How to start your week to win and not to become overwhelmed

How do you start your week?
Do you just rely on yourself or do you use some tools to organise yourself?

I learned a lot of productivity hacks from Michael Hyatt. I’ve listened a lot to his podcasts and I used some of his recommended tools to make my plans work such as the Full Focus Planner which is kind of a calendar and a to-do list together with goal setting tips and more.

Join Sam and I while we talk about the following advice on how to start the week right:

  • Don’t dive directly into meetings or emails
  • Review your annual goals
  • Review your achievements from last week
  • Start/stop/change/continue
  • Review existing to-dos and open-loops
  • Review the upcoming week’s events
  • Plan your weekly big 3
  • Clean up your calendar
  • Plan your daily big events
  • What things that can wait
  • Have an invite in your calendar with these steps to create a routine or use the full focus planner

Listen to this insightful episode and share this with your friends and colleagues!



Alexander: You’re listening to The Effective Statistician podcast, the weekly podcast with Alexander Schacht,  Benjamin Piske and Sam Gardner, designed to help you reach your potential, lead great sciences and serve patients without becoming overwhelmed by work. Today, we are talking about how to start your week, which is really important and you learn soon why this is important. So stay tuned and now some music.

I’m producing this podcast in association with PSI, an awesome community, which is dedicated to leading and promoting the use of statistics across the healthcare industry for the benefit of patients. PSI offers quite a lot of webinars, video-on-demand, workshops, live events, or other kinds of things and of course the flagship conference, which is awesome, and hopefully in 2022 comes to life again in Gothenburg, Sweden. Head over to the PSI website at to learn more about PSI activities and become a PSI member today. 

Welcome to another episode of The Effective Statistician. This time, it’s again with Sam and myself. How are you doing Sam? 

Sam: Today’s a great day. Looking forward to talking with you again, you know, a little bit behind the scenes. We don’t record these podcasts just before they’re published. We record them well in advance, and then we’ll take a break and we’ve had a little bit of a break of recording. So it’s really great to get together again and talk about some things that are fun to talk about that we can share with others. 

Alexander: Yeah, and so today, we’ll talk a little bit about some productivity hacks. And one of the important productivity hacks is how you actually start your week. So I learned about it via Michael Hyatt. I, you know, have listened to lots of his podcasts  and especially one of them, which he discontinued at some point. And there I learned quite a lot and I’m also using his tools like the full focus planner, which is really nice, kind of a calendar but also to do list and goal setting and has lots and lots of his advice and recommendations in it. And so one of which is how to start your week. And we’ll talk a little bit about his advice but also a couple of other things. Sam, do you have a kind of standard way how you start or finish your weeks? 

Sam: Yeah, the way I like to start my week is actually I like to start it on Sunday evening. 

Alexander: Yeah. 

Sam: So I like to sit down in my office and take out my planner and open my calendar and think about how the previous week went. Think about what things might have not been finished that I wanted to get finished and then lay out the plan for the coming week. And  when I do that, the week generally goes a lot better. 

Alexander: Yeah. 

Sam: I have to admit, I don’t always do that every week. But when I do it, the week tends to go fairly well. 

Alexander: Yeah. It’s a good habit. And I know some people do it on a Monday morning as others do it like you on Sunday evening. I’m more kind of Sunday is still kind of a weekend and family time approaches so I start the Monday morning. But for me, it’s also easier to start with the Monday morning because I settle in Europe and Monday morning my U.S. colleagues are still sleeping so I don’t get interrupted by meetings and that’s really important because this is one of the first advice that I have, don’t directly get into meetings at the beginning of the week because I think that is a good recipe for completely derailing your week and kind of, yeah, starting off the wrong foot at the beginning. 

Sam: Yeah. It’s kind of like the analogy is starting a really rigorous exercise routine without taking time to warm up and stretch. You know, you’re likely just to stress yourself out, you might be able to perform pretty well. You can probably go out and do your exercise, but then you’re going to get hurt later. 

Alexander: Yes. Same as this email sent out those things, yeah. I think it’s the start of the week, it’s good to kind of get reconnected to where you want to go ultimately. And so, my first step, like actually every day, is to review my annual goal as I’m written down. That’s the first page actually of the planner and that keeps me focused on what I really want to achieve this year and that directly kind of makes sure that you’re working on the start.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s really good. I like to do that too. Although I admit sometimes I’m a little bit more focused on what needs to get done this week or you know, right away, but stepping back to think about, well, what is it that I want to accomplish in three months or six months or nine months or even longer? If you don’t make time for that you don’t put it in your plan it may not happen. 

Alexander: Yeah, and then you get to your mid-year review, you open up your files where you have saved your yearly goals and you ‘oh, I wanted to get this done.

Sam: And suddenly your yearly goal became six month ago because you said that’s what you were going to do for the year. 

Alexander: Yeah. The second thing, what you already mentioned is to have a look into what has happened last week, especially in terms of your achievements. Yeah. I think it’s really good to think about what you have accomplished, that gets you in a good position. You see what you have already, you know, moved your foot forward and towards your goals and that’s a great thing as you mentioned earlier. 

Sam: Yeah, and I think that’s another way just to kind of evaluate, maybe how you’re doing at planning your time and organizing yourself. Because if you didn’t get much accomplished the previous week, you didn’t make steps forward towards those goals. That may just be a signal to say, may I need to reorient myself and be a little bit more focused on what’s important to me and important to my work and family and so on. Because otherwise you’re just going to keep spinning your wheels not making any progress forward. 

Alexander: Yeah, yeah. And exactly, because that helps you to understand which of your habits that you hopefully have in place helps you to move forward and what are kind of other things yeah. With a certain kind of one-time events or does it more look like that these what you thought of this one-time events are actually reoccurring. 

Sam: Yeah, that means there are weeks where you’re all your plans and goals just get completely blown up by life and circumstances and those can be sometimes very frustrating, but it’s good to think about, what can I do that might mitigate that happening. Those things blew up because I didn’t take care of business the previous week, that type of thing. The other thing I like to do that helps me focus my mind a little bit as I have over here on the side on my wall, on my board here that I have kind of my list of I guess, what I call my principles, the things that I’ve decided are important to me, and  it allows me are even even a little bit higher than what my goals are, you know, these are like, why am I doing what I’m doing? What is the overall big picture focus that I want to have in my life? And I’ll look over there and I’ll think about it and say, okay this week, ‘I need to make sure that my focus on what I’m working on is being guided by that set of principles that I’ve decided are important to me.

Alexander: Yeah, that actually also some things that I have as part of my weekly routine, looking into my leadership principles. What I have is actually my background on my laptop, is a collage of photos that reflects my long-term goals that I have. So for example  there’s a photo of my family, yeah, because having good relationships there is really important for me. And some other photos that reflect, you know, long-term goals on that.

Sam: Right. 

Alexander: So next thing, once you have evaluated how you need to, you know, change, continue, adopt certain habits, you can have a look into what are all the existing to-do’s. Are there any open loops? Are there any kinds of things where someone told you, ‘yeah, I’ll follow up by Friday, but you never received something. 

Sam:  Right.  What do you mean by open loop? Is there an example of an open loop?

Alexander:  Yeah. Something like, you know, it’s not finished. It’s kind of hanging in the air. 

Sam: Then you’re waiting on something or someone’s waiting on you. 

Alexander: Exactly. Yeah. 

Sam: That type of thing, okay.

Alexander: Because that helps you to kind of get a really good overview of what is possible to do for this week? Next thing is, for me, looking into the calendar a little bit ahead. Not just the coming week, but the coming weeks potentially months, yeah. So are there any certain bigger events that are happening? Don’t know if you need to give a presentation in two weeks or if there’s such a conference happening in three months or things like that. Or a certain deadline is approaching.

Sam: Or going on holiday. And honestly, that’s a big thing, I never work harder than the week before holiday because I don’t want to have all that work piled up when I get back and I don’t want to be worrying about it while I’m gone. So now, we’re pretty hard the week before I take time off. 

Alexander: Yeah. And that can lead you also to detect further to-do’s or maybe it means that you get a different prioritization  of the to-do’s  that you have, because now you think this becomes really urgent now. It’s also I think maybe I could push it out a little bit more. Now, the next topic is really important for me because if you have seen a really long list of to-do’s, you know that you’ll never get all of them done. So it’s good to make sure you get three big rocks into your week that are rocks in terms of achievement,yeah, things that you want to move forward that help you move towards your goals and have your weekly big threes. 

Sam: Yeah and I do that too. But sometimes my big rocks actually consist of a lot of little rocks. 

Alexander: That is usually the case, yeah.

Sam: So I think about what are the five simple things I need to do to move to that next step. That’s sometimes what I lay out and I’ll lay that out so I need to do these things, three of those this week and they may only take five minutes, but I got to get them done or things aren’t going to move forward. 

Alexander: Yeah. It could be like this week, I’m recording four episodes now. Or it could be like this week, I want to finish this presentation,yeah. And in order to do this, I first need to do my research and I need to, you know, have an outline. Then I need to create  slides, send it to my VA, review it and then it’s done. Yeah, so kind of these different steps in it. 

Sam: Yeah, and if you’re applying, you know, good project and work planning approaches generally every project, your everything you have that has a deliverable or a timeline as a series of things that have to be done. And what you tried to do in your planning and the week is, let’s pick some of those things and fit them into the week, so that I can move those things forward. And sometimes in parallel, you get different things happening at the same time, so you’ve got to not just have this singular focus, I’m just doing a presentation this week. You’ve got five other things that probably have to be done in the next few weeks and you kind of have to move them all forward. And so you have to fit all of those small things and pick which ones you’re going to do to move things forward, but I understand what you’re saying about the big, the big things. It’s really focusing on what are the big three things I want to accomplish? And what are the things I can do this week to move those forward?

Alexander: Yeah, and that is important to do after you already had a review of your calendar. Yeah, because if let’s say, there’s already two full day events in it, and maybe there’s one day where you don’t know if you’re traveling and another day where you promised to ,yeah, go to Legoland with your kids, or something like this. Well, maybe there’s a lot of, you know, open space left. 

Sam: Yeah, and that’s a big, probably could have a whole another podcast on that just on managing time and not filling up your time. I was thinking about that, it is preparation for talking about this where I try to make sure I keep some white space in this calendar.

Alexander: Yeah. Absolutely. I actually blocked out white space and breaks, yeah. For example, no meetings at a certain time or after a certain time or no meetings over lunch,yeah. Just to ensure that you don’t end up with a calendar that has 40 meetings in it. 

Sam: And it’s really hard. I found that really hard when you work internationally. 

Alexander: Yes. 

Sam: Because of the different time zones and like you said, if you have colleagues that are in another continent, you maybe have to jam all your meetings into your afternoon, and they have to jam all of their meetings into their morning. 

Alexander: Yeah.

Sam: And their preference may be to have their morning open to.

Alexander: Well, you know, you can’t have it all, yeah. 

Sam: You can’t have it all,right. I used to struggle with that quite a bit and get frustrated.

Alexander: It is good to set boundaries, that is really important.If you don’t set these boundaries, there’s nobody else who will do it for you. 

Sam: Right. You end up having 6AM phone calls or 7PM phone calls and that you can do that occasionally, but if it becomes a habit and that becomes the routine, it just jumbles your life. It’s not fun.

Alexander: I had literally, I had this M5 rule. There’s no meeting after 6 p.m. unless M5 asks for it.

Sam: Let’s say, it’s like a senior vice president.

Alexander: Yeah, or something like a really really high-end organization and that really helped. Yeah, and people were, you know, accepting these boundaries. I recently read a quote about something like, I don’t get it, right. But something along the lines, It’s your choice to, you know, control what others are doing to you. 

Sam: Right. I mean you don’t always have complete control, right? Maybe in a situation where you have to attend a meeting, you have to do something at a specific time, but you have, where you have control, exert your control. I think that’s the thing. Don’t let all of your time be dominated by everybody else in your life. 

Alexander: And as you know, if you think about this, this M5 rule. Yeah, that was something like, even if my step supervisor would have called. Yeah, I would have said no.

Sam: Right. Or you could be polite about it. 

Alexander: It’s not a No. It’s a, ‘Sorry, I already have an appointment with my family there that I can’t move. Can I have another suggestion for time?

Sam:  Could we talk about it the following morning or something like that? That’s always a good way to offer. 

Alexander: Yeah. Okay, speaking about the calendar. The next thing is, clean up your calendar. I usually have some meetings that popped in there that you know, overlap or that there’s something else is happening. So making sure there’s no clashing meetings and things like this, it’s really important. I find it really annoying when people decline a meeting, you know, just before it started, especially these ones want, yeah. 

Sam: Or meetings get canceled, you know, that the people will just schedule meetings because they’re going to block your time. But then they don’t have anything to talk about so then they cancel it. Well that can be a little irritating when you have planned your time to be able to be ready to talk to them. So what I found is a good habit to get into as I have my little list of things that I can do when I get a little block of time opened up, right. Because oftentimes I’ve prepared myself mentally to do something during that, you know, talk during time and I haven’t planned to work on maybe a deeper thinking type of project so maybe it’s okay. That’s the time for me to respond to emails. That’s the time for me to read an article that I’ve been waiting to read and then sitting on my desk, you know, so fill in that time and just don’t don’t get upset about it as much as being proactive and saying, ‘okay, now I have this time. Let’s use it because someone’s giving me back some time that they had scheduled away from me originally’. 

Alexander: Yeah, but it’s also kind of like cleaning up a calendar also means like this is meeting in there where I actually have no clue what’s about, yeah. Ask for an agenda. 

Sam: Right. Or just send a message. ‘Hey, I see this meeting coming up on Thursday, and I’m not exactly sure what the meetings are about and I’m not clear if I need to be there or not’. 

Alexander: Yeah. 

Sam: Right. Lots of times you find out is, ‘oh, we just included you because we thought you’d want to know. And if you have time, you can join and you can just read the meeting notes afterwards and get the same amount of information’. 

Alexander: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, I once had a reminder in my calendar popping up meetings are toxic. Try to avoid them. 

Sam: I always remember one time, one of my kids asked me, ‘Dad ,what is it you do for work?’ And I’d had a day that had been full of meetings, back to back to back meetings, and I was really frustrated and I sat down at the kitchen table. And I said, ‘well, evidently my job is to go to meetings. That’s all I did’. And my daughter looked at me really funny like ‘wow, is that what adult life is really like?’ 

Alexander: And you know what my favorite meetings are, the meetings that I scheduled with myself.

Sam: Hmm. 

Alexander: Which I actually have on my calendar. So one of these is actually this Monday morning meeting where I go through these different things,yeah. And in order to reinforce your habit that you want to develop you can put in, kind of, these different things that you want to do, yeah. And into that invite for yourself,yeah. So you have made it really easy. One of the things is, if you want to have a habit, yeah, you need to have a trigger that triggers this habit and also make it as easy as possible. So if you are right into your invite, what are the different things that you want to do? Kind of like a review of annual goals and things like this. Just put it in there. 

Sam: Yeah. I think that’s a great thing. When you schedule a meeting with yourself with an agenda. It really can help your time with yourself, and be more productive as well.

Alexander: Just head over to the block article for this episode to show notes and you’ll find the bullet points that you can just copy over and then send up for yourself. 

Sam: So let me ask you a question. This is a little bit off topic, but it’s related to planning and how you plan your week. As you use the Hyatt planner, right? The Michael Hyatt planner. Do you prefer paper, or do you prefer electronics? 

Alexander: I prefer hybrid. 

Sam: Okay.

Alexander: So I used both. I have used both only on paper in the past. I’ve used only an electronic but I have figured that the best way is to have a hybrid model. So certain things are great to manage electronically, kind of, especially things like group tasks, and certain things like this, yeah. Others like the exact things that I have on my to-do list for today I have written them down on paper because they sit on my desk, and that, you know, they don’t get kind of hidden behind another window or you know, or something like this, I sees them there are all the time. It credibly helpful. 

Sam: Yeah, I can remember the day before we had the inundation of electronic communication and scheduling tools, and you pretty much did all of it on paper, you had to. But I used to use the Franklin planner before it became Franklin Covey, it was Franklin Planner. I really like that system. They came out with a software tool that you could do on a computer. And I really liked that tool and integrated it with Outlook a little bit. But I have gotten more in the habit.  I like to do my goal planning, personal planning, daily planning on paper and then I keep my calendar and appointments electronically. 

Alexander: Yes. 

Sam: Of course, a lot of the stuff I do is also captured in email and other electronic systems but there’s something, I don’t know, there’s a connection that happens when I take a piece of pencil or a pen, and I write it on paper.  It’s almost like I’m more committed to doing it than if I just type on my keyboard. 

Alexander: And especially if you take it to do from the last week and you write it on your to do list for this week. And you have already moved it from the previous week to last week. You get really annoyed that you need to rewrite it. Maybe you just sent it,yeah. Whereas if you have it electronically, it’s just a click away, yeah. Also, you may be more conscious, think about it, yeah. I once had this habit of taking the image where I needed to do something. That’s really bad because you don’t really think about what you need to do,yeah. And so then you later need to go in and read the email again. And it seemed like what was I supposed to do? And sometimes you just think yeah, I need to do something there, but you don’t think about what is exactly the next step. Yeah, and maybe the exact next step only takes you 2 minutes to do. And then I have this two-minute rule that these things get done directly. I don’t write some dullness to do’s. 

Sam: Yeah. I think it’s also good advice I’ve learned is to hold your plans loosely because like you said something’s going to blow up your week or whatever your schedule is for the day and you got to be ready to adjust. But as much as it’s up to you, you know, stay focused on what you decided what to do, but then don’t get too burned out or too upset when somebody else or some other event causes all those plans to go down the tube.

Alexander: It’s important to plan. But of course, if you don’t plan, you plan to fail, but planning helps you to not fail. 

Sam: Not planning is a plan. It’s just not a very good plan. And I think the other thing too, and you mentioned this a lot in your plans, we’re not just talking about work, we’re talking about life. So you’ve got your priorities, if you have a family, your family’s got to be priority. On a matter of fact, that’s generally the first thing I write in my plan for the week. What is it that I’m doing with, and for my family? Exercise and take care of yourself, your health. I tried to get regular exercise. So that’s the second thing I write in my plan for the week. When I’m going to do that and then I start thinking about, okay, then what’s the work things that I need to accomplish this week?

Alexander: Absolutely, absolutely. Put in the big rocks first and then  fill in the pebbles. So we talked about how to effectively start your week. We talked about what not to do like going directly into meetings or emails but have an understanding of what are your goals? Where have you been coming from last week? What have been your achievements? What can you adapt? Are there any kind of open to-do’s? The loose ends, the open loops that you need to close. And then plan ahead yeah, with weekly big three, daily big three, and things like this, and make it a habit. So really head over to and find the show notes and copy them onto your invite to yourself. Thanks so much Sam. Another great episode. 

Sam: Yeah. You’re welcome. It’s great to talk. And I hope this is an encouragement to people to spend some time on helping them, wanting to be more effective. 
Alexander: This show was created in association with PSI. Thanks to Reine who helps the show in the background and thank you for listening. Sharing is caring. So if you found this episode to be useful for you, then please share it with your colleagues. Please share it on social media and if you share it on LinkedIn, then, just tag me. And I’ll surely get back to you and give you a hands up for these. Reach your potential, lead great sciences and serve patients. Just Be an Effective Statistician.

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