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I want to make a list of the projects and exercises I am supposed to do this semester to make a plan but every week, new projects and exercises should be added to this list. I wonder which is best to do, to plan a day, a week or a month in advance? I assume planning a month in advance would be a waste of time because everything will be different after two weeks or so and your priority list will most likely change to a totally different one. Am I right?

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A suggestion : Plan a project one/two months ahead, eg so you can tell when you can take a leave or so. Then the rest one or two weeks ahead. The point is not to respect your planning, but to know how far you are and what to do during the present week. – Yves Dec 3 '12 at 8:42

I think 90 days is the absolute most you can plan out in a single time period. And I mean in terms of a full project or to work on a bigger goal. 90 days is something our minds comprehend and we can logistically plan out very well too. But anything more becomes super hard.

But when it comes to accurate planning and "accuracy" is the big word here, planning specifics tasks and their priorities should only be done in 2 week increments. Anything outside of 2 weeks becomes inaccurate very quickly.

And I speak about these points from running a company of 6 team members + a very strong family life.

So to answer your question directly, here's what I would say:

  1. Plan out your 90 day results that you want to attain and put them on a list. Write them down as attainable goals + stretch goals.
  2. Then utilizing those results + goals, put together a 2 week plan that gets you closer to your 90 day results.
  3. Then every morning, look through your 2 week plan and execute by creating a list for yourself. And hacking away at it.

This process is simple and doesn't require over planning. Just having some sort of schedule in front of you to hit your target.

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this could be useful (it's part of GTD methodology)

... Managing the flow of work can be approached from many altitudes, as there are many different levels of defining what your “work” really is. Whereas we may have some lower levels in control, there are often incomplete and unclear issues at higher levels that can and need to be addressed, to really get it all under control. And often there are issues about the nature and volume of work that cannot be resolved viewing it from an inappropriate level. We have roughly categorized “work” into six levels, or horizons of focus.

This is admittedly a somewhat arbitrary delineation, but it has proven valuable for many clients to frame their conversations, questions, and issues within this context. We use an airplane model:

Runway: This is the ground floor – the huge volume of actions and information you currently have to do and to organize, including emails, calls, memos, errands, stuff to read, stuff to file, things to talk to staff about, etc. ...

10,000 level: This is the inventory of your projectsall the things that you have commitments to finish, that take more than one action step to complete. These “open loops” are what create most of your actions. These projects include anything from “look into having a birthday party for Susan” to “buy Acme Brick Co.” Most people have between 30 and 100 of these. If you were to fully and accurately define this list, it would undoubtedly generate many more and different actions than you currently have identified. ... David Allen - 6 Horizons of Focus

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Start by planning one day at a time. After you've mastered that, plan a week ahead...Make sure that you were able to complete what you've scheduled and then move on.

I'm a huge fan of the GTD methodology but in order to follow through with what you've planned you must start with bite sizes chunks and get momentum....after that check GTD's approach.

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I agree with the GTD methodology on this: You can't really plan things. You can only list down what you're going to do next, and then do it. There will always be interruptions and changes.

You can plan ahead as long as you want, but review that list every week to make sure it's still relevant.

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What do you mean by "plan"? Are you talking about a list of activities to be done or actions to take to complete a project? Or are you talking about a calendar, with time allocations noted on it? They're very different things.

I suggest you begin by using the GTD methodology (mentioned by other responders) to break down projects to the actions needed to accomplish them. You review these projects regularly (at least weekly) and add anything new that comes up (new assignments, for example).

Not strictly in compliance with GTD, I suggest you also use your calendar to reserve time for your highest priorities. That means things like scheduling 2 hours Thursday evening to review all of your class notes from the week, or an hour Wednesday for compiler class homework. Or even just scheduling "term papers" for a few hours on Friday, knowing you'll work on at least one of the papers due by the end of the term, but not worrying at this point about which one or ones. You will not be able to have an accurate plan for the semester, don't worry about it. You do this planning for two weeks into the future, and update it every week when you review your projects.

This rolling scheduling allows you to change your plans as needed, while still giving you some idea what you're doing for the next week and a half, plus or minus a couple of days. The trick is to review regularly, and don't be afraid to reschedule things on your calendar when that's what it makes sense to do.

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Definitely plan a month ahead - it's totally OK for your plans to change - just amend them as they do.

Todays plan should be the most detailed - down to the hourly level - what are you working on each hour? It's very difficult to avoid interruptions these days, but your productivity will be better if you can start your day with 3 hours of 50-minute chunks of work before you even look at your email.

Don't forget to plan for the rest of your lifetime too - if you have ambitions of working for some great companies, maybe some great startups, remember that each one of them will suck up 5 - 10 years of your life. That means you have a limited number of great projects in you - so start thinking now about what you might want to do when you graduate so you can gravitate towards your first great project more quickly.

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There's come pretty interesting research on this very question that concludes that the longer the horizon, the less likely the task will be done as planned.

The article shows how illogical we are in our thinking. Here are some details. 1. Researchers explain that we have a tendency to view things in terms of "present" and "future." When we categorize a deadline as being in the present, we're likely to start working on the goal. When we decide something falls into the "future" category, we simply file it in our "someday" archives and it's easy for those goals to be neglected.

For example, a task set more than 7 days in the future is less likely to get done because we think of that as "later."

Given this fact, it's better to work with your mind than against it and schedule a small portion of the activity within the week.

The same applies for calendar years. We are more likely to complete actions that are due this year than next, even when the length of hte project remains constant.

  1. Having said that people often have a hard time turning a nebulous goal into action. For example, if you have a goal of "Being Happy," you may have no idea what action to schedule in the next 7 days that would help you take a step towards the goal. (On a side note, for this particular goal research has shown that making a list at night of 10 things you are grateful for improves your happiness.) Facts like these, unfortunately, are not widely known so people never translate goals into action.

  2. With respect to interruptions, any plan you make is subject to interruptions. However, that's not a reason to eschew planning. Project managers don't stop making plans because they know that they will change. Research on "implementation intentions" by Peter Gollwitzer and others shows that planning an action to include a date/time plus location of execution increases the odds of successfully completion. Period.

I hope this helps anyone coming after who might be looking for answers.

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Hi Francis -welcome. Link only answers aren't really welcome here, so if you can edit a summary of it into your post (keep the link for those who want to read more) that would be helpful. – Rory Alsop Jan 13 at 12:21
In fact, I see you have posted a bunch of answers already - some are excellent, but can you read our tour and help center pages to understand the differences between this site and other online forums, and specifically how we do not have 'discussion threads' but focus on solely Questions and Answers. Thanks. – Rory Alsop Jan 13 at 12:24

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