In the last article, I discussed how you can get the important things done in a timely manner by scheduling those tasks and activities directly into your planner and using the “To do” list section of your planner for the less important activities. In this article, I will provide additional suggestions for this planning process.
Schedule only those important, goal-oriented activities and tasks and record everything else on a weekly to do list. I don’t use a daily “To do” list, because if it must be done on a specific day, you might as well schedule it for that day. And it has been shown that people who keep a daily “To do” list work longer hours than those who keep a weekly “To do” list.
Your “To do” list should be included in your planner. Separate lists tend to get misplaced and the adage “out of sight out of mind” frequently holds true. I don’t believe in separating the various items into “to write, to read, to do”, etc. as many planners do. You are going to do all the items anyway, so the specific activity doesn’t matter. If you want to batch similar items and activities, it takes only seconds to visually scan the list.
Items on a weekly “To do” list that are still there at the end of the week should be transferred to the following week only if you earnestly feel they are necessary to do. But if they’re still there at the end of the second week, delete them. If they were that important to do, you would’ve scheduled them in your planner along with the other priorities.
There is something motivational and satisfying in putting an “X” through those completed scheduled priorities and crossing off the “To do” list items when they are completed or deleted.
Use the same planner for your personal commitments as well. Never use a separate planner for your home, family and social life or there will be conflicts. You can’t be in two places at the same time. Using one planner for your total life force you to make choices whenever you make commitments to do something or to be somewhere. The activities scheduled in planner will reveal where your heart is.
A planner that takes in the evening hours as well is preferable – or one that at least has enough space to write in the activity after normal work hours. That’s where an electronic planner makes it easier; but you can make it work with a hard copy planner as well, which I have chosen to do.
Be sure to allow more time than you think you will need on order to complete any task or activity that you schedule. Most people underestimate how long tasks take. Scheduling about 20% more time than you think you will need allows for those interruptions that invariably occur. As mentioned in my last article, I schedule up to 50% more time than I think I’ll need; but that might be excessive for most people. The problem with allowing too much time is that Parkinson’s Law kicks in – the activity expands to fill the time available.
Consider using coloured pens if you want to differentiate work time, personal time, exercise time and so on. Flipping through your planner will then tell you if you are spending enough time on an important activity such as exercise or family time. But don’t go overboard or you’ll be spending significant amounts of time simply colouring. Use it only for the specific activities that you feel are critical. For example, during my public speaking career, I used a highlighter pen to outline time committed for paid speeches, along with the fee being charged. At any time, I could see how my week was shaping up, income to date, and whether I was booking too many evenings.
Don’t schedule too tightly. If the blank spaces don’t get filled with upcoming priorities, you can always use it to work on your “To do” items list, take an extra break or get a head start on the following week’s activities.
Before you leave the office every afternoon or early evening, check your planner to review what you have planned for the next day and make any necessary adjustments. You could leave it until your early morning coffee; but that might not leave enough time for major schedule changes.