Once upon a time, time management systems came in a box.
I remember one of my first from Franklin Quest (predecessor to Franklin Covey). It had a dayplanner with calendar, todo list, notes, and address book. It had an archive binder to store your old pages. And last but not least, it even had a 4 tape audio course from Hyrum Smith.
Time management systems have advanced by leaps and bounds since then. Technology has forever changed the landscape of available tools. However, they don’t seem as nicely packaged anymore.
What is in Your System?
Try asking someone, “What do you use for time management?”
These days, the answer is usually not that simple. You will probably get a response that is a conglomeration of Outlook, multiple todo lists on smartphones and online, email and text messages, Google Calendar and Wave, etc. etc. etc.
Most people do not know what is “in” and what is “out” of their system. This leads them to use whatever is handy to try to keep organized.
Post-Its. Pads of paper. An appointment card from the doctor’s receptionist. The infamous napkin in the restaurant. These all have good intentions, but inevitably the pads end up in a drawer, the appointment card lost in a purse or wallet, the Post-Its on the floor, and the napkin forever buried in a stack of papers never to be seen again.
Clearly defining your system will prevent you from reaching for tools that you should not. This is a simple, yet crucial exercise.
Exercise: Define Your System
To define your system, you must draw a boundary around your time management tools. You must be specific about what is “inside” and what is “outside” your system.
Before you start, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Minimize the # of Tools – You want to keep the number of tools in your system to a minimum. Adhere to “Power of 1.” You want one of each tool needed: notes, address book, calendar, contacts, and todo list.
- Keep it Simple – Minimize the complexity of your system. You do not want a bloated system. Not only will it weigh you down, literally in some cases, but duplication of tools will result in added complexity and synchronization issues.
- Pick Tools For You – Many people overlook this one. Make sure the time management tools you select are ones that you can use. I see people choosing technology solutions who are not tech savvy. Pick tools with which you are skilled, and better yet, that you will enjoy using.
- Beware Too Many Inboxes – Limit the access points coming into your system. If you have two dozen inboxes to check you will never keep up with them. An individual I recently spoke with had over a dozen inboxes ranging from email to Google Wave to their Facebook account.
- What Is Missing? – This seems elementary, but beware of holes in your system. You would be surprised how many systems are missing at least one critical tool. What are you missing? Do you have the capability to capture notes? Contacts? Where are you likely to lose info?
So how do you go about defining your system?
The exercise here is to literally list what is in your time management setup. Which tools are you using? Outlook? Smartphone? Dayplanner? Google Calendar?
The best way to do this is to create two lists: In and Out.
Here are my some sample lists:
My “In” List:
- iPhone for Contacts and Calendar – My iPhone has hundreds of contacts and keeps all of my calendars in one place.
- Goodtodo for Tasks – Currently, I am using Goodtodo for all task tracking. Simple but very effective.
- Moleskine Notebook – When it comes to paper notes, nothing compares to a Moleskine notebook. (affiliate link)
- Evernote – I use Evernote to capture all things that are better captured digitally than in my paper notebook.
My “Out” List:
- Post-Its – They are so attractive, but so dangerous for todos and notes.
- Random Pads of Paper – I take all my notes in my one Moleskine.
- Secondary Calendars – I do not keep separate calendars at home or work.
- Email Inboxes – I do not use email inboxes for todos or keeping files.
Defining Keeps You on Top
Once you “Define Your System,” the key is to avoid going outside the boundaries. If you can resist the temptation to let your information spill over into other tools and locations, you will find that you are much more effective.
Remember, it is your system. Your “In” and “Out” lists can change when you choose, but make it a conscious choice. My lists change often as I am testing or reviewing new tools, but I am always aware of which are in and out of my system.
What is on your “In” and “Out” lists? Please share your lists below.