What everyone needs to know about Getting Stuff Done – Plan

Today we’re going to take a look at the Planning phase of my Getting Stuff Done system.

In the last couple of posts we’ve taken a look at the Collect and Think phases. They’re all about getting stuff together and understanding the individual actions.

During this Planning phase we’re going to fetch that all together. We’re going to start looking at how all our actions tie together and how we can make the best use of our time.

As I said in the introduction, this is about fetching everything together. This helps you to make the best use of your time. We do that by planning what we’re going to do.

By spending a few minutes Planning we can pull together everything. We can combine things and we can put things into a logical order. This means we’re not wasting time where we don’t need to.

I’ve split it into three different sections. The first one is Prioritise. This is making sure you’re working on the right things. The second one I call Schedule. That’s about making the best use of your time. The third one is Delegate. I know we touch on this in every phase but I’m going to go into a little bit more detail in this one.

It’s about making sure that you’re working on those things that deliver value, enable other work to happen, and help you to get results.

We should do the Planning phase once a day. I generally do it at the start of the day. Some people may want to do it the previous evening. Once a day is enough.

If you’re doing it more than once a day you’re not making effective planning decisions.

We’re going to take a look at everything that we’ve added in the Collect phase for that day.

We also look at items that have hit their deferred date.

We take a quick look at items we didn’t do yesterday. What’s the reason we didn’t do it? Do we need to do it today? Can we defer it for another few days?

We make those decisions in this phase. We take a quick look at some deadlines. If you’re not meeting your deadlines then you’re not adding value.

The outcome of this Planning phase is that we have a list of things that we want to achieve today. We’ve put them into appropriate slots. We already have an estimate for the amount of time it’s going to take us to complete the action. We did that as part of the Think phase. We know what we need to do the action, again we did that in a Think phase. See how important that Think phase is now coming to be.

Why this is important? If we’re going to write a report we need access to our computer. That’s on our desk at work. This means we can’t do it when we’re in the coffee shop. It allows us to plan out where we’re going to be, what we’re going to need to use, and how long it’s going to take.

I know this sound like is going to take a long time to do each day. It doesn’t. I generally find it’s about 5 minutes sometimes 10 depending on what’s going on. You’ve got to remember that you’ve already done most of the thinking. This is about scheduling and prioritising.


Here I’m going to ask myself some questions

Why am I doing this?

Is this something that I normally do? If it is, when do I normally do it?

Is this something that’s going to move me forward?

Why do we ask this question?

If it’s not something that’s going to move us forward. If it’s not something that’s going to allow another action to proceed. We need to ask ourselves, why are we doing this?

This is where we are looking at things that we do every day. We never think about why. It’s just something we do it.

An example, I used to like to check my Twitter feed first thing in the morning. When I thought about it this doesn’t add much value to me. Yes, it’s interesting, I follow a lot of productivity and tech people. But in terms of value for what I’m doing, it very rarely adds anything.

Once I identified that I removed that from my morning routine. I still do it, but I now do it in the evening whilst I’m watching tv.

By thinking about this I was able to identify it’s adding no value. I moved it to later in the day where it’s not impacting my productivity.

Is there a deadline for this?

If there is a deadline it could mean that that task is growing in urgency. If I’ve got to have a report out tomorrow I need to make sure that I’ve got it drafted by the end of today. If my report isn’t needed until the end of next week, I know I’ve sent off all the requests for information, then I may leave this for a few days.

Understand your deadlines. These affect the urgency of the action.

What are the constraints?

If I need to write a report I need my computer.

My computer’s on my desk at work.

I can’t do this unless I’m sitting at my desk in front of my computer,

If you’re doing more of a trades things. You may have four clients that day. The first thing you’ll be looking at is what do I need for these clients. Then rather than making four trips to your store, you do it all in one. You get everything ready. I suggest you group everything for each client so you can quickly grab it. But do it once during the day. Get everything ready in one go. You’re going to save time.

You might want to think a little bit about the order you’re going to go to your clients. This is about maximising your trip. Rather than having to go backwards and forwards if you can plan your route so you’re going in one line. Yes I know chances are you’re doing this I just thought I’d drop it in.

Looking at your constraints it’s about making sure that you’ve got access to the right things at the right time.

Apply the Eisenhower Matrix

This is a good tool for working out what you should be doing. I’m not going to go into this in detail here, I will do a separate post about it.

In essence for each action you’re going to ask yourself

  • is it important or not important? and
  • is it urgent or not urgent?

Once you’ve done that you put these into a matrix.

You tackle the important and urgent things first. They’re the big value items.

You then do the important and not urgent. This can be a little bit counter-intuitive, you would think you should do the urgent things.

Importance always trumps urgency.

If it’s not important but it’s urgent, you might do that when you’ve got some quiet time. Maybe on a lunch break.

It’s also an ideal item to think “can I delegate this?”

Those items that you’ve labelled has been not important and not urgent, do you need to do them? It’s an interesting question. You’ve identified it as an action to do. It’s not important, it’s not adding value to your life. It’s not urgent. Why bother doing it? In here I put things like checking Facebook, watching tv. Watching tv at the right time can be relaxing but it’s something to think about.

Consider dropping those things that are not adding any value to your work or your life.

Consider your life-work balance

Note what I’m calling this.

A lot of places they’ll call it work-life balance. I don’t like that because to me the word you’re saying first that’s where your focus is. Work-life balance to me means you’re putting work first. It should be your life worth balance. Life is the most important thing. We need to emphasise that.

We need to make sure we’ve got a good balance. If you don’t do any work you’re not going to get the money you need to live.

If you don’t have the money to live you’re not going to be able to do anything.

Conversely, what’s the point in working 16 hours a day and seven days a week. You’ve got no life at all. All you’re doing is working and sleeping.

You need to make sure you’re scheduling in time for your life. I try to put that onto my calendar first. If you’ve got kids and there’s a school play in the afternoon. It’s important to the kids that you go to this. You need to make sure you’re scheduling that in. Sometimes things come up so you can’t go, but try and make that the priority. You’d be amazed how this little tiny change in how you’re viewing things can impact the quality of your life.

I schedule in that I finish working at 5 p.m. Sometimes I do some stuff at home, but 5 p.m tools down. That gives me the evening where I can prepare an evening meal, spend time with my family. But most importantly, I can recharge my internal batteries.

It’s all about giving time for your brain and your body to rest. That’s what gives you the motivation to work.


There are lots of different ways of doing this. I’m going to touch on three in here. In future posts I’ll cover these in more detail, and also look at some other techniques.

Time Blocking

this is about using the time you’ve got so you can concentrate and be effective. This does vary between people.

I set up several time blocks in my day

  • 8 30 to 9 o’clock – thinking and planning
  • five minutes break – I check my messages
  • 9:05 to 9 50 – work block 1- I’m getting down and doing actual work
  • 10-minute break so I may go to the bathroom I’ll make a drink again check for any urgent messages
  • 10 to 10 45 – work block 2
  • 10-minute break
  • 10 55 to 11 40 – work block 3
  • 11 40 – go through my email inbox. Respond to those urgent emails and non-urgent messages.
  • 12 – 12 30 – Lunch
  • 12 30 to 1 15 – work block 4
  • 10-minute break
  • 1:25 to 2:10 – work block 5
  • 10-minute break
  • 2:20 to 3:05 – work block 6
  • 10-minute break
  • 3:15 to 4 – – work block 7
  • 4 pm – email, Review and Collect phase. I’ll cover Review in another post.

I’ve had seven concentrated work blocks throughout my whole day.

The seven concentrated work blocks are the important things.

Blocks number 1 to 3, they’re happening in the morning. Generally, this is where I’m at my freshest Where I can concentrate the best.

In these I try and do the highest value or the most urgent work. This is when I can knuckle down. You get none of that brain fog that could happen later in the day.

Blocks 4 to 7, I’m doing those in the afternoon. Usually my brain starts to get and feel a little tired. I’ve been concentrating hard all morning.

I try to concentrate on more of the medium and the occasional bits of low-value work. I still do some important stuff if I have to.

I have two blocks where I’m checking my emails. By checking them twice a day I’m able to respond in a reasonable time.

Why the 10-minutes between each work block? This is for things like toilet breaks, making a drink, checking your messages, etc. It allows you to recharge your brain for the next session of work.

A lot of people think that they can work for hours without a break. You can’t. You need that little bit of downtime.

When I’m in a work block I try and avoid answering any messages or phone calls. Every time you get distracted from your work it’s going to take you a small amount of time to get back to that same point.

By using these work blocks I can spread out my work.

If I’m going to need to spend two hours doing something, I know that I need to book out three time slots. I still make sure I have my little breaks so I can refresh myself. It’s important to be able to plan them contiguously.

By time blocking I can plan out my day. I’ve got a very good idea of what I’m going to be doing and when I’m going to be doing it.

This works for me. It may not work for you. We’re all different, but it’s worth giving it a try.

If you’re in a trade your time blocks may be more focused on client appointments. Still think about how you can get those little rest breaks in between clients.


It’s important to use your calendar to structure your day.

For the slots that we use for time blocking, I scheduled them out about a month in advance. This means I’ve got them on my calendar. People can’t go and book a meeting. When I get a meeting request I can then look at how it’s going to impact that day. I can then accept it because it seems right. If I want to spend that slot concentrating then I can ask to move the meeting into a different slot.

When I’m doing my morning planning I slot the actions into the appropriate time block.

Everything’s on my calendar. I don’t need to go and look into my action management system for what I’m going to be doing. It’s all on my calendar. I’ve got one source for what I’m going to do that day.

Action Management System

I can’t stress how important this is. This is the single source of truth for actions. Everything that you’ve got to do is in one place.

If you’ve got some free time, for example, in one of your 45-minute slots after 20 minutes you’ve finished. You can take a quick dip into that action management system and pick out something to achieve. Remember you’ve already estimated how long everything’s going to take. You know you’ve only got 25 minutes left. You can pick an action that will take 25 minutes or less.

If you work in a team your action management system can become more important and valuable. You put updates about what’s been going on, where you are with something. If you can’t finish an action you put your update in there and your teammates can see what’s going on.

There is a downside to this. You don’t want to be putting your personal stuff into a team system, everyone can see them. You may end up having a personal system and a team one. Even worse if you’re on multiple teams you may have multiple systems. Ideally, we want everything in the same place. We’ve got to be realistic, sometimes that’s not possible to have one system.


This is in every phase. If you can delegate an action do so. Don’t try and do everything yourself.

The delegation could be to a person but it could also be to an automation. If you can automate something that you do multiple times then it’s worth doing that. We have to be sensible here. If it takes you five minutes to do an action, you don’t spend three days automating it, you’re never going to get your money back. I’ve got some things though I do every day. Before I automated it this would take me three minutes a day. I spent about half an hour automating it, so after the first 10 days I was saving time. I know it’s only three minutes but if you have 10 three minutes that add up to 30 minutes saving. In 30 minutes you can get a lot more done.


When delegating the first thing you do is assign it. This isn’t about sending someone an email saying “do this for me” and then walking away.

You need to engage with the person you’re delegating to. Let them know what you’re delegating. Let them know what you’ve already done. If there is a deadline let them know. Let them know you’re available for follow-up and also how they can follow up with you. You don’t want them to make assumptions and not check them with you.

Make sure that you’re following up with the person you’ve delegated to. Use this to see how they’re going. They may be stuck and not want to say so. By you going and asking them it gives them that opportunity to ask you for help.


Once you’ve delegated you record what you’ve done in your action management system. Remember that the action management system is your one source of truth.

In a team, you may be doing that by recording that you’ve delegated and then assigning it to them. Make sure that you record it.

When you’re delegating the action, you still own the action. You’re asking someone else to do the work for you. Make sure that you are following up. I create a task in my action management system to follow up. This way I don’t forget about it.


As I’ve already said, follow-up is important. This is a thing which I’ve seen a lot of people forget to do.

Be sensible with how you’re following up with people. Don’t contact them every five minutes. You might have a daily catch-up call with them. You could have a weekly one-on-one where you follow up. Do something that meets the requirements for you and the person you’ve delegated it to,

The best way of saying this is “don’t be a dick.” Be sensible. We’re all professionals.

This is the Planning phase. When you come out of it you’ve got a prioritised list of things that you need to get done each day. You’ve got a rough idea of when you’re going to be doing them. You’re also able to handle emergencies. You’re able to identify the things that you weren’t able to achieve because something else came up. If we want to spend three hours working on something but after 10 minutes there’s a massive emergency, we have to respond to the emergency. Don’t feel guilty about that, it’s the nature of life and work. Because you know what you’re having to put off you can re-prioritise.

In the next post we’re going to take a look at the Action phase. This is where we’re getting down and doing the work.