Taylor received a check for ten thousand dollars.
The advice sounds so stupid, it’s almost laughable. Make a list of the important things to do… and then do them!
And yet, it’s so easy to get distracted with stuff that is urgent, but not important.
Without a plan, you’re likely to say “yes” to everything. New things will come up, and they are easy to add to your ever-growing list of tasks.
But with a plan… now there’s trade-offs. There’s opportunity cost. And there’s a constant question: should the information I’m getting now override my plan from the beginning of the week?
All told, I’ve found it to be one of the most useful tools of my career, to the point where I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t do it.
Rather than tell you about my weekplan, I figured it’d be easier to share a sample.
Here’s one I sent to the teams I was working with in September, 2018.
Since then, I’ve evolved this format quite a bit. I now include a core area of focus, some context on each item I’m pursuing (why it’s important), and occasionally a paragraph on some new learning I’m seeing with the business.
Here’s the template I use for my weekplans these days…
Subject: Calvin Weekplan
BCC: a bunch of relevant stakeholders (I tend to be liberal in this distribution list since folks can easily filter or mute)
My big focus for the week is to X. After that, I’m planning on delivering Y. I’m looking into Z, since I’m worried about it for a few different reasons (link to docs)
Something I’m learning
A quick book summary goes here… more on that below…
My co-founders and teammates choose different formats for their plans. Some keep it very cut and dry, others tend to share more of their current state of the world.
Pretty much all of them include their top areas of focus for this week, and what they accomplished last week.
In almost every case, I’ve found them to be incredibly helpful. Weekplans are a tiny window into the priorities, brain state, and incentives of each of my teammates.
Like many parts of life, I’ve found that the hardest part of building a weekplan is getting started. Committing to coming up with a plan each week can feel a little bit daunting at first. After all, what if things change on a daily basis?
I’ve found a few rules have helped keep me on-track.
Rule 1: Keep it simple
The first rule is that coming up with a weekplan can’t be hard or complicated. I’ve abandoned all fancy formatting in the emails I send to my teammates, just going with plain text lists.
I try and keep it to a handful of lines, and really just say whatever is top of mind. My weekplan is never exhaustive to the point of sharing every little thing, but rather is a high-level synthesis of the areas I’m working on.
Rule 2: Build the habit
I was originally worried that I would fall out of the habit of sending out weekplans. There’s so many habits to potentially stick to out there, I was worried this would be just another tombstone in the productivity graveyard. Sticking to the plan seemed like a big unknown.
There’s a simple solution to reduce some of the pressure here.
For my first 3-4 weekplans… I didn’t send them to anyone! I just sent them to myself.
This is the best way to check yourself on how much you stuck to the plan. I can almost guarantee that after a month of doing this, you will be 1) much better at forming plans and 2) confident that you can share those plans externally.
Rule 3: Add some fun
The last thing that I’ve done to keep myself in the habit is adding a little spark of fun to the post.
For me, that takes the form of including a section of “something I’m learning”. I don’t properly understand something until I’m able to explain it to someone else. This section of the weekplan does just that.
I’ve seen other friends and teammates add photos, personal anecdotes, or share some small part of their life with me. I’ve always found it to be a nice addition.
The most obvious benefit of a weekplan is the focus it provides. It ensures that I dedicate myself to the most important tasks for the week, rather than get distracted by issues that pop up.
But there’s a few emergent properties of the weekplan that I hadn’t considered that are also quite valuable.
Reducing information asymmetry
More often than not, a teammate will respond to one of my weekplans and talk about how the work we’re doing can combine into a better result. I frequently find myself doing the same!
Weekplans not only help me share context around what I’m doing, but it’s also a good chance to share why I’m doing it. Simply by sending it, I’ve noticed that it helps my teammates and I get “in sync” much more quickly.
Putting my plan for the week in writing ensures that I actually do the things I had set out to accomplish at the beginning of the week. If you find yourself consistently forgetting things or missing deadlines… telling a group of 10 of your peers that you’ll get it done can be a great forcing mechanism.
After establishing the habit of sending a weekplan, I’ve used it to then “attach other habits” as well. In my case, I’ve used this weekly email to read on a more regular basis.
Every week, I know I’m going to send an email out with “something I’m learning”. If I don’t have anything for that email, I’ll be letting people down! It’s a habit that has both spurred me to read more, and to think more critically about what I’m reading so I maintain that material.
Clarity of thought
Simply by forcing myself to write down my priorities each week, I’ve greatly been able to increase my clarity of thought around them. If I’m ever adding an item to my plan, there’s an implicit question of “why am I doing this?”. If I can’t answer it… I won’t do it.
While I’ve found weekplans have helped me become a better teammate, I think they have a lot of interesting use cases outside of work as well.
Overall, it’s been such a valuable tool, that I’m surprised I don’t see more people doing them. If you are a founder of an early stage startup, I’d even encourage making your plans public. You never know who is ready to help you.
No matter what point you’re at in your career, I’d suggest taking Frederick Taylor’s advice: make a list and start with item one.
: My roommate Victor makes his weekplans public. You can sign up for them here
Special kudos to Peter Reinhardt, my co-founder who has sent a weekly plan every week since 2017 and to Kelton Lynn, who first nudged me to send them out.