My first job after graduating from Michigan State University was working in sales, where I learned consultative selling skills. One of the most valuable of those skills is one I have applied throughout my career: Plan your day and work your plan. A related truism is, “if you don’t know where you are going you will probably end up somewhere else.”
In my current work as a Project Leader, staying organized is fundamentally important to working efficiently and effectively for my clients. That begins with taking time to carefully plan my work, listing and prioritizing the tasks for the day and week.

• First on the list are those things that must be accomplished that day, such as fulfilling commitments made to others and attending scheduled meetings.

• Next, address the time-sensitive items that will affect the work of others. For example, returning phone calls and e-mail messages that require an immediate response, even it’s just to acknowledge receiving their message, and to tell the person that you will get back to them with a complete answer later in the day.

• Respond to meeting invitations. If you scheduled the meeting, and it must be rescheduled or canceled, do it as soon as possible so those invited can plan their day with that in mind.

• Then, work on anticipated needs. What requires action now to ensure that future plans will go smoothly? Maybe that includes scheduling meetings, drafting a meeting agenda or gathering pertinent information.

• The rest of the list should begin with your least favorite tasks – those things you would rather put off. As Mark Twain said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” You will discover that the task you were dreading wasn’t so bad after all, and you’ll feel much lighter as you proceed through the rest of your to-do list.

• Inevitably your day will present unanticipated demands on your time, including e-mail messages, phone calls and meeting requests of varying importance. Resist the urge to deal with them immediately or put them at the bottom of your to-do list. Rather, think of them in terms of your priorities, and they will find their natural place on your list.

• I usually keep a few more things on my daily list than I think I may be able to complete. They are usually “nice to haves” that are lowest priority and get carried over to the next day’s list.

• Keep your plan handy, whether on paper, or on your laptop or smartphone. Then, when you complete a task, use your list as your guide to moving forward efficiently and effectively, taking on the next highest priority.

If you plan your day, and work your plan, I guarantee you will accomplish more, hopefully leaving you more time to spend with your family, friends and the rest of life’s joys. Isn’t that where you want to end up, rather than somewhere else?

Dean Leutscher, PMP has also written for GRAPE on the importance of a Change Management plan: “Are the Lights Working at your Change Intersection?