Interested in Finding Calm in Your Productivity?

Multi-Scale Planning Is Your Path to Calm Productivity

Hi friend!

Interested in finding calm in your productivity?

Today, I’m going to explore the power of Multi-Scale Planning.

It’s a practical planning system that has helped me on my path towards reducing anxiety and achieving calm and slow productivity as I pursue my ambitions in work and life.

💡 Today at a glance

  • The big productivity mistake people make, focusing on tactics before strategy.

  • What is Multi-scale planning and the benefits to knowledge workers, coaches and solopreneurs.

  • Deep dive into the 5-step Multi-Scale Planning blueprint.

Before we dive into, I have a big favour to ask

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If you’re an expert coach, solopreneur or knowledge worker with some level of autonomy over how you do your work, workload management and being productive without burning out is a real challenge.

Multi-scale planning is a strategy to help you manage your workload with more intention. It helps you:

  • Do fewer things at the same time.

  • Find the mental headspace to produce quality work.

  • Prioritise working at a slower more sustainable and natural pace.

Multi-scale planning does need you to take time out of your busy schedule in the short term, so you reap the long term benefits of planning with intention.

It reduces the anxiety you might feel from the overwhelming amount of work you have on your plate.

And moves you closer toward calm.

The Big Productivity Mistake People Make: Focusing on Tactics Before Strategy

A lot of productivity advice out there focuses on tactical productivity frameworks and tips:

  • 80/20 Rule

  • Eat The Frog

  • GTD Method

  • Eisenhower Matrix

  • Pomodoro technique

  • Etc.

These tactics are important and actually very helpful.

But tactics without first thinking about your strategy can lead you to do a lot of work that seems productive, but is it the right kind of work that actually moves you closer towards your goals and the ideal lifestyle you envisioned?

If we don’t stop and ask ourselves: Are we juggling too many projects at the same time?

Then applying these tactics so we can squeeze in more work in less time might be more harmful than helpful to us.

What is Multi-Scale Planning?

Cal Newport coined the term “Multi-Scale Planning”.

He talks about this in his new book Slow Productivity. It’s a strategy for how we can make progress on our personal and professional goals, without burning out from workload overload.

The Multi-Scale Planning strategy forms part of his Slow Productivity principles #1 and #2.

💡 Slow Productivity principles:

1. Do fewer things

2. Work at a natural pace

3. Obsess over quality

Simply put, it’s about strategically planning your tasks and projects across multiple time horizons.

In his book, Newport talks about planning at the daily, weekly, seasonal (e.g. quarter, semester) and 5-year (long term) time scales.

There are a ton of benefits for Multi-Scale Planning

Here are just a few major benefits you’ll reap:

  • Productivity feels more intentional and rewarding as you’ll be aligning you daily actions with your long term goals and vision for your life.

  • Planning ahead reduces the anxiety as you’ll no longer just be reacting to what’s thrown at you during your working hours.

  • Having an intentional plan on how you spend your time will make you feel calmer and more in control of your time and commitments.

Being productive is an essential part of thriving personally and professional.

My experience of burnout during my career has taught me that to thrive without anxiety or burnout, I need to take practical steps towards Calm Productivity.

And to do so, I need to set up simple systems and workflows that I’ll actually follow through with for the long term—This is where a multi-scale planning system is vital.

I do this in Notion, but you can do this on paper or any digital tool of your choice.

Know Your Missions and Limit It to 2 to 3 Missions

Before we dive into the multi-scale planning, it’s important to start with your missions.

Missions is the big word Newport uses for the big goals you’re pursuing at the same time.

According to Newport, the ideal number of missions is one. But he accepts the reality that most of us (him included) don’t have that luxury.

So Newport recommends we only focus on a maximum of 2 or 3 missions at any one time. Any more and the workload that is generated from each mission starts to splinter our attention.

Things will start to feel overwhelming to manage.

The Multi-Scale Planning Blueprint

Once you’ve decided on your 2 to 3 missions, then it’s time to put multi-scale planning into practice.

I’ve been practicing my version of multi-scale planning for the last 10+ years.

I mentioned before, the tool that you do this in isn’t important. Before Notion, I was using Microsoft Excel and then Microsoft OneNote.

This multi-scale planning strategy has been a life saver throughout my leadership career in healthcare and in pursuing my personal goals in life.

Here’s the simple multi-scale planning blueprint I use that combines Newport’s advice and my practical experience of multi-scale planning.

1. Start With Your Long Term Plan—a 1 Year Plan and 5 Year Vision

I started with my 5 year vision of life. This vision integrates my values and the lifestyle I hope to lead with my family.

Once I have this vision, I can then make a more concrete 1 year plan.

For the annual plan, I identify 1 to 3 goals or projects for each bucket of life (e.g. family, finance, career etc.). The fewer goals, the more focused you can be towards accomplishing these goals.

When I was young and naive, I would set 3 to 5 goals for each bucket of life.

That was a big mistake. Unsurprisingly, half the goals were never touched when I sat down and reflected on my year!

2. Next, Pick the Goals to Work on for Each Quarter (Or the Relevant Medium Term Time Frame That Works for You)

Based on the goals I’ve set myself for the year, I chose 2 to 3 to make progress on for each quarter. This follows Newport’s advice on picking no more than 2 or 3 missions to focus on at any one time.

I like to use 3 months (one quarter) as my medium term time frame for making progress.

It’s long enough that I can make progress on a big goal or project. But short enough that the deadline puts a healthy amount of pressure on me to make progress.

3. Making Monthly Plans Is a Bonus Step

I use my monthly time point as a way to review the progress I’ve made on my quarterly goals and adjust my plans accordingly.

Sometimes, I also find it’s helpful to break down a goal into mini-projects (I call them milestones) that can be accomplished in a 1 month time frame.

For example, one of my milestones is building a minimum viable website for my productivity and Notion consulting service in the month of May. This milestone is part of my bigger goal of properly setting up a consulting service in 2024.

4. Weekly Planning Is the Vital Connector Between Daily Action and Your Missions (Goals)

Here’s where we start to get really tactical.

Mapping out your meetings, appointments, deep work sessions ahead of time helps you be more intentional about how you use your time and how much work you actually have on your plate.

Weekly planning is a simple way to align your quarterly goals to daily and weekly actions.

We don’t often make good decisions when we’re stressed or tired. So we need to make our plans and set our intentions while we’re fresh, before the busyness of the week kicks in.

If you’re a coach, solopreneur or knowledge worker, planning your week will be a game changer on how your feel about your productivity and will help significantly reduce the anxiety you might feel around these questions:

  • Am I working on the right things?

  • What should I be working on right now?

  • Am I just being reactive and doing busy work?

I know it’s helped me reduce my anxiety and moved me closer towards Calm Productivity and working on things that matter.

5. Make a Daily Plan (Even Better, Timeblock Plan Your Working Hours)

Your daily plan is where the productivity tactics come into play to help you be more focused.

For example, you might find the Pomodoro method really helps you stay focused during your deep work blocks.

Newport is a big fan of timeblock planning his working hours. He even published an actual physical timeblock planner you can buy!

Instead of a physical time block planner, I just use Notion to assign tasks to my day.

If I want to timeblock plan my working hours, I simply do it in Notion Calendar (it’s a free app that connects your google calendar and your Notion tasks database into the one view).

The goal with daily planning isn’t to execute it perfectly.

Things are bound to crop up during the day that will force you to make changes to your daily or weekly plan. Make those adjustment accordingly and don’t feel bad about it.

The more we plan, the better we eventually get at estimating how long tasks take. We naturally become better at planning our time.

At the end of my working hours or in the evening when I do my journalling practice, I review what I’ve achieved for the day and take a few minutes to plan out the next day in my Rituals Dashboard in Notion

my Rituals Dashboard in Notion

Multi-scale planning is a productivity system that aligns your long term vision and goals with short term daily and weekly actions.

I call my version of multi-scale planning Horizon Planning.

It expands on Newport’s idea of multi-scale planning. It’s about being strategic and tactical across multiple time horizons of both your personal and working life. It’s a core strategy for achieving your goals with a Slow Productivity mindset.

It’s a way of doing fewer things, at a natural pace and to a high quality, without running out of steam.

🛠️ Connecting in Public

My hot take on Notion Templates generated a lot of interesting conversation this week on X (Twitter)

It even attracted a cheeky comment from Benjamin Borowski of Notion Mastery!

That’s it! Thanks for reading.

Hit reply and let me know if you practice multi-scale planning or if you resonate the idea —I’d love to hear from you!

See you next week,

Janice CK

📌 Note Worthy

A weekly roundup of noteworthy resources in the space of Slow Productivity and living an intentional life.

  1. Exploring the Role of Multi-Scale Planning in Wellbeing-Driven Productivity (Article)

    Martine is one of my favourite writers in the productivity space. Check out her multi-scale planning process if you’re interested in how another creator thinks about it

  2. Find Freedom in Simplicity: Embrace Minimalism for a More Fulfilling Life (Article)

    Minimalism isn’t just about being tidy and organised. It’s more about what happens after you’ve decluttered. You become less distracted, more focused and ultimately more intentional with your time.Best of

  3. Both Worlds podcast: Cal Newport on Slow Productivity (Podcast)

    An interesting conversation between parents who are juggling a life with kids and a busy career. We get a sneak peak into Newport thinks about productivity in relation to juggling a career and a busy family life.

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