Many years ago, I was training a group of physicians in productivity. Most of them used a calendar to keep track of their appointments and events. However, one person in the class informed me that he never used a calendar. I was quite astonished since he didn’t use to-do lists either. When I inquired as to whether he ever missed an appointment, I was informed by his professor that he did not…he apparently had a photographic memory and was a genius. Good for him!
Most of us do not possess such wonderful attributes so we do need something to keep us on track for appointments and tasks. That does not mean we should have lots of calendars, lists, post-it notes, pop-up reminders etc. That will only confuse things event more.
You need three things to be effective and efficient; a calendar, both printed and electronic, a task or to-do list and a notebook or computer to take notes. The benefits of these tools are intertwined and each should be updated at least twice a day.
Notebook or computer to take notes
Everyone needs a notebook or computer to take notes that may eventually turn into tasks that will appear on your to-do list or calendar. If you use a notebook for meetings, please divide it into sections (alphabetically for each meeting) so you can access the information readily. Even better, provide yourself with a separate notebook for each meeting you attend and/or each staff member that you manage. This can also be done electronically so it is easier to separate the information.
Once you finish that particular meeting, enter anything you need to do in your calendar or task list. If it is a large project, break it up into smaller tasks.
If at all possible, use a single calendar for work and personal appointments. If necessary, mark personal appointments as “Private” so that co-workers can see only the time block but not the content. At the beginning of each week, plan all your events and meetings in the calendar and print out a hard copy. Having a hard copy in front of you will keep you on track, prevents you from sneaking off to look at email when you access your electronic copy and allows you to quickly enter new and changing events. It also serves as a backup and reminder as well as Intellectual Property (just ask Mike Duffy).
Here are some tips for an efficient calendar:
- Plan time to plan!
- Use it for appointments, meetings and events first
- You can also use it for tasks or use the all-day feature to add tasks that you can complete when there is extra time
- Start your calendar by planning backwards. Enter the time you will leave first.
- Believe that you deserve to have time to yourself and plan your personal time before anything else, on your calendar. If you have some place to go you will not be tempted to stay. Put on your calendar at the appropriate time” Mary, go home!”
- Plan extra time for each event for prep, travel and making notes on your return
- Leave time between each appointment as a buffer and to breathe. Nothing is worse than to see back-to-back appointments on a calendar. It makes you stressed before you even start the day.
- Plan priority tasks nearer the beginning of the week according to your energy level. As the week progresses, our energy wanes and there is more opportunity for interruptions. At the end of the week everyone is usually scrambling and their priorities infringe on yours.
- Make time for administrative, communication and repetitive tasks.
- Plan the last half-hour of the day to wind down and clean up files and your environment.
Task or To-do List
The last item but certainly not the least in our trio of efficient items is the Task or To-do list. Many people like the electronic to-do list and it can be created simultaneously with your calendar which is a plus. Others like the written list in a book or on a piece of paper. I don’t care if you put the to-do list on a napkin or a piece of toilet paper, as long as you have one you will be better off. If you have ever been a surgical patient in hospital, you may have not realized that checklists pre and post-op have may have literally saved your life. Checklists provide a map for larger projects and you can change things around as you proceed and streamline some of the processes by analyzing your checklist. They are important in case you are not around to do your job; others can just move in and take over.
Here are some tips for your to-do lists:
- Create a master to-do list and then take 5-7 items from it each day and plan on your calendar or task list.
- Prioritize your list by deadline then break it down into smaller tasks. Prioritize these smaller tasks.
- One of the reasons that we do not complete some tasks on our to-do list is that we subconsciously put them off and they remain on the list forever. If you have not competed a task and have brought it forward after three tries, analyze the reason. Do you need to delegate it? Break it down even further? Actually NOT do it?
- Update the list regularly
- Check off each task as you complete it and reward yourself!
These ideas for your notebook, calendar and tasks will provide the foundation you need to become and remain productive.
Do you have any other ideas that work for you? Please share them with us.