We all have goals that we want to accomplish. Maybe it’s building a business, changing to a new career, or simply improving yourself. Whatever these goals are, we only have a limited amount of time to accomplish them. Each of us has the same 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 730 hours in a month, and 8,760 hours in a year.
What sets the top performers apart from those who just maintain the status quo? It’s how you use your time.
One of the most effective ways to use your time how you want is to create a time management chart. These charts provide a visual representation of your goals, helping you figure out how you should schedule time for your work activities, free time and all the other activities that make up your life. They’re among the most powerful time management tools out there: Use them regularly, and your time management skills will massively improve.
However, creating a time management chart from scratch can be intimidating. What should you include in the chart? How many levels of time management do you need? Should the chart be physical or digital? To take the work out of this process, we’ve created the following five time management charts. You can use these planner templates to ensure that you’re practicing effective time management, all while freeing up more time to focus on your professional and personal goals.
1. Yearly Planning Chart
When you’re figuring out how to use the time you have available, one of the best time management tips we can give is to begin with your long-term goals. When you start the planning process with your biggest goals in mind, you can create guiding principles and priorities to structure your time at a smaller level.
With these larger goals in place, you’ll have a way to track the effectiveness of your quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily planning. Whenever you’re not sure what action to take, you can come back to the yearly goals and ask, “How does this action align with my long-term goals? Is it helping me get closer to reaching them?”
It’s also important to remember that your yearly goals can change as the year progresses. We don’t want you to be so set on them that they prevent you from taking advantage of new opportunities that you discover as the year goes on, or from modifying them based on things you learn in the process of pursuing them.
For example, you might begin the year with the goal of starting a consulting business, but realize in the process that selling an information product would be a better business model. That’s okay — in fact, it’s great! But you would never have discovered this new business insight if you hadn’t set the larger goal of creating a consulting business to begin with. This is why yearly planning still has value — it sets you on the path to discoveries.
For the yearly planning chart, you have a couple different options. One is a standard calendar showing all 12 months at a glance. This can be a powerful tool for seeing just how much time you have to accomplish your goals, but it doesn’t give you a lot of guidance with actual planning.
Therefore, we prefer to use a simple list of 3-5 goals for the year. If you like, you can use a different category for each goal. For instance, you might have one learning goal, one business goal, one personal finance goal, one relationship goal and one health and fitness goal.
Download the yearly planning template to get started. To use the spreadsheet, go to File > Make a copy > OK.
2. Quarterly Planning Chart
After you’ve planned your goals for the year, you need to start breaking them down into smaller, more manageable goals. The first layer of this is quarterly planning. With a quarterly plan, you break the year into four quarters and set goals for each. These goals will still be fairly broad, but they’ll be more specific than your yearly goals.
For example, let’s say you set a yearly goal to gross $100k. The quarterly breakdown of this goal would be to gross $25k each quarter. In practice, the numbers might fluctuate between quarters (especially if you’re selling a product that’s subject to seasonal variation in demand). But still, this type of planning will help you take an intimidating financial goal and start turning it into something that feels more achievable.
Just as with yearly planning, your quarterly plan should be open to change. Let’s say, for instance, that you planned to spend the first quarter of the year growing your email list. But in the process, you discover that paid ads would be a higher ROI activity for your business. If that happens, feel free to shift your plan. Just don’t do it on a whim — make sure you have solid reasons for doing so.
For the quarterly time management chart, we’ve kept the same basic template as the yearly chart but broken it down a bit further. We’ve added some generic example yearly goals, but you should feel free to replace these with your own.
Download the quarterly planning chart here. To use the spreadsheet, go to File > Make a copy > OK.
3. Monthly Planning Chart
Breaking things down further, we move to monthly planning. A month is the perfect time frame to push yourself just a bit out of your comfort zone, hence the popularity of 30-day challenges. You can also easily visualize a month on a calendar, which makes it feel like a more tangible time frame than a year or a quarter.
To make a monthly plan, you have a couple of options. One is to start with the goals you’ve set for that quarter and break each down into three smaller goals. This can work, but it’s not the approach we recommend. Unlike quarterly or yearly goals, too much can change within the course of a month for it to be worth planning the subsequent months beforehand.
Instead, we prefer to set an overall monthly goal (that will help you work towards your quarterly goal) and then break that goal into four smaller weekly goals. You should feel free to adjust these weekly goals as you proceed, since things are bound to change.
For the monthly planning chart, we’ve gone with four-week intervals. Some months will stretch into a fifth week, but that’s fine — there’s no need to stick to the strict calendar months. You set a goal for the month, and then break it down into subgoals for each week. These will help guide your weekly planning chart, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
Download the monthly planning chart here. To use the spreadsheet, go to File > Make a copy > OK.
4. Weekly Planning Chart
Of all the planning forms we’ve discussed so far, weekly planning might be the most familiar. Most of us start our Monday with a grand vision of what we’ll accomplish for the week, and we might even create a weekly schedule to help us accomplish it. But by the end of the week we often find that we haven’t even done a fraction of what we had hoped.
The key to effective weekly planning is to be realistic. It’s better to underestimate how much you can do in a week and blow past that goal than to overestimate and end the week stressed and disappointed. This balance between short-term planning and long-term planning is key to reaching your goals.
For instance, you might start the week off thinking that you can launch a new email marketing campaign. But a couple days in, you realize it’s going to take a lot more time than you’d imagined. At this point, instead of blindly forging ahead towards your goal (and setting yourself up for disappointment), you can adjust the goal to something more realistic. Maybe you can do all the research necessary for the campaign in the week, or write a few emails worth of copy. This way, you’re still working towards the goal, but you’re not biting off more than you can chew.
Our favorite template for weekly planning is a good old-fashioned calendar. You can decide whether or not you want to plan the weekends; we’ve included them just in case. At the start of each week, come up with an overall goal (one that contributes to your goal for the month). Once you have this weekly goal, break it down into daily chunks. As with all planning, you’re just estimating at this point. If you find halfway through the week that the goal you set was too big or small, you can always adjust.
Download the weekly planning chart here. To use the spreadsheet, go to File > Make a copy > OK.
5. Daily Planning Chart
To finish this guide, we have the topic of making a daily schedule. We all do this type of planning to some degree, even if it’s just waking up with a couple ideas in our head of a couple daily tasks we want to accomplish, or a vague to-do list scribbled on a notepad. However, few of us plan our days in a methodical way, truly considering what we’ll do each hour of the day (and how that will contribute to or detract from our goals).
To make a daily plan, it’s best to break your day down into 30-minute time intervals. These should last from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. For each interval, you fill in what you’ll be doing. This may seem like an extreme method, one that leaves no room for spontaneity or relaxation. However, you should remember that this plan is just a guide — as the day goes on, you will likely have to adjust it as things come up and certain tasks take longer than you had planned.
And with regards to relaxation and personal time, planning your day out this way is actually beneficial. Because when you plan what you’re doing each hour of the day, you can schedule time periods for leisure in advance. This will ensure that you actually do take time off from working, instead of giving into the temptation to work all hours of day.
Finally, this method of daily planning has the advantage of forcing you to prioritize your most important tasks. When you block things out in 30-minute chunks, you see just how limited your time really is. This will help you devote as much time as you can to the most necessary tasks.
To create the daily planning chart, we’ve started with waking up at 7 a.m. and go to bed by 11 p.m. (giving you a solid 8 hours of sleep each night). You can adjust the wake time and bedtime to fit your personal schedule. Just remember that sleep is crucial to high performance; regularly sacrificing sleep to get more work done causes the quality of your work to suffer.
Download the daily planning chart here. To use the spreadsheet, go to File > Make a copy > OK.
And if you’d prefer to use a physical daily planner, check out the SELF Journal.
Manage Your Time, Achieve Your Goals
Accomplishing your goals requires planning, dedication and flexibility. With the time management charts in this article, you are now well-equipped to plan your life at all levels. Feel free to use all of these charts as a unified planning system, or cherry pick the ones that are most helpful to you. What matters is that the tools help you accomplish your goals and become your best possible self.