They say a Sunday well spent brings a week of content.
For me, that means my Sunday involves rest, doing things I enjoy, spending some time alone and some time with my favourite people, and reflecting on the week that’s been. I usually like to prepare some food.
And I always take some time to think about the week ahead. That way, I step into the week with intention. Time flies so fast that it’s easy to end up feeling like you’re constantly just trying to keep up. I remember in an old job, I used to spend every Sunday working for no pay, just so I could start Monday morning feeling remotely on top of things!
These days, I know the benefit of taking time out from actually working, and so instead, I just put aside a little time to create myself a guide for the coming week.
After years of trying different ways of planning (brain dumps, to-do-lists, urgent / important axes, paper-based, app-based…. I could go on!), this approach really works for me.
Here's what it looks like:
Start with where I'm at
I always begin by checking in with where I am in my monthly cycle, because I know this will have a huge impact on how I work best, what my mind-state will be like, how much rest I’ll need, etc. Having tracked my cycle for the around 18 months now, I know that if I work in alignment with my body / hormones, I’ll be way more effective in everything I do.
So, for instance, this week I’m in my luteal phase (between ovulation and menstruation), which is the ‘waning’ half of my cycle. Due to what’s happening hormonally, I know my energy will gradually wane, and I find myself becoming less sociable and more inwardly-focused, with excellent critical-analysis capability (alright, alright, you might know this as ‘PMS’ but I promise you it’s not all bad! But more on that another time). If you don't have a cycle, you could follow the cycle of the moon's phases instead.
I also consider any other aspects of where I’m at. Maybe I’m excited because I’ve got a holiday coming up (which I do! Yay!) Or perhaps I’m in the middle of a super-busy time with more commitments than usual. Maybe I’ve got a headache. Whatever it is, I write it down to acknowledge it.
By checking in with myself, I acknowledge the reality that I’m different day by day, and week by week. The longer I do this, the more ridiculous it seems for us to expect ourselves to work, socialise and perform in the same way, week after week. We are cyclical, changing beings, and yet we expect ourselves to perform like robots. No wonder we so often feel like we're falling short!
I write just a few sentences or dot-points on all this, and how it might influence my week, at the top of my page before I try to plan anything.
I learned this next bit from the wonderful Jane Hunt, and have adapted it to work for me.
I draw four quadrants on the page. Depending on my mood, I take my time and make them pretty, enjoying the whole process. Other times, it’s just the most simple two-line axis with absolutely zero frills.
If you wanted to try this, you could use the quadrants however seems best. Here’s what I do:
Quadrant 1: I zoom out.
I step back and I imagine getting to the end of the week. How do I want to feel? What would a great week look and feel like? Here are a few examples of what I've written here:
‘At the end of the week, I feel like I’ve laid a fantastic foundation for
the month ahead. I feel like I’m on the front foot.’
‘I feel nurtured, rested and well.’
‘I am present. I am learning. I am choosing the best I can,
moment by moment. I am compassionate.’
To be honest, I use this quadrant a little differently every week, but essentially it’s just about capturing the essence of the week and how I hope it will pan out. What chance do we have of creating a great, satisfying week, if we don't even know what that might be?! It's so worth taking a moment for this.
Quadrant 2: I set wellness priorities. Once again, the way I use this quadrant can vary quite a lot. Sometimes I’ll write out my weekly plan for exercise I’ll do, or create a goal for how much water I’ll drink each day. Other times, I will just jot down some guiding principles, or reminders.
I take the pressure off myself from having to write EVERYTHING. I just go with what seems important for me that week.
Looking back through previous plans, here are a few examples:
'Continue great morning routine – no worries about early mornings. Rock-climbing one morning this week. Drink plenty of water.’
‘Morning: wake, lemon water, move, pranayama, asana, meditation. Night: Screens off at 8pm, and start winding down’
‘3 x High Intensity Exercise. Enjoy the intensity. Rest well. One pleasurable activity every day.’
Quadrant 3: I think about HOW I will work.
I love this quadrant. It’s not about WHAT I’m going to do, but HOW. Am I going to work from home? Will I work alone or with others? Am I going to try to work in short bursts with rest in between, or if I’m more energised, will I plan to do some long days?
I complete this quadrant in the light of the notes I’ve made at the top of the page. So if I'm early in my cycle, feeling energised and ready to smash some tasks, that will be reflected here. Or if I'm more introspective, and feeling a little weary, I'll plan to work in a way that honours this as best I can.
‘Just do it. Trust myself that I’ve got the energy I need. Enjoy the busyness.’
‘Keep things simple. Make sure I’ve got simple routines happening, and some meals prepared,
so I minimise how many extra decisions I'll need to make. Delegate where I can.
Go for a walk to reset when needed.’
‘Three deep-dives (90 mins unplugged, uninterrupted work) this week.’
‘Plenty of rest. Stay with a task until it’s finished – all of my tasks this week can be achieved in less than half a day, so focus and move on.’
Quadrant 4: I list my top focus areas / tasks.
The final quadrant is for important tasks I want to focus on this week. I will write up to ten tasks (but sometimes just five or six).
Jane gave me some great advice with this: it’s not so much a ‘to-do list’ but really more of a list of what to focus on. I know, it’s a subtle difference, but to-do lists can just feel like pressure, and often don’t take into account the varying amounts of time each task will take, not to mention the many sub-tasks that often make up one task. I know for me, to-do lists are all about ticking things off, so much so that I have been known to get distracted and do something not on the list, only to then add it to the list and tick it off, so I get the feeling that I’ve completed something! Come on, I know I’m not alone here! So instead, this list is a reminder of what matters this week. Jane said, ‘If I’m working on something from this list, I know I’m good’. There’s no pressure, but it helps with focus.
My task list can include anything from 'Plan the next 3 months of workshops' to 'Finish renovating the kitchen' (hallelujah, that one is no longer featuring on my Top Task lists!!)
The picture on the right is an overview of all of the above.
Now this isn’t the end of my planning, list-writing story. During the week, I take a ‘bullet-journal’ (Google it. It’s awesome) style approach to planning my days, and yes, ticking off to-do lists. But in terms of setting myself up to step into the week with intention, clarity, and not so much pressure, this little Sunday planning ritual has been a huge help, and is actually really enjoyable.
Give it a try for yourself! You can tweak it to suit you. Personally, I like to keep it a bit fluid, using the framework in whatever way feels best for me, week by week. But if you wanted to approach it in a more rigid way, you absolutely could.
I’d love to hear what works for you!
Annie Carter is the founder and director of Eve Studio. She has always loved working with people, seeing the best in them, and helping them to see it too.
Annie lives with her husband, Abdo, and when she's not at Eve, she's probably sitting in a cafe enjoying a strong hot almond chai.