Your New Weekly Planning Session

June 19, 2023

Browse by CategorY
Jump into my free
5-day video lesson program below
jump in here!
want to get a taste of the bright method for free?
Welcome! We're all about realistic time management designed for professional working women here in this little pocket of the internet. I'm glad you're here.

Listen on Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher

Let’s dig into the cornerstone of the Bright Method, the weekly planning session. If you want to feel on track, you have to lay down the tracks – and the weekly planning session is when you do that. 

For the Fast Company article I mention, click here.

To learn all about the 8-week fall 2023 Bright Method program & jump on the waitlist, click here.

Full Transcript

Episode 8. The Weekly Planning Session

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Welcome back! So today we are gonna talk about planning. Now, planning is the fourth major pillar of The Bright Method. It’s what we work on in chapter four when you’re inside a group, and it is, I would say, the cornerstone of the system, mainly because planning sessions and real planning is what keeps your whole time management system maintained. We can create a system of how we use a calendar, how we set it up, what goes in there, all that kind of stuff, but our lives have a funny way of changing and evolving, and we have to kind of keep re-laying the tracks. I like to think of it as if you want to feel on track, you have to lay down the track, and that is what a planning session does.

So, like boundaries, planning is going to be an ongoing topic we talk about here, but I do want to go over three things today when it comes to planning that I think are important to start talking about together.

One: Plan on Fridays – 1:23

So the first one is I want you to plan on Fridays or, if anything, before the weekend. Now, a weekly planning session is an opportunity to kind of get out of the weeds, look up, check in on everything, make sure nothing fell through the cracks, make sure you’re not losing track of something important in your email or meeting notes or things like that, and then you get to lay out your game plan going forward knowing that nothing has fallen through the cracks. This helps you understand how it’s all gonna come together, rearrange things to make your life run smoother and just better, and it also helps the work quality be better and less stressful for you because you have a game plan that’s realistic going forward.

When you run a solid weekly planning session, you have this weird high coming off of it because it’s one of the only times I think in all of our lives that you get it each week where you feel really on top of it all. You’re like, “I haven’t done all the work. Obviously there’s still work to be done, as there always will be, but I understand how I’m gonna do it in a realistic way, with wiggle room, all of that. But I have an understanding of how it’s gonna come together, and I don’t need to do it all right now.” I want you to have that high or that clarity or however you want to think of it going into your weekend because that will allow you to actually really absorb the weekend, be present for the fun stuff with your loved ones, all of that kind of stuff.

Traditionally, I would say that I think most people kind of think to plan on a Sunday night or a Monday morning, and to me, it’s such a bummer to have that kind of looming Sunday Scary feeling of the uncertainty of how it’s all gonna come together hanging over you all weekend long, and then get the clarity you’re looking for right in time to go back to work. No knock on work. I think a lot of us really truly love our work. We might want to do it less, but we love the work itself. But I want you to get that clarity and that peace of mind when it’s the time for you to really absorb time with the people you love.

Now, if you were someone that’s more like my husband who’s an ER physician and weekends mean nothing to you, other than if you have kids they obviously have an impact when it comes to childcare, but your work does not really observe weekends, you can kind of be creative of when you want to hold these sessions but kind of try and place them at the beginning of time off so that you have that clarity and that peace of mind for the rest of your time off versus just getting it right in time to go back into a shift, right? So you can kind of play with this however it makes sense to you.

So point number one is to plan on Fridays. Now, just to wrap that point up, I personally like to plan on a Friday afternoon. I find that my creative energy, my intellectual energy isn’t fully there, so it’s not like I’m giving away the best, focused hours of my life to planning because it’s hard. It’s hard to give time away to planning when you just want to dive into those things and do, do, do, which I think a lot of us do. So to me, it’s helpful to give away what I think of as not my best energy hours.

Now, you might be different though. You might find that you’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna try and start with this, and all of this is an experiment,” but let’s say you try and plan on a Friday afternoon and you’re just not doing it. You’re like, “I’d rather just leave work at this point,” or, “I just can’t make myself focus on it,” know yourself. Work with your realities. Don’t ask yourself to change. Really understand, “Okay, apparently I don’t have the energy on Friday afternoons to do this, so let me try Friday mornings or even Thursday afternoons,” if that might be better for you. Really work with your energy levels here instead of against them. The big thing I want you to hear is let’s try and get it closest to the end of your week and going into a weekend so that you get that clarity going into your time off.

Now, what might also be tricky for you though is if you find giving work hours away to planning is too stressful for you. It’s just too hard for you to carve out the amount of time we’re gonna talk about for planning during work hours, you get pulled away by people too often or things like that, then I want you to potentially consider a Saturday morning planning session. Now, I know from a strict time management perspective that might strike you as kind of weird where I hope you know by being around here enough that I’m not an advocate of work all the time, work over your weekends, all of that. But I also am a realist, and if it is stressing you out too much — let’s say you try and do this a couple times, and you find it’s too stressful to give away your work hours on a Thursday or a Friday to a planning session, then I want you to consider a Saturday morning planning session to help you with your stress management. Even though it’s a little weird to say, “Work on a weekend,” I do think that sometimes that can be the least stressful approach for people, and we want to help you with that as well. So what I still like about a Saturday morning is that you still get the rest of the weekend to have that clarity.

I’ll also throw out there that you might discover that you do have to work on a weekend when you do a planning session, and you probably already know that to some extent if that’s you. Most of the time I actually find people are like, “Wow, I don’t actually have to work this weekend.” But sometimes it’s unavoidable, and it comes up, and you have to do a couple hours on the weekend. What I love about it is that a planning session gives you the clarity of what you have to do to put yourself in good shape for next week, and then you can let it go. I hope that you’re not working every weekend, but I understand that it’s the reality. A lot of our jobs are really demanding. Sometimes we have to. But if you do the planning session, then you’re very clear on, “I need to do these two things, and when they are accomplished, I am done and can really put it away and then relax into the weekend more.”

Okay, so that was point one: plan on Fridays or before the weekend or on the first part of the weekend if you can. But somewhere in there so that you get that high and that peace of mind for the rest of the time.

Two: Planning Takes Time – 7:19

Point two is planning takes time. This is a tricky one because I always want to make it as simple and as easy as possible, but I also really don’t like to sugarcoat things. I believe a solid planning session, even after years of doing it, takes an hour and a half to two hours. I know that’s hard to hear, especially when you feel strapped on time. It’s so hard to be like, “Where do you want me to get two hours to plan?” It probably depends. I mean, I hear people say, “I just plan in 15 minutes or 30 minutes and then I’m done for the whole week,” and I have just never understood how that actually gives you more peace of mind.

Now, it obviously depends on how we define a planning session, and that’s something we can dig a lot more into and I dig very into in my program. The cornerstone of The Bright Method is this weekly planning session. But what I want you to hear is that you need to think about, “How will I feel the peace of mind that I want in my life? What are all the steps that I would need to take to plan my week, to feel solid,” because it is possible. I think we sometimes think it’s not, but it is possible to feel peace of mind about how we’re gonna get it all done logistically, and that to me entails going through email and making sure I’m not dropping any balls there, going through my meeting notes and making sure that I haven’t left some straggly action item in there, really looking at all of my projects and thinking about what I need to do for them, making sure my meetings are set out to give me the breathing space between them that I need, all that kind of stuff. That does not take 15 minutes.

And so, that’s the tricky part with this is that solid planning does take time. It’s going to take that period of time for you to do all of those things. The only caveat I would say is if you can break off pieces of what I think of as a planning session, like going through email and making sure nothing’s in there lurking around that’s really important. If you’re doing that consistently at another time so that it does not take up what you think of as your planning time, then I can see how you can whittle it down shorter and shorter. To me, there is an appeal, though, in kind of corralling as much of this planning stuff into it at one time so that we really get in the zone, focus, bang it out, and then be done with it and know, “Okay, I did all those things. I’m in good shape right now.”

So that’s the second point. I know it’s probably not the best news ever that you’ve ever heard, but planning does take time, and again, we are about reality here and working with reality instead of fighting against it and reality beating us all the time. If we want to really embrace reality and work with it and really say, “Okay, a solid planning session. I’m gonna plan to take two hours every single week.”

Now, what I want you to really hear here is that this planning session is corralling a lot of the decision making that is required when it comes to planning, like, “What projects am I gonna focus on? When am I gonna do that? How long is it gonna take? Does it fit with everything? Do I need to extend childcare for that or pet care for that? Do I need to move these meetings around in light of that? Do I have to cancel some meetings because that’s just not my primary focus right now?” All of those decisions that a lot of us are making constantly throughout every single day that leads to decision fatigue can be corralled into a planning session. So that’s why it can require some good energy, and that’s why if you need to shift it to Friday morning, go for it. But if we can do and make all of those decisions at once, then the rest of the week, the whole following week, the amount of decisions we have to make every single day is reduced, and we get to spend more time executing. So if you are someone who sits down and you’re like, “What do I need to do,” and you spend 30 minutes trying to figure out what to do, then you do it, and then you go back to your to-do list and spend another 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do next, and so on and so on, this can be a game changer for you because it’s essentially corralling all of those decisions into a two-hour period, and then you get to come back and play it out.

Now, of course some things change, and I think that’s a big hard part of this is where some people are like, “Well, if my plans are gonna change anyway, what is the point?” To me, I have never regretted a planning session. And the reason for that is it makes you prioritize what you’re working on and get realistic so that instead of kind of consistently just trying to react to whatever’s happening and you’re just trying to get it all done and you’re just trying to do your best and you can’t do it and you don’t have clarity about even what you’re doing or how you’re gonna get it done, that feeling is really stressful and an unwelcome place to be, where instead, if you can look up once a week and say, “These are all the things I’m trying to do. This is how I’m gonna try to accomplish it. Okay, that’s unrealistic. Let me just let go of some of these things or punt them out during that planning session,” that’s powerful. That’s really powerful to have that kind of big-picture view and analysis of what you’re trying to do. Even if things change, you have done the heavy-lifting work of deciding what is even realistic to begin with and then you are adapting when the curveballs hit and shifting a smaller, more realistic amount of things. So I think I was probably not super clear there.

What I mean is without a planning session when you’re living in the weeds, you’re just trying to do it all. So when a curveball hits, you’re looking at it all and trying to rearrange all of that, which is super overwhelming, super defeating and frustrating. When you do a planning session, you are more realistic so you have a much smaller subset of things you’re trying to accomplish in the next, let’s say, month or two weeks because you have made the decisions of what is realistic to begin with during that time. So when a curveball hits, you are playing with a smaller subset of things. It can still be frustrating, of course, when you lose work time because of childcare or something else like that or a big work project explodes and suddenly your plans for the three other matters you’re on don’t happen anymore. It can still be frustrating, but it is far less overwhelming and intimidating to deal with a smaller subset of realistic things you wanted to do in the next two weeks than every single thing you have on your plate.

So I hope that that makes sense, that planning, even when things get derailed, is powerful because it helps you eliminate some things that you don’t need to be focusing on, it helps you prioritize the more important things, and then when those curveballs hit, it helps you rearrange with less overwhelm because you’re looking at a smaller subset of things you need to rearrange than every single task you have on your plate, whether or not you ever actually have to do it.

So the second point is that planning takes time. It is really, really worth it in my book, and I hope that you see the value of it and know that even if things get derailed, planning really helps keep life more manageable even in those derailed moments. I also just want to throw out there so that you’re not just hearing me say it’s worth it and you’re like, “Okay, I don’t understand how, but sure. I don’t really believe you about this weird high I’m gonna get after a really awesome planning session.” I have clients who also experience this. I even had one client who said she felt so good after running a planning session that she called her partner and was like, “Buy a bottle of champagne on the way home because I need to celebrate how great I feel right now.” It is weirdly a powerful thing to do, and you do get — I don’t know. I sound like a broken record, but you get this weird high from it. It’s really worth it, even though I know it is really hard to make time for and motivate to do it.

Three: Use an Agenda – 14:54

The third part about this is to use an agenda, and that can really help with that daunting nature of it. The reason that I love an agenda is because it helps you understand what you’re doing, first of all. If you’re like past me, you would sit down to plan and you’re like, “I know I’m supposed to plan, but what does that even mean?” And so, having an agenda can help you kind of structure and flesh out what you want a planning session to look like for you, and you can make it your own. It also helps you know when you’re done so that when you get through your full agenda, even if it only took you miraculously an hour on one day, then you know you’re done and you can let it go versus trying to be like, “Well, there must be more. What else am I missing?” If it’s only taking me this long, it’s really nice to have an agenda to help keep you on track and then help you know when you’re done.

So let me talk a little bit more about the agenda, and then I want to share a tiny line item that’s on mine so that you can start seeing the power of both having an agenda and the planning session itself.

So past me knew planning was important but, as I said, I didn’t know how to do it. I would sit down and just kind of feel kind of awkward about it, kind of almost embarrassed for myself that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do when it came to planning, like what does that mean. For a while, I started doing it kind of sporadically. Whenever work was slow, I would sit down and plan what I wanted to do from then on out, and I always saw the value of it in those moments, those magical slow days that you get at work when you can actually clean off your desk and go through email to the end of the email box, and those moments are magical. But I didn’t do it consistently. I didn’t have a consistent pattern of planning. I kind of just did it when I could.

When I moved to my second firm, I worked for a partner there who asked associates on her various matters to fill out a specific chart each week that we would send her about the status of every matter. The chart included things like upcoming steps and upcoming dates. It was the first time that I looked long-term in my cases like that in a structured weekly way. So it was often things that I was doing. I was using a more structured format than I had been using before in this chart. It was things I had been doing, but it forced me to do it weekly, and then I started doing it with all my cases, whether or not this partner was the partner on the case. It was just game changing, both for the quality of my work and just my stress levels and my sanity because I started kind of, as I said, looking up from the day to day executing all the small tasks and checking in on every case and really asking myself, “What are the next steps? What are the next things we need to do? When are those upcoming deadlines? What does that entail? What’s our plan to accomplish those on a weekly basis,” and I saw the value of having planning at a really smart cadence.

And so, over time, that grew into what I teach as a weekly planning session and an agenda. One of the line items on there that I just want to share because I think these little examples can show the power of it is something along the lines of (and I’m gonna paraphrase) review the next two weeks of meetings and build in prep and follow-up time.

So, now, prep is a little bit self-explanatory. Even if you don’t do it, you kind of know what I’m talking about where you might be like, “Okay,” you look through your next two weeks of meetings, and you’re like, “I have these meetings. Do I need to prep for them? If so, how long and when will I do that?” Why I love it is you might be like, “Okay, that meeting’s not until next Friday,” but when you start trying to find a home for when you’re gonna do the prep, you’re like, “Oh, man, I’m gonna have to prep this one Tuesday afternoon because I don’t have any time between then and the Friday meeting.” How great to see that now versus Thursday morning being like, “When am I prepping for that meeting,” and not having any time until nine or ten o’clock that night to prep. So just throwing out there that one can be a really nice one but maybe perhaps something you kind of knew to do.

The other one that I did not at least know to do until just, I don’t know, three or four years ago is follow-up time. I love this. If you are like me, you prep for meetings, things like that. You show up, and then you end the meeting and you’re like, “Onto the next one!” And you forget the three things you said you would email or the thing you need to research or that idea you got that you wanted to look into during the meeting, and that little, let’s say, 15-minute reminder to follow up from XYZ meeting that you have in your calendar is so valuable because it brings you back and is like, “Do you need to do anything?” Obviously, whatever you need to do might take more than 15 minutes, but that’s when you can calendar that task. But it’s just the reminder to, “Hey, come back. Check out your meeting notes. Is there anything you need to do? Do it now within these 15 minutes or schedule time to do it later.” Again, it’s just so valuable to have that time to bring you back so that you’re not laying in bed at night being like, “Oh, I did not think about doing that thing, and I said I would send them, and I didn’t.” It’s such a nice way to do that at a time that works for you.

I’ll also throw out there, similar to what I was saying about you might realize you have to prep on a Tuesday for a Friday meeting, similarly, you might be like, “I’m not going to have any follow-up time later in the day to deal with that, so let me find a time tomorrow at eleven o’clock to do that follow-up work.” But again, it gives you that peace of mind that you have the time built in to do it, and that is really nice. The reason doing this during a planning session is so nice is that your brain, every time you put a meeting in your calendar or someone else puts a meeting on your calendar does not automatically go, “Ding, ding, ding! Schedule when you’re gonna prep it. Schedule when you’re gonna do follow up.” We kind of weirdly expect our brains somehow to do that, whether we put it in our calendar or we do it in our head. And then when we don’t, we beat ourselves up, which is just a crazy expectation. So by having the planning session that says, “Hey, look at your next two weeks of meetings and now do that,” it’s just such a more realistic way to do this, and you still get the benefit for it.

So I absolutely love this approach. Again, that is just one tiny little line item on the agenda, but hopefully it helps demonstrate the power of these planning sessions and also the power of having an agenda, because, also, as we’re talking about what we do and don’t expect our brain to remember, I don’t expect you to say, “Okay, it is my planning session time, and during the planning session time I look for every meeting and schedule when to prep for it and follow up.” I don’t know who naturally — I mean, I’m sure someone out there does. I do not naturally think to do that, even after doing these planning sessions for years, I still need my agenda to tell me to do that because my brain doesn’t remember that, and candidly, I don’t want my brain to be full of remembering things like that when it’s so easy to create an agenda and just put it in your calendar description and have it tell you what to do so that you’re basically helping future you remember what to do during those times.

Recap – 21:37

All right, so just to recap as we wrap up:

  • The first point is plan on Fridays, or at least before the weekend or at least the bulk of your weekend.
  • The second point is planning takes time. Don’t sugarcoat it. Just kind of go into it knowing it but think of it as corralling all of that decision making so that it’s saving you time the rest of your week.
  • The third point is use an agenda. Really get detailed about what you want a planning session to look like. I give my clients very, very detailed (far more detailed than they probably want) set planning session agendas that they can then tailor for their personal use, but you can make up your own. If you’re not interested in joining the program, just think about, “What do I want? What would success require of me to do weekly, and how do I build that out into specific plannings for myself?”

In the last 30 seconds, I want to leave you with this. Planning is a critical piece of solid time management that helps you reduce stress, experience more clarity, avoid pitfalls you could have seen coming, and have a lot more peace of mind. It might not be the most enjoyable part of your week (my guess is it really won’t be), but it facilitates a lot more enjoyment throughout the week. Every time I skip one, intentionally or not, I regret it and I’m always far more motivated to do it that week. If you want to feel on track, you’ve got to lay down the track.

So, for some further broad-stroke help on what a planning session can look like, check out an article I wrote for Fast Company. I’ll put the link in the how notes, but if you just want to Google it, just Google, “Fast Company Kelly Nolan,” and I think it pops up. If you want more detailed help, if you’re just like, “Just give me the whole system. I just want it all, including this detailed planning session agenda,” check out my Bright Method program. My next eight-week program will kick off in the fall. You can learn more about it on my website which is www.kellynolan.com. You can join the waitlist there, and you can even block your calendar for all of the calls now.

I’m giving you this heads up now because I want you to be able to plan for it and block your time now. It is a time commitment for eight weeks, but it will serve you well for decades to come. I’m also giving you the heads up now because many clients seek reimbursement or coverage from their employer. There is a PDF on that website on the main page for the program that you can also share with your employer to see if they will cover the cost for you in full or in part. I just want to make sure you have time to do it. Enrollment will open on August 1st, and I hope to see you in there! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me ke***@ke********.com, and until next time, happy planning!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

Add a comment
+ show Comments
- Hide Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

check out my 8-week bright method time management program

Want to learn the full Bright Method, a system designed for working women that reduces stress and ups your peace of mind when it comes to managing it all (personal and professional)?

Learn more
Want to focus on email first?

Reclaim your time from your inbox

Spending too much time in your email inbox? You’re not alone. Check out my short’n’sweet, self-paced email management course to help you reclaim control over your inbox.

LOVE these strategies?



Hello, more breathing space.

Learn three realistic time management strategies desgined for professional working women that you can implement in just 20 minutes. Enter your info below & get the free guide in your inbox in a minute.