How to improve planning skills

The mark of the superior thinker is his or her ability to accurately predict the consequences of doing or not doing something while maintaining the ability to stay focused on the long-term goal. The potential consequences of any task or activity are the key determinants of how important it really is to you and to your company. This way of evaluating the significance of a task is how you determine what your next priority really is.

When you run out of time and the consequences for non-completion of a key task or project can be really serious, you always seem to find the time to get it done, often at the very last minute. When you have no choice, when the consequences for non-completion are serious enough, you start early, you stay focused, and you drive yourself to complete the job rather than to face the unpleasantness that would follow if you didn’t get it completed within the time limit.

It has been estimated that the average person in business today, especially managers in the age of cutbacks, is working at 110% to 130% of capacity. And the jobs and responsibilities just keep piling up. Everyone has stacks of reading material he or she still has to go through. One study concluded recently that the average executive has 300-400 hours of reading and projects backlogged at home and at the office.

What this means is that you will never be caught up, and planning skills are more crucial than ever. All you can hope for is to stay focused and be on top of your most important responsibilities. The others will just have to wait.

It is much better to better your planning skills, and then build in a sizable buffer to compensate for unexpected delays and diversions. However much time you think a task will take, add on another 20% or more, or make a game of getting it done well in advance of the deadline. You will be amazed at how much more relaxed you are, and how much better a job you do when you stop procrastinating.

There are three questions that you can use on a regular basis to help you stay focused on getting your most important tasks completed on schedule. The first question is “What are my highest-value activities?”

This is one of the most important questions you can ask and answer. What are your highest-value activities? First, think this through for yourself. Then, ask your boss. Ask your co-workers and subordinates. Ask your friends and family. Like focusing the lens of a camera, you must be crystal clear about your highest-value activities before you begin work.

This question comes from Peter Drucker, the management guru. It is one of the best of all questions for achieving personal effectiveness. What can you, and only you, do, that if done well, can make a real difference?

Every hour of every day, you can ask yourself this question and there will be a specific answer. Your job is to use planning skills to be clear about the answer and then to start to work on this task before anything else.

This is the core question of time management. Answering this question correctly is the key to stop procrastinating and to develop better planning skills. Every hour of every day, there is some task that is the most valuable use of your time at that moment. Your job is to ask yourself this question, over and over again, and to always be working on the answer to it, whatever it is.

The more accurate your answers to these questions, the easier it will be for you to set clear priorities, to stop procrastinating, and to get started on that one activity that represents the most valuable use of your time.

When you hit a crunch point, your ability to stay focused and concentrate can make all the difference between success and failure. You cannot do everything, so an effective way for you to complete your most important tasks is to make a list. Effective time management is essential to getting through your busy schedule.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, ‘‘The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.’’ Stephen Covey said, ‘‘The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.’’ There is a rule that says that every minute spent in planning saves 10 minutes in execution. Make a list before you start, to ensure that when you do begin work, you will stay focused on that activity that can have the greatest possible consequences for yourself and your business.

Refuse to ‘‘major in minors.’’ Keep asking yourself, ‘‘What’s really important here?’’ Your ability to ask and answer this question will keep you on track and staying focused throughout the day.

To stay focused on your top priorities, there are a series of steps you can take for effective time management. First of all, think on paper. Writing things down is absolutely essential for you to be able to take control of the situation during the emergency or crisis. Before you take any action, make a list of everything that you have to do to solve the problem and get through the crunch.

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Business planning and organizational skills examples

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