As I begin this week’s post to finish up my thoughts on time-management it’s important to highlight one of the basic rules of time-management. It’s an often overlooked rule, but it’s incredibly important if you’re considering setting up a system for yourself. The rule is simply this: Pick a system and use it. Then use that system for an extended period of time. The Internet is full of people who have spent more time ‘testing’ systems than actually using them. If it’s your job to review time-management systems or software, then you’re getting paid to test them. If that isn’t your particular line of employment, then the time you spend testing systems is likely impeding the ultimate goal of any system, which is to get stuff done.
I think it’s perfectly acceptable to beta test a few approaches (online, pen & paper, etc…) to discover what is the most effective for your particular personality and work flow. However, after you’ve tested a few, it’s time to land on one and use it. The longer you keep testing the longer you stay in limbo. You’ll inevitably spend more time playing instead of doing. Unless time-management is just a fun hobby for you (which could be the case) it isn’t accomplishing the goal of productivity. I’ve signed up for so many online systems that I’ve lost count. I would use them for a little while, and then I’d discover something else that I thought might make me more effective. I found myself in the loop of ‘playing’ instead of ‘doing’. What I discovered was that the system itself doesn’t make one effective – doing the work does. Your system should help you stay organized and on top of your demands, commitments, goals, and your long-term aspirations.
I believe a great system enables us to organize our busy lives by allowing us to do these four things:
I covered these 4 points in my last post on time-management and you can check that out here. For the remainder of this post I’m going to share what I use. I’ve found that it’s often helpful to read how someone else organizes to glean some take aways and incorporate solid principles. Hence the post…
I discovered the Planner Pad several years ago when I was initially bitten by the time-management bug. At that stage I had become convinced that because I’m a techie guy an online approach was the way to go. What I discovered, after several years, was that a pen and paper approach resulted in greater effectiveness. I still use Workflowy as a place to store meeting notes and lists – but for the day-to-day I rely heavily on my Planner Pad. It always sits open on my desk and if I’m on the phone or if I receive an email with a scheduling appointment I can just reach over and write it down. It’s easy, it’s simple, and the lack of technology keeps me more focused on the essentials.
The other reason that I dig the Planner Pad is because of its ‘funnel down’ approach and the ability to categorize my life into what I call buckets. Even within my job I have several responsibilities. I have worship on Sunday mornings, the website, my technical responsibilities, and another part-time commitment which also involves a website. Outside of work I have my personal life which includes its own set of bills, kids, and the day-to-day stuff. By categorizing all of these commitments I’m able to focus on one area at a time instead of trying to organize one giant drawer. Yet, if I choose to do so, I can also look at the whole drawer at once.
The top section of each 2 page week in the Planner Pad is for the user to name their own categories (buckets) and begin dumping into each one of them. Don’t spend a lot of time mentally editing what you write. It’s more important to get things out of your head and onto paper. After you’ve set up your categories and filled each one with whatever comes to mind move down to the second section of the page which is your daily tasks. The idea is to funnel down your initial brain dump into actual tasks you need to accomplish. I cross off my brain dump line when I’ve moved it to a task. It’s easier for me to keep track of what I’ve ‘actioned’ and what items still need my attention.
The third, or bottom, section of each Planner Pad is the hourly schedule. I don’t just use these for scheduled appointments. I also schedule time to work on certain tasks. For example, I wrote in ‘Blog’ at 6pm. As the Planner Pad people write: “If you schedule something for yourself you’re more likely to do it.”
There are a couple of other neat additions that I often use. At the bottom right hand corner of each page there is a graphic of the current month and the previous and upcoming month. It’s a great way to quickly double-check a date in the middle of a meeting. I also like the fact that at the top of each weekly spread there is the line ‘Major Goal this Week’. It helps me frame the one big thing that I need to accomplish.
The Planner Pad comes with a bunch of other pages. At the start of each month there is one month page to write down your appointments to see everything at once for the month. There are notes pages, goal pages, and a cool gant chart which gives you the entire year in a two page spread. I don’t utilize all of these but they are thoughtful additions.
There are a couple of things that I do miss with using my Planner Pad. The first of these is a daily notes section. DayTimer (and others) incorporate this in their daily planners and I wish there was some way to incorporate this in a Planner Pad. However, the week at a glance view would be lost, and for me the trade-off is worth it. That’s why I still use Workflowy as a repository to keep meeting notes and other list items that I don’t need to see on a weekly basis.
The other thing I miss is the ability to set up recurring tasks. With an electronic system you can design reminders/tasks that will repopulate. I often think it’s redundant to write ‘print music’ each Wednesday. Yet, by writing a certain task each and every week I’m more likely to remember to do it. I suppose ymmv when it comes to this particular point.
I would like to mention that I don’t work for Planner Pads, I won’t receive any compensation for this, and I think there are a lot of fantastic time-management systems available. I wrote this post because I put off ordering a Planner Pad for several years because it wasn’t electronic, had no eye-candy, and I hated the idea of not being able to use my smart phone for everything. But once I started using the Planner Pad and stuck with it I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?”
You can head over to plannerpads.com and read a more detailed description and see the feature set for yourself. If you end up ordering one and it works for you then I’m glad you found this helpful. But the real goal in this entire post is simply to help you do more with the time that’s been given to you.