209 [Part 3] The 4 Levels of Planning
Welcome to part three of the 4 levels of planning. In this episode, I am unraveling the subtle power of monthly planning. This episode presents you with clear strategies on how to efficiently map out your month and get a grip on how much of your time is already accounted for. I'll guide you through a process of evaluating your quarterly activities, tweaking them if necessary, and capturing your monthly planning details, irrespective of whether you're a digital calendar user or a paper planner fan.
No one wants to be swamped with too much detail, so I'll show you how the level of detail changes from quarterly to monthly planning. I’ll reveal how to block off chunks of time in your calendar, make notes in your planner, and set aside personal time without feeling guilty.
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Okay, friends, we are back with the third installment of our four-part series here, all around the four levels of planning. So, just as a quick reminder, if you've missed the first two, you may want to go back and listen to those first, because some of what I'm going to be talking about today is going to be mentioning some things that we discussed in both the first and the second episodes. Alright, so today we're going to be taking a deep dive on monthly planning, what goes in there, and then the purpose behind it, some of the added benefits that we get as well. So let's go ahead and get started.
Welcome to the WorkLife Harmony podcast. I'm your host, Megan Sumrell. I'm the creator of the top program and top planner, teaching all things time management, organization and productivity for women. I'm also a mom and wife and, just like you, I'm juggling, hashtag all the things while running multiple businesses and a family. Guess what? You don't have to feel constantly overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out. There is another way. When you have the right systems and tools to plan and manage your time, you can live a life of harmony. This is your show to learn from me and other amazing women how to master your time, planning an organization to skyrocket your productivity so you can have work life harmony. If you're ready to stop feeling overwhelmed, this is the show for you, and if you're new here, I'd love to get you started with my work life harmony assessment. All you have to do is DM me on Instagram at Megan Sumrell with the word harmony and my team will send it right over. Well, hey there.
Welcome back to our four part series here, where we are covering the four levels of planning. This particular episode is the third, which means we are on our third level, which is monthly planning. So if you missed the first two the first one we covered annual, the second quarterly you may want to pause and go ahead and listen to that before diving in here today. Now I've also created a free checklist for you that goes along with this four part series. Make sure, if you have not done so yet, you're going to want to go download that, because this is going to be a great reference for you as you step into mastering the four levels of planning. So you can go grab it at megansumrell.com/4levels, the number four levels, All right.
So again, we are now going to go ahead and take our deep dive into monthly planning and if we want to take a step back to the kind of plain analogy I've been using during the series our annual planning we were way up there at our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when we got into quarterly planning. We're more at that kind of 10,000, where you know, from the plane window looking down, we might be able to make out some familiar objects, but we don't see a whole lot of detail right. Well, now we're going to come much farther down with the monthly planning where. Now think about it as either you've just taken off or you're just getting ready to land and when you look out that plane window you are recognizing specific buildings, lakes, neighborhoods, et cetera. All right, so that's kind of a good visual to think about. I've also used the blueprint analogy where the annual plan is the rough blueprint with a quarterly planning we actually started adding in more detail. I like to think of the monthly planning now as pulling out our crayons or colored pencils and pens and actually filling in and coloring in our picture, and then we'll get to our fourth level later.
So the purpose of monthly planning, aside from the obvious yes, we're planning out our month there are two subtle things that, when done correctly, they give you a lot of power with your monthly planning. The first is giving you a clear view into how much time in this upcoming month is already spoken for right, Because sometimes we don't realize until we literally turn the page in our planner or click to the next month on our digital calendar and we see what is ahead of us. We're like, oh my gosh, I didn't realize I had all of this going on, All right. So one of the first things I do when I teach the how in the monthly planning is we're actually backing into understanding how much time have I already committed out of this month, so that we have a lot of clarity around over the next several weeks. Do I need to get really comfortable saying no as new opportunities come in that are trying to take away my time this month? Or is this a month where I see I've got some open space and this is the kind of month where I might feel more comfortable saying yes to some things? So that is one subtle kind of additional purpose and benefit we get with monthly planning.
The second is, this is the layer of planning where we do a lot of deep dive looking into are the activities that I created in my quarterly planning. And again, if you missed the quarterly planning episode, you'll want to go back and listen to that one, because part of quarterly planning is we're actually writing down the specific activities that we believe that we need to do in order to hit those bigger goals, projects, task, All right. So now in the monthly planning is when we get to bring in a process that allows us to say were these the right activities? When I created my quarterly plan and said, All right, here's what I believe I'm going to do to help me hit this goal During our monthly planning process is when we get to take a step back and say, hey, I've been doing this for a month. Are these the right activities? And if not, now is my opportunity to go in and tweak and adjust those. So again, each layer of this four levels of planning supports and feeds into each other. All right. So those are kind of two additional bonuses that we get with our monthly planning, outside of just having a good plan in place to help us execute the type of month that we are hoping to have.
Now let's talk about where we actually do our monthly planning, meaning where do we capture this information. So for me, I really like to do monthly planning in a paper planner, so I'm going to hold up the one I use here. Obviously, I use the top planner. This is the planner I built and I sell and monthly planning is done on the monthly spread of your paper planner. So if you're a paper planner user, just about every planner out there that's a paper planner has that month. That, if you all, right, that's where we do our monthly planning.
Now, if you are a digital planner user or digital calendar user right, maybe you're using a Google calendar or an iCal you can do monthly planning there. It can be a little tricky because by default, those digital calendars are going to roll up all your individual specific small tasks and appointments and make that view really cluttered. There are workarounds for this. Again, I'm not going to do a deep dive on that here today, but I do want you to know it can be done digitally but you'll need to implement kind of creating a separate calendar account to do high level planning so you can kind of toggle on and off those views. And that's why I'm going to do a quick, quick break here today, because what we don't want to do is regurgitate too much fine detail inside of our monthly plan.
So let's talk about what is different from our quarterly planning to our monthly planning. Because if you look at this planning checklist again the free download that you can go and grab and you go look at the column of quarterly planning to monthly planning to see what information changes, you'll notice there isn't much difference at all, Because the main difference between our quarterly and our monthly planning is the level of detail that's actually going into our plan. All right, so we're going to talk about what I mean specifically with level of detail. Now, before I jump into that, I just want to make a little side note here. You can and a lot of people do today start your planning journey with just doing monthly planning and or weekly planning, without layering in the quarterly and the annual planning. As a matter of fact, when I teach people planning, I actually teach them to master weekly and monthly planning first, Because we need to get our lives under control so that we have the space for those larger goals and dreams. All right, that said, what I'm going to be talking about with the adding more detail into our monthly planning is monthly planning is what allows us to now again review are the activities right for my goals, etc. All right, so we're wanting to bring in all of our dreams and desires into our plans, not just constantly responding to the never ending to-do list that is coming at us all day long. All right, okay, so let's talk about this level of detail that changes from quarterly planning to monthly planning. All right, so the first thing I do with monthly planning again, we're going to go back and reference our quarterly plan. We're always going back and looking at those. Now, on our quarterly plan we have mapped out the maybe high level milestones and things that we want for achieving those larger projects and goals. Well, now with our monthly plan, we are going to put down specific dates and block off actual time in our month to work on those. All right, so let's give an example here.
I started with our annual planning. An example I gave was a friend of mine that is working on training for a half marathon. So then in the quarterly plan she knew by the end of the quarter she knew how many miles she wanted to be able to do comfortably and at what pace. So from there she backed into kind of some interim milestones of all right about halfway through the quarter. Here's where I want to be. Well, now, with the monthly planning, we were able to take it one level further and map out for each week in the month where would her checkpoint be in order to stay on track for landing where she wants to be at the end of the quarter, Right? So now we're actually getting more granular in our details.
Now, when I talked about protecting time on your calendar, as her runs are getting longer and longer, she's now realizing she's going to need to preserve and protect time on her calendar each weekend to make sure that she has that big enough window of time to go out and, do you know, over time, potentially go run for 90 minutes or two hours. So, during monthly planning, now is when we are layering in that level of detail and now physically going into our calendar and preserving and protecting the time that we need to hit those goals. Because here's what happens if we don't, if we just say to ourselves okay, yeah, this month I'm going to, you know, on the weekends I'm going to need to make sure I've got time for these longer activities. Well, if we don't visually capture that, what can easily happen is you're out, you get a phone call someone invites you to something over the weekend and because it's not on your calendar, you haven't preserved that time. You'd be like, oh yeah, we're totally free next weekend. And then you say yes to three things. And then the weekend hits and now you're struggling to figure out how to fit the time in that you needed to hit that goal. All right, so when we're doing our monthly planning now, we're actually plugging in and protecting the time that we need to hit those larger goals, projects, etc. All right, Now, not just with our goals and projects.
Another layer of protecting our time with our monthly planning is to look at what have we already committed to in the current month. Right, and you may have said yes to something that's happening later this month. Maybe there's a big event going on and you're now realizing that there's a lot of work that needs to be done leading up to that. Well, in monthly planning is your opportunity again to go in and start protecting time on your calendar. Now, how do we protect time on our calendar? Well, in a digital calendar, you literally go in and block off chunks of time so that other people can't book it with you. In my paper planner, I am actually making notes on the days that I know this is a day where I need to make sure I'm protecting my time to work and prep for this project. So, again, if I get a phone call or an email saying, Megan, are you available on this and such day or this and such week, I see that I've made the note for myself in my planner reminding me this is what I really believe I need to be working on that week so that it can help me make yes, no decisions about my time in a way that prevents me from getting overbooked and over-scheduled. All right Now.
Another layer of more detail that goes into our monthly plan is around personal time. We want to make sure that we are not allowing everybody else to fill up the time on our calendar. We want to proactively make sure that we are blocking off time for ourselves. Okay, so this might look like reaching out, and maybe something that fills you up is dinner with a friend, coffee with a friend, maybe going to a movie, maybe having an entire weekend where it's wide open for you, and maybe you and your family to just feel spontaneous and go, wake up and decide what you want to do in the moment. So, during monthly planning is your time to take a step back and then actually again earmark maybe specific days in the month that you want to protect for that and maybe start making some appointments with people that fall into your personal time.
Now one other thing that kind of relates to this as well when we're talking about personal time, monthly planning is also a great time for you to take a look and see what do your weekends look like. So, for example, I have a month coming up where I already know three weekends are booked with and they're all wonderful things, but monthly planning is the time for me to go in, and that one weekend that doesn't have stuff on it to actually draw X's across it as a reminder for myself. Keep this free, Because I know for me personally, too much in one month, like every weekend being either travel, events, whatever is something that does not set me up for success, right. So this is the type of detail that we're including in our monthly planning. Now, one new element that goes into our monthly planning is what I call our monthly checklist. Now we all have things that we want to do on the regular that kind of fall into a monthly rhythm.
So so far, with our annual and quarterly planning that we talked about in the first two episodes. We were talking heavily about those kind of one-off events, those bigger projects, those bigger goals, the things that we need to kind of figure out how we're going to fill that in over the course of the year. Well, with our monthly planning, this is the opportunity now for us to start layering in what are those activities that happen regularly, or I want to have regularly, that I need to make sure I am creating and prioritizing the time for so it can be anything around. Maybe you want to make sure every month you're doing a declutter somewhere in your house. This is one of the things that I learned from Katie Wells that I love. If you run a small business, maybe there's a monthly newsletter that you do. I have some women that have run creative-based businesses in my community and they know every month they are on their monthly checklist is time to actually build, make and create the products in order to support their stores right. So there are. What your monthly checklist is going to look like is going to be unique to you in your life, but this is a planning asset that now, when you go in and create your monthly planning you are able to write down potential days and times that allow you to achieve comfortably the things that you've decided you want to get done every single month.
So again, the real shift from our quarterly planning into monthly planning is twofold. One is we are now really bringing in a lot more detail around specificity on dates and times, and then now we're layering in the parts of our lives that are those recurring things that we have decided that recur kind of on a monthly rhythm or maybe twice a month rhythm. So now we're really integrating those recurring parts of our life along with the work that is tied more to those larger one-off projects as well. So that's kind of a recap of the what that goes into monthly planning. Now, monthly planning is a 10-step process. That again, the how of how we step by step get all of this into our monthly plan, is what we learn to master inside of the top program. But by knowing what goes in, there is a great place for you to start so that you can start pulling those assets together as well. Now, don't forget we still have one more episode in this four-part series where we're going to be talking about the lowest level of detail, which is our weekly planning. So again, if you have not downloaded the free checklist that comes with this, make sure you go and grab that.
megansumrell.com/4levels, the number four, and then stay tuned for part four of our series coming up next. Getting on top of all things time management, organization and productivity doesn't have to stop just because this episode is over. If you want one-tap access to all of my training and current top podcasts, go to the app store or Google Play and download the Pink Bee app. It's one word, thePinkBee. It is jam-packed with simple yet powerful tips and strategies to get you out of overwhelm and into harmony. And if you have a question you want me to cover on a future episode, go to iTunes and ask your question in the podcast review section. And while you're there, don't forget to leave a five-star review.