Want to Be More Productive? Build Your Editorial Calendar

This article first appeared at Owner Magazine.

I used to work in journalism, and I still remember learning about the concept of an “editorial calendar” during my first internship, at Boston magazine.

Months in advance, we’d set the agenda: September was always the “Best of Boston” issue, with reams of award winners; other months were designated for the “best towns to live in” or the “best school districts” or the “power issue,” which identified the real players in the city. Assignments were doled out months in advance, so you could plan and prepare.

In an era of 24/7 news and instantaneous blogs, however, the notion of long-term planning has somewhat gone by the wayside. All of us — journalists and professionals of all stripes — seem to spend most of our time running from project to project, prioritizing the “urgent” over the “important” (to use Stephen Covey’s phrasing), and often losing all sense of the real narrative: what actually matters here?

To-do lists have limitations; too often, they’re undifferentiated strings of tasks, without any sense of what should be done first or what would have the greatest impact. That’s why, in planning out my time, I try to combine the concept of a daily to-do list with a broader “editorial calendar.”

For instance, at the end of September, I taught a week-long class for Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. It was the first time I’d run the class, so I had to develop the syllabus and prepare my lecture notes in the weeks beforehand and then, when I got to campus, teach intensively (three hours a day for six days in a row, plus meetings with students and administrators).

I knew that for at least a month, getting that major task right was the top priority on my “editorial calendar.” So in addition to smaller daily tasks on my to-do list (finish a piece for Owner magazine, prepare a memo for a client), the only long-term project I focused on from late August to late September was my course. Once it was over, I turned my long-range attention to another project (finalizing my next book proposal), which I worked on against the backdrop of other daily tasks (find an electrician, prepare for my talk at a conference).

We only have limited bandwidth, so we have to choose wisely. For me, my business and productivity have benefited from following the lead of the magazine industry and understanding that in addition to our daily responsibilities, we can’t lose sight of the big picture: we all need an editorial calendar.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.