Choose the right tool

There are a variety of methods and tools to keep track of our lives, both through to do lists, journaling products and future planning. Whether that is tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or even ten years from now.  The following came was a response to a posting by Amber Mac on The title of that posting was Work Smart: 5 Easy To-Dos That Keep Your To-Do List Healthy. I was linked to it from which is a blog I have been reading since early 2008, and that is where I made my posting, which I liked so much I kept a copy.

Amber was talking both about a specific product to help manage your to do list as well as in general.  Tuex Duex is the name of that product. I have not used it so I won’t be talking about it specifically or any other electronic product whether that was designed as a web, desktop platform or a smart phone platform. Be aware they are available.

There are also a variety of paper solutions available.  I have tried three. Day Timer and Franklin, and in between I tried something else which I don’t remember what it was. It was not something that worked for me. At the time I used it and in the format I used it the Day Timer system worked for my needs at that time. I still use the Franklin system as it continues to work for me.

If you have determined that you need to use something but don’t know where to turn because of all the choices, this is to give you some ideas of what some people have had success with and my opinions on the following topics:

  1. Choosing the right tool. – This might be the most important. If the tool doesn’t suit the user it won’t get used. And isn’t that the point? My choice of tool is the FranklinCovey planner system. I have been using it since 1986. Yes, I still use paper and pen in this electronic age. (my favorite pen is a fountain pen) Mine is what they call the “Classic” size – pages are 5.5” x 8.5”.  One of the great things about the Franklin system is that it can be used as a journal and note taking system as well. I have all of mine clear back to when I first started using it for this express purpose.   Someone else might find that a software solution works for them best.  Some people might find something as simple as a Moleskine notebook and pen work for them.
  2. Be in the now. – I disagree with some of what Amber says under this heading. (for detail go to her post) Except this is how I would put it: Worry about what you can control. The only period of time that you have any control over is TODAY. Plan your day each and every day. Some people like to do it in the evening the day before, I like to do it first thing in the morning after arriving at the office; others do it at home (am or pm). Do what works for you.  I do agree with making it an actionable item.  I will speak more to the why later.
  3. Learn to delegate. – This is great; I do this as much as I reasonably can. Remember though, delegation is more than just dumping what you don’t want to do off on someone else. Why? Team members/co-workers figure out what you are doing real fast and then nothing happens. Since it was your responsibility to begin with guess who it falls back on? Not the co-worker. lists two different forms of delegate. Both noun and verb. Neither directly refers to what we commonly call delegation. But a synonym does (given context I assume it is for the verb form. That is entrust, assign, and transfer. The word delegation means “the act of delegating”. Well that tells us a lot doesn’t it?
  4. Prioritize & Reward. – Prioritization is Critical. I use a system that Franklin advocates/teaches. ABC – no need to go beyond C. Anything beyond C is a waste of time. Then go back through them again and number them A1, A2 etc, same with the B’s and then the C’s. Mini rewards (candy bar, soda, whatever) I have mixed feelings about. Of course A1 for me is always something I call “Planning & Solitude”. If I am going get a check mark for it, I am more likely to do it. When you finish the item, check it off. Feels great doesn’t it? That in itself is reward enough most of the time. Many days I will put an item in (almost always as an A) “Run” or “gym” – it helps motivate me to do it.  Make sure you don’t have too many A’s though. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself.  Rewards can include tangible things as well. Just don’t overload your day with them. You don’t want to have a ton of C’s either though and then do them all at the expense of the A’s and B’s. Typically they will be very easy to do, but not necessarily the most important items you have to do on a given day.
  5. Plan ahead (see #2) – This includes moving forward stuff that didn’t get finished today. The Franklin system uses a set of symbols. A dot for in process, an arrow for stuff that I am moving forward, an  X to delete the task, a circle with the letter of the first name of the person who is doing it for me (and as long as they are working on it gets a dot as well, and a checkmark when finished.

Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time. Time is the stuff life is made of.

Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time. Time is the stuff life is made of.”   –   Benjamin Franklin

According to Peter F. Drucker, in his book The Effective Executive he goes as far as to use the language of economists when talking about time.  “The supply of time is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand, the supply will not go up. There is no price for it and no marginal utility curve for it. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday’s time is gone forever and will never come back. Time is therefore, always in exceedingly short supply.” How short a supply? There is none shorter – it is totally irreplaceable.

That being said, we all know people who are very good at making the most of their time and get a lot done, and we all know people who are constantly pressured by time and seem to get very little of importance done. What is the difference? Is there a secret to it? Yes, there is a difference, however subtle.  The difference is in how well we understand and use the precious resource that we call time. So precious in fact it has been called irreplaceable. The thing we call time management is a skill that each one of us has to learn and apply in order to take advantage of that resource.

Again, according to Drucker, time is in short supply – 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week and once those hours are gone they are gone forever.  One definition of time is this: time is merely the order of events, not an entity itself.   To take this a step further we have to know what an event is. One definition is simply a happening or occurrence of something. It can be virtually anything. Simple or complex.

Knowing this information, the thing we call time management could be simply called “Event Control”. Drucker also teaches us that the task of the time manager is to control time where he can. Control is the key to personal productively or time management.

What does this all mean?

At the most basic level, we must all realize that we must be proactive in order to achieve control over our lives as it relates to the events that make up our lives. Our other option?  Be reactive ­­- to let others act upon us and determine what we will accomplish, to be controlled, instead of in control.

In other words, we need to learn how to do something that Drucker called “Pruning the Time Wasters”. This consists of four simple diagnostic questions that deal primarily with unproductive and time-consuming activities over which every executive (to use Drucker’s term but refers to any knowledge worker for the purpose of this conversation) should ask. Managers, however, need to be equally concerned with time-loss that results from poor management and bad organization. Poor management wastes everyone’s time- but above all it wastes the time of the manager.

  1. Identify time wasters which follow from lack of system or foresight. Symptom: Crisis
  2. Time-wastes often result from overstaffing.
  3.  Another common time-waster is malorganization. Its symptom is an excess of meetings.
  4. The last major time-waster is malfunction in information.

Answer these questions and you will make great inroads to becoming the person who we talked about – the one that is good at making the most of his/her time.

In my next post, I will talk more in detail about these four questions.