Down in the Weeds – Low Level Planning

An Example Low Level Plan
An Example Low Level Plan

Low level planning is your day-to-day work planned out at the granular level, usually by the week, with activities blocked out by the hour. This is the plan that I find most important when it comes to really getting down to brass tacks and working.

A low level plan is where the rubber hits the road in terms of seeing what you have to do this week, today, right now – and doing it.

The example above illustrates one way a low level might be laid out. It illustrates the more granular break down of activities related to the original project item ‘Optimize the content on your site for related keywords and better Google rankings’ we identified in the scope definition process. This project was broken into subsequent activities, including ‘Keyword Research’ in the high level plan and ‘Buy and Read SEO Book’ and ‘Research SEO on web’ in the mid level plan. Now, in this plan, the everyday actionable items of this broad project are laid out against time.

Putting these steps into a low level plan which also captures the everyday context of your life, including day-to-day operations, does two really important things: It shows you how much (or little!) time you actually have to tackle goal-related projects, and it shines a really bright spotlight on how much you are working on your business and not in it.

Because it’s so important, I’m going to spend a couple of posts on this topic with some more examples. To get started here are some rules I try to live by when it comes to low level planning:

  • Plan with some sort of calendar tool (this can be paper)
  • Plan in ‘Baseline’ activities
  • Realistic estimates and metrics are very helpful at this level
  • Be specific, and try to plan in ‘dependency free’ chunks
  • Look at it every day
  • Build in flexibility
  • Set it up before or at the beginning of each week

There is a lot to cover here, and it’s going to get a bit more technical, so I’ll dive into more detail in each of these items in upcoming posts.

20 thoughts on “Down in the Weeds – Low Level Planning

  1. yay! I am really really needing this. I have been trying to get my biz going for years but always get sidelined and side tracked. I then find myself back working for someone else and of course that doesn’t work out because all I want to be doing is creating my ideas and my creative life. So, I’ve started again with Bohemian Nomad, and this time I want to stick with it, succeed and go all the way. I find it difficult being a single mom of two, plus I’ve always been a wandering go with the flow gypsy…,but I know now that I do need some structure. I look forward to your posts!

  2. I’ve really been enjoying this series. Are you considering turning this into an ebook or PDF download? I’d love to recommend it to others but it’s hard to link to the whole series, especially with it being ordered in reverse chronological order.

    1. Hi Kelly, It’s funny, my original plan was not too, but your not the first one who has suggested it. I guess I’ll just have to review my objectives, do a quick estimate and see if I have time! I honestly didn’t think there would be any demand…we’ll see.

  3. I totally and completely have a TON of respect for this post and for Eleanor (I know every time you have a new blog post girl and I am right there reading it!!) But I really want to bring mention to something that is rarely (if ever) spoken of, especially on blogs like Scoutie Girl (and other creative business related online spaces). I WOULD DIE if I had to live by a daily outlined calendar. I would suffocate. I would also DIE if I had to subscribe to the Getting Things Done method. I feel like we use the topic of productivity, in so many cases, to make ourselves feel like we are not enough or that we haven’t gotten it right yet in life. I realize this type of blog post is 100% helpful to many people. But there is also another size that is never, ever spoken to. I cannot live my life this way. The only way I get things done is to return to my values consistently and make decisions based off of that, not to look at a schedule. Maybe I should write about this since I haven’t ever seen it done anywhere. MAD RESPECT for those of you who can live this way. I Just want to tell others who can’t that it’s OK! You are ok! There is nothing wrong with you!!

    And I have to say to Meekah who commented above… if you have always been a “wandering go with the flow gypsy” DONT CHANGE THAT!! Make it work for you. Find a way to make your most natural rhythms work for you rather than trying to make someone else’s fit your personality. Build your own terms of productivity. Because It rarely, if ever, feels good to not be yourself, and it is hard to be productive if you don’t feel good!

    1. Hi Ashley, Thanks so much for your nice words and your thoughtful comment.

      Actually, you are one step ahead of me. I’ve had an idea for a post has knocking around in my head for some time, with a working title something like ‘BUT!…We Are Not Robots’. At some point in the series I want to honestly share my own struggles with putting this into practice, because I really don’t want to give the impression that I spring out of bed every morning, with perfectly quaffed hair, glide over to my laptop to efficiently and joyfully complet my work in a blissful state of flow. HARDLY!

      There is a dark side to this indeed. I think there is a planning and productivity continuum with ‘sluggish-inertia-chaos-and-foggy-frustration’ on one end and ‘crazy-robot-on-productivity-overdrive, damaging relationships-heading-for-a-crash-and-also-draining-all-the-joy-out-of work’ on the other end. I find I OFTEN find myself on either one of these poles and on days when I’m not adhering to my calendar perfectly OR totally rebelling by wasting hours surfing the web, I find myself – as Stuart Smalley would say – ‘shouldding all over myself’.

      The goal for me is to find balance, and that point is different for everyone.
      Having a system helps me feel I’m ‘getting a grip’ on things, and in the end DOES bring me significant peace of mind, as well as accomplish great things. What I wrestle with is knowing that it’s OKAY when I don’t always adhere to the structure my past self has set out for me, and remembering that I am not a slave to my calendar. On bad days, I think, why did I quit my job? I’ve just exchanged one prison for a different one!

      There are a lot of deeper philosophical questions here: How do we manage our own ambitions? Do we have a healthy relationship with leisure time and the balance of work and play? When do we need to check in with ourselves to see what we are striving for and if it is worth it.

      I actually think you might be joined by more voices sharing your view. I’ve noticed blog posts here and there (one was Leo Babuta’s recent post on not having goals) that are part of a healthy counter-dialogue to all the emphasis on productivity/planning/goal setting mania.

      Good Stuff!

  4. This is a great idea; I just recently became self-employed and am finding that I’m not all that satisfied with my accomplishments at the end of the day.
    However, I’m also “go with the flow” and have trouble sticking to a schedule. I like the colorful schedule above, but I may have to continue making mine in pencil.

  5. This post was EXACTLY what I needed today. I doubt I’ll ever be that tightly regimented, because one of the the things that I live for in having my own business is having that freedom of flow in my day. However, I definitely need more scheduling than I’m currently working with, so this gives me a good kick in the rear to get it together!

    [how do you always know what I need? Amazing!]

  6. Thank you for this post, really great info you provide. I signed up and was wondering if you had any tips or info that you can direct me to related to some one like me that works full time day job and is trying to ramp up her etsy shop part time:) thanks!

    1. Hi Frances, I started working like this when I had full time job just to manage my day-job work. Then when I decided to leave I had a long-term plan and was able to plan a few things each week and weekend to help me get things done on the side as well as make decisions about things I could or couldn’t commit to (social engagements, offering to volunteer as my book club coordinator, etc.) That helped a lot.

      A really helpful resource was also Pam Slim, who wrote ‘Escape From Cubicle Nation’. She writes with a lot of humanity as well as nuts and bolts practicality about how to quit your day job and run your ‘side hustle’ at the same time. Check her out here:

  7. Dare to be wrong! Too many people worry too much about getting their planning estimates wrong. Guess and adjust to reality. Improving estimation skills as well as learning where you are spending your time are both very useful.

  8. Okay, I’m totally intrigued by the tool you used to put those plans together… What *is* it? [I’d imagine you could construct them all in any dull and boring spreadsheet, but the examples you post really MAKE you want to use them. 😉 –Seriously, what is it?]

  9. Never-mind, Eleanor, I just read the comments in one of the previous posts to see that you use Illustrator for presentation, and a combination of other tools for actual.

    Still, I’d be interested in purchasing a ready-made tool like that–something that is aesthetically pleasing and something that allows you to simply plug in/adjust your own individual values, etc. Hint, hint. 😉

    I forgot to mention above–great series. Thank you.

  10. Wow! I am overwhelmed by the great responses here today. It’s about midnight in Germany, so I will have to wait to respond in more detail until tomorrow, but thanks! It’s wonderful to read, all of it!

  11. Hi Eleanor, Thank you for this attractive weekly calendar idea. Being a visual learner, I love your color coded categories. I sat down with Microsoft Outlook and cranked out a very similar product in a couple of hours. It is easy enough for a non-technical person like myself and only required one computer program. I look forward to more great career tips from you.

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