“Just-in-time” might be a great strategy for inventory control, but not for keeping on top of your job. You should actually keep ahead of the game as much as possible. You could get a head start by building an inventory of completed tasks that you will need in the future. You might do this by listing all your repetitive weekly or monthly activities and working on them whenever you have a few spare minutes.
For example I used to publish five tweets every Monday, post a blog article weekly, and write a newsletter monthly. If I tried to write five tweets on a specific topic on the day it is due, invariably they wouldn’t get out until later in the week and were usually not that good. In addition I was rushed, under stress, and stealing time from other projects.
So I started writing tweets whenever I got the opportunity to do so, and usually maintained enough for four or five weeks. This was a real lifesaver when I had to travel unexpectedly or get involved in an important project or simply didn’t feel in a creative mood at the time those tasks were due.
I still do the same with other repetitive projects, such as a column I still write for a local newspaper, management training information that I occasionally present at the Chamber of Commerce meetings, and lining up speakers for the future monthly seniors’ luncheons at our local church.
It’s a great feeling when you are ahead of the game instead of having to play catch-up. If you’re a student, you can keep a chapter or two ahead of each class. If you’re a teacher you can keep a lesson or two ahead of each teaching session. If you’re a pastor you can keep a sermon or two ahead of each service and so on.
If you take minutes at meetings you can even prepare minutes in advance based on the agenda, leaving blanks for additional information. When I owned an association management consulting firm, we used to attend dozens of meetings a month for our clients, take the minutes and report on that month’s activities. It was difficult to listen to what’s being said, answer questions, and take minutes –all at the same time – and still not miss anything. And this was before all the time of computers and wonderful technology. So we used to write the minutes in advance!
Not completely, of course, because we weren’t clairvoyant. But we had attended enough of their meetings to know the routine. We knew the agenda because we had prepared it in consultation with the president, and we knew the various board members, and their typical behaviors at meetings. We knew who was attending and who would be absent since we had followed up with everyone before the meeting. So it was easy to prepare an outline of the minutes, complete with those present and those absent, the items that would be argued. (“After considerable discussion, it was MOVED by John Doe, Seconded by Jane Smith, that a new Selectric typewriter be purchased for the office.”) We would even guess who would make the motion. It made it fun, and everyone knows that most meetings can be anything but fun.
Yes, we did have recorders in those days; but I would not allow them to be used for recording meetings because it took at least the length of the meeting afterwards trying to decipher what should be included in the minutes and what was simply useless banter.
How do you get the time to work on these tasks that are due sometime in the future? Well it’s surprising how much idle time we actually have – whether waiting for a bus, sitting in a dentist’s waiting room or suffering through lengthy TV commercials. Using the minutes will save hours – and a lot of frustration – once you make it a habit. Keep relevant information for these repetitive obligations in file folders in a computer bag or other carrying case or on your laptop and take them with you when you travel or go for a walk or find yourself waiting for over an hour or so at a doctor’s office.
I have developed a morning routine of going for a long walk before breakfast. I stop at a coffee shop on the way home, and while having a coffee, work for about 45 minutes writing those articles, newsletter ideas and other material that I will need in the future. If you include a laptop, as I do, you will have access to all your files and documents as well. And there’s no environment more conducive to creativity and productivity than a coffee shop.
Also, if you always allow more time for your scheduled tasks than you think you will need (as I have recommended in the past) you will frequently have time available between those tasks, appointments and meetings that you can use as well.