Getting the right things done at the right time is a challenge for everyone. And balancing the demands of work (projects, meetings, deadlines) and home (cleaning, kids, errands) is especially difficult for the teleworkers of the world. There are countless tools and endless advice out there to help, so I’ll throw in my strategy as well; everyone working outside an office should be using WIPS.
What is WIPS? Weekly Intentive Personal Scheduling. As the name suggests, this is a personal scheduling strategy done at the weekly level and, most importantly, done with intent. That means that those practicing this strategy need to commit to the schedule they keep; after all, a huge part of remote work is holding yourself accountable. Now, that’s not to say WIPS isn’t flexible, it absolutely is, but there is a framework to work within. But we are getting ahead of ourselves; first, we need to discuss how to properly use this strategy.
Part 1: Schedule Your Week
WIPS starts at the beginning of the workweek; Monday morning for most of us, Sunday evening if you’re really proactive. The first task is to set your high-level goals for the week. As I wrote in part two of my series Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely, this should be no more than three objectives that, once complete, will signify a successful week.
Once those goals are set, schedule the time required to accomplish those goals. I recommend using a digital scheduling tool, like the Outlook or Google calendars, but any old fashioned planner will do. Work around your previously-scheduled meetings and reserve this time in one-hour blocks. And be generous with this time; after all, these are the goals that will determine your success for the week. At the same time, be realistic; these goals are your most important commitments for the week, but not the only commitments. Lastly, choose the time slots where you’re most productive to work on these goals. For most people, that will be the early portion of your day, before any fires flare up that require your attention.
Once you’ve scheduled time to accomplish your main goals for the week, pencil in time for those secondary objectives, like preparing for meetings and more routine to-do items. Stick to one-hour blocks to ensure that you have enough time to do quality work, but feel free to lump similar smaller tasks together, like “respond to queued emails.” Also, feel free to reserve “open time,” especially toward the end of the week. Workweeks rarely go as planned, so anticipating and scheduling time to fight fires and high-priority action items will reduce time swapping and the associated headaches down the line. In the rare cases where these timely action items don’t pop up, you’ll have some extra time to work on important future objectives or focus on your personal development.
Part 2: Regularly Review, Re-Prioritize, and Reschedule
So you’ve dedicated the 30-60 minutes needed to set your goals and schedule your week; that means you’re done scheduling until next Monday, right? No way. In Part 1, you’ve built your ideal week based on the inputs available on day one. During the week, new inputs are constantly streaming in, which means that you need to review your weekly plan and make the necessary adjustments. We do this by weighing the priority (‘importance’ x ‘time criticality’) of incoming items against those that you’ve already scheduled.
Say that you’re in the middle of a two-hour block of time reserved to accomplish one of your three weekly goals; a critical time for the success of your week. Zooming in on your email comes an ALL CAPS email from your boss requesting that an excel sheet be put together and sent over immediately. In the WIPS system, you don’t blindly redirect your attention to this new shiny object, however important it may be. Since this system is based on commitment, you must first determine the new item’s priority, evaluate its impact on your weekly schedule, insert it where appropriate, and adjust the remainder of your schedule around it. WIPS allows for adjustment, but you must still commit to the schedule you keep, before and after adjustments take place.
In a situation like this, I would probably redirect my attention to this timely task and reschedule the work I had been doing for later in the day or the next morning, reshuffling any other tasks that may be affected as appropriate.
That’s the beauty of the WIPS system; it’s a balance between setting rigid goals for the week and flexibly responding to new requirements as they come. The value of this system is that it’s built on informed decisions. While building your schedule in Part 1, you’re setting objectives with the full context of your competing priorities at the time. You’re doing the same thing in Part 2 as new items emerge to challenge those established priorities. Without this system or something like it, most people will chase the newest, shiniest item that comes across their screen. This diverts attention to fighting fires, while also distracting people from the truly important items.
When done right, the WIPS system will help remote workers:
- Focus on the right things
- Dedicate the appropriate time to each goal
- Effectively gauge capacity and commitments
- Stay focused on professional development
- Appropriately accommodate personal time
What do you think of the WIPS system? Ever tried anything similar? How did it work out? Drop a comment below or reach out via the Contact section.
Thanks for reading!