Feature Article: “What Is The Best Time Management System?”
Everyone has a different time management system, a way of tracking appointments and to-dos. Some use paper systems; some use electronic; and some use a combination of the two (what I call “hybrid” methods). I’m frequently asked what time management system is best. The simple answer is there is no “correct” time management system. You must always ask yourself how your system is working for you. I can say, however, that whatever time management system you end up using, you need to make sure it meets the HUG criteria:
H—Handy: I call people who don’t keep their time management systems handy “scrappers.” They are easily identifiable by all the little scraps of paper everywhere: envelopes, sticky notes, even matchbook covers. That’s because they don’t carry their system with them to meetings or to lunch. Not having anything to write on, they grab the nearest available piece of paper (or write on a hand). Whether it’s a PDA, planner, or notebook, you must carry your system with you at all times. You also need to have it available at home in case you think of something to add. Scheduling meetings or checking due dates can happen in the oddest of places. If you keep your Outlook calendar on your desktop in your office, you won’t be able to instantly schedule another follow-up meeting if you don’t figure out a way to keep your system handy.
U—Usable: A usable system combines both your personal and professional lives. If you’ve ever tried to keep separate work and home calendars, you know you’ll inevitably have conflicts. You might be at home talking to a friend on the phone, and she asks for a lunch date on Thursday. Not having your work calendar with you, you’re not sure, but you think you might have an appointment. You schedule the lunch anyway. Then sure enough, you’ve got a conflict. Or at work, your team wants to schedule a brief meeting Saturday morning, but your home calendar is, well, at home. So you schedule the meeting, only to be reminded when you get home that your seven-year old is in a soccer tournament that weekend. Keep your entire life in one place and carry it back and forth. Write your contact information and “Reward if found” and a dollar amount in the front, in case you should leave it somewhere.
G—Garbage-free: You should be able to take your planner, binder, or notebook, and shake it, without all sorts of papers falling out. Your system is not a briefcase. Data-sensitive items should be kept in a Tickler File (see Chapter 3 on Order). Also, don’t include unnecessary sections in your system. Get it down to the information you actually use. Just because your planner came with a tab for Finances doesn’t mean you must force yourself to use that form (I keep mine in QuickBooks PRO). If you have your personal mission statement on the computer in a Word document, you don’t have to handwrite it to put behind the Goals tab. In other words, personalize and tailor your system to your needs.
There are three basic methods to accomplish the HUG system:
1. Sync your Outlook information to a handheld/PDA device (Blackberry, Treo, Pocket PC, Q, etc.) and carry it around with you. It’s small enough to fit in a purse, so it’s naturally handy, and it can’t hold any paper, so it’s by nature garbage-free. However, the amount of data it holds can be overwhelming if you don’t understand how to use the software’s features.
2. Double-enter your Outlook calendar data into a central paper planner (like Franklin Covey). This method is for people who are required to use Outlook at work for scheduling but don’t like using or don’t have a handheld device. Add your personal commitments and family appointments to your planner pages as well, so you have a comprehensive view of your obligations. Get a small enough planner so you can carry it around easily and don’t store paper in your planner. The key is not carrying two different calendars for work and home.
3. Enter your personal commitments into your Outlook (or Groupwise or LotusNotes or whatever) calendar at work (check the “Private” box so others can’t see the subject). Then print the pages, carry them around with you in a binder, and make manual handwritten updates. Once a week, update your software and reprint the pages.
Again, there is no “right” or “wrong.” I’m constantly asking people, “How’s that working for you?” If they say, “Great,” then I tell them to keep doing it. Many, many people, however, express frustration at a scheduling system that isn’t working well. Don’t feel guilty. You don’t have to do whatever “everyone else” is doing. Don’t feel pressured to move to paperless if it’s not your personality or isn’t suited to your work and life situation.
It’s taken me years to create the perfect system that’s just right for me. I use a “hybrid” method of a Treo 700p SmartPhone and a Franklin Covey compact paper planner. I enjoy having the ability to check my email from the road. I can stay on top of important matters from a taxi or airport gate. I like having my 5,000+ contacts in my phone, so I can call anyone, anytime. These functions simply aren’t possible with paper-only methods. However, I don’t use all the available features, like synchronizing my Outlook calendar. I am a visual person and can’t stand tapping the screen to check my calendar. I like having an entire month laid out in paper and being able to see everything at once rather than little boxes I have to tap one at a time. That made me crazy, so I write Outlook appointments in my paper planner. I also don’t like using the Task (to-do) features of Outlook, because I really enjoy the art and act of writing. I like to grab a list and add to it without having to type in my handheld. I find most people with handhelds still carry around paper and make lists and notes and have scraps everywhere anyway, so I have abandoned trying to keep that portion of my system paperless.
Again, the system you use is totally up to you. Keep experimenting. Check out what other people are doing. Look at their devices and calendars. Try a handheld device if you’ve been curious. Who knows? You might love it and never look back. But don’t hesitate to go back to a system that worked better, no matter how “old fashioned” it may be. Never feel guilty. Anything that works is not wrong.
Make it a productive day! ™
(C) Copyright 2006 Laura Stack. All rights reserved.
This article may be reprinted provided the following credit line is present: “© 2006 Laura Stack. Laura is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc. and the bestselling author of Leave the Office Earlier and Find More Time. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or www.TheProductivityPro.com.”