How to Approach Planning – Productive List Making

Are you still thinking about how you can successfully move forward in 2014? January is the time when I think of the all of the things I want to improve, accomplish and get rid of in the new year. I’ve taken plenty of planning, time management and self-improvement classes. No matter how many I take, I always come back to this basic starting place before I move forward in setting my calendar up for a new year.

This is a basic pre-planning step, which at it’s simplest involves splitting one sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper into 4 quadrants and assigning categories. Normally, you would name the quadrants with letters or numbers. You could still do that. It just works for me to name them with all the junk I’m going to unload into them. Imagine this is that sheet of paper I was just talking about:

You could use it in a couple of different ways to get everything you need to plan in one location. If you’ve ever done Franklin Covey planning, you know all about the big rocks, little rocks theory; or maybe even the 4 balance quadrants.

This is just simple listing. We split this sheet into 4 quadrants and label each one with a different category:

labeled-quadrantsUse the four most important areas in your life for category names — I just picked four that I sometimes use. Try to make them all-encompassing so that almost anything that comes to mind that you need to deal with in this year will fit into one of the quadrants.

No need to list them in any particular order – there’s nothing subliminal about the order they are in – just write them down and  let’s get on with it.

Now just start to let your mind go, all caps off, and think about the things you really wanted to achieve or get done this year, or think about the state of your life and what you want it to be like. How can you get to there from here? What do you need to do in each one of the categories to move from Point A {where you are today} to Point B {where you want to be}?

In each category, write one-line statements as they come to you regarding what you want to make happen in that quadrant. Make the one-liner clear enough that when you come back to it in the next stage of planning you understand why you wrote it, but don’t go into specific or explicit detail right now:


Once you get to this point in all of your categories, and your quadrants are full, you should have exhausted what you want to work on in 2014. Now you can go to the next stage of planning, which is the actual work of setting objectives to achieve those goals.

Here’s where I throw in an honesty note. Sometimes the four quadrants are not enough for me. When this is the case, I use a legal pad and give write the name of a category at the top of each page that I’m using. I can fill up a whole page, which is completely okay. This exercise allows me to get everything out of my head and on paper, and then as I go through the planning stages, I’m going to be able to eliminate, consolidate and abbreviate some of the random items I’ve written down. For the most part, I’ll be relieved I’ve written down the majority of issues and matters that I want to deal with in my life. It’s almost therapeutic, but better, because I get to keep my co-pay.


Over the years and all the planning, time management and other project management courses and certifications, I believe this is one of the most important processes I’ve learned. You could say it’s the purging before the planning!

So, what kinds of things do you do to get ready for effective planning? Do you have any particular routine or planning pattern that you follow? Any particular regimen to which you adhere? Would you try this pre-planning process at least once? I’d be interested to hear what you think. I always love to read your responses and learn from you also!


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This post was written by All-Star Blogger Elizabeth Towns and originally published on her site, 31 Days Early I Rise