Let me ask you a philosophical chicken-and-egg kind of question: Does planning save time or chew it up?
This week I spoke with editor candidates who had entirely different views on that question. One went so far as to say that planning more than a week at a time was just about impossible. Things happen too fast for that. Things change. Of course, that is true, and you can spend all your time in meetings and suffer from paralysis. That’s no good either.
I’m of the view that you need a loose structure and story plan, understanding all the while that it’s bound to change, or you won’t be able to do your best work.
I’ve always thought about planning for what we do as three separate tasks: Planning your day, planning your week, and planning your year. In fact, I was so enamored with this idea several years ago that I created a blog devoted entirely to the concept. If you are with me so far, you might want to click the link and consider this is a bit more depth.
To plan my day, I often create a list. Here are three or five or 10 things that I have to do today. Sometimes I list them in order. I cross them off as I get them done. It keeps me focused and gives a feeling of accomplishment when I see the list crossed off. This is hardly ground-breaking stuff, I know.
The weekly plan is the most important for us, I think. I think a weekly staff meeting for everyone in editorial is crucial. It’s so important that I make it sacrosanct at the Half Moon Bay Review. It is almost always at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, and it almost always takes 45 minutes, give or take. We discuss vacations and scheduling things, we make sure we have a plan for the next couple of magazines, and then we go around the room and everyone floats story ideas from their beats. We benefit from the wisdom of the crowd. Often someone has a good source for a colleague’s story or something to say about a photo angle. From this we derive a weekly budget of stories, their length and when the can be expected, and art ideas. All of it is subject to change, but it’s a plan. Without it, I would have zero confidence on deadline day. …
The last component is an annual plan. When is that big street festival? When does fishing season open? When is graduation? At the time I wrote the content on the blog referenced above, Google Calendar was a novelty. Now you are likely already using it for things like these.
Of course, this is just the way I want to work and I admit its somewhat aspirational. I’m not so good at long-range planning. But I see the value. There are undoubtedly other ways to go about this. If you want to talk about better planning where you are, I’m just a phone call away.