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Are paper planners making a comeback?

Don’t toss out your paper planner just yet. It appears that using both a smartphone and a paper planner is gaining in popularity.

Michael Grothaus, a novelist, freelance journalist, wrote an article for the April 4, 2017 issue of Fast Company titled “What happened when I ditched my smartphone for a paper planner.” Of course he didn’t really ditch his smartphone, but he used a paper planner for recording his tasks and mapping out his intentions and reminders.

He discovered that a trend was beginning to develop (among younger people no less) to revert to paper planners – probably reinforced by research that backs up what we paper planner advocates experienced over the years – that writing things down improves memory and recall of the items. It also creates order in your mind and you can recall the sequence of things you must do, and the relative importance and urgency of the items. Flipping back and forth through the pages keeps you on track and the cursive note-taking is tonic for the brain.

The writer of the above article quotes Anjali Khosla, editor of Fast Company Digital, as  saying, “I switched back to my paper-based notebook system after a year of going all-digital. “I prefer my paper system for a number of reasons. It gives me a break from staring at screens. It also causes me to stay in the moment and plan my days with intent. I feel satisfaction when I physically check an item off my list.”

Michael Grothaus did find it difficult to remember to bring his paper planner with him when he left for the office since he had built the habit of simply slipping his iPhone into his pocket. He also said he missed the audible reminder of an appointment 30 minutes in advance; bur soon noticed that by physically writing down the appointment he seldom needed a reminder.

I have written many articles indicating various advantages of a paper planner, such as the journaling aspect, the ability to review what you have accomplished in the past and the importance of being able to budget your time without overwhelming yourself with a list of “To Do”s. But every time I did so, some people interpreted it as an attack on smartphones.

Invariably I would receive comments listing all the things that smartphones can do that paper planners can’t do – such as handling email and sending text messages and taking photographs. As one person said, “My smartphone will allow me to record audio messages, and set alarms. Let’s see a paper planner do that!” To which I might reply, “I have a microwave that will boil water in 8 seconds; let’s see a smartphone do that!”

In other words, I’m not suggesting everyone should toss away their smartphone when they start using a paper planner any more than I suggest people throw away their kitchen sink when they purchase a dishwasher. They each have their uses.

I can no longer be accused of promoting paper planners simply because I sell one of my own. The Taylor Planner has gone the way of the Dodo bird. But I still maintain that for the activity of planning and scheduling, you can’t beat the paper planner.

And I will continue to use one – even though the ones currently available may not serve me as well as the one I had tailored to my own needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“To do” list or “Wish” list? Planning is the key.

“To do” lists can be frustrating if not the stressful. They keep in mind those things you know you should be doing but don’t have time for. It would be less stressful to call them “Wish” lists. At least that way you wouldn’t feel guilty or suffer anxiety when they are postponed and you are not getting done those things you know should be done. Frustrated expectations cause anxiety and stress.

The “To do” list or “Wish” list should be accompanies by a plan to get specific things done each day. Plans are frequently disrupted; but good plans are disrupted less frequently. Good plans involve prioritizing. Select only those items that are both important and urgent and schedule time in your planner to get them done. It’s important to allow more time than you think they will take. Even then, these items should consume less than a day. If you have more items that are both important and urgent than you can do in a day, you are either exaggerating their importance or their urgency.

“Important” means they have such innate value that you would suffer a significant loss of some kind or another if they were never done. “Urgent” means you cannot delay them more than a day before that loss occurs.

If they are important only, you could allow as little as 15 minutes or half hour a day until they are done. If they are both important and urgent, and you cannot get them done in a day, you can minimize your losses by ignoring those of least importance. By ignoring, I mean deciding never to do them, removing them from your “Wish” list, and getting on with the things that you are actually able to do.

Most of the important items will still offer some benefit if done at any time – usually less benefit the longer they are delayed. That’s why the habit of scheduling a little time each day until they are completed is usually an effective practice.

The important thing is to work from a planner, not just a list. I still maintain that a paper planner is the most effective tool to use for this purpose. (Even though I was forced out of the paper planner part of my business this year by those who maintain they can do everything just as effectively using a smart phone.)

If you can do it all with a smart phone, more power to you. I offer the following suggestions to my fellow hard-core paper planner users as well as the more gifted smart phone planner users.

Don’t underestimate the time it will take for a task. Allow up to 50% more time than you think you will need. For example, if you think it will take an hour, block off an hour and a half. If you think it will take two hours, block off three hours; but break it into two timeslots of 90 minutes each. Working longer than 90 minutes without a break depletes energy and makes you more vulnerable to interruptions.

Don’t record items in your planner and then forget about them. Refer to your planner and its scheduled activities and “Wish” list throughout the day. Make it a habit to refer to your planner after every completed task or activity. You wouldn’t drive through a strange country without constantly checking the map – so don’t drive through life without constantly checking your plan.

Schedule items several days to a week in advance. Planning one day at a time is impossible since others will be asking for tomorrow’s time while you are working on today. With the rate at which priorities change, I would plan in detail only three or four days ahead. The farther into the future you plan, the fewer things you should enter into the planning section of your planning calendar. And only the really critical things are to be entered beyond a week ahead – in addition to those essential repetitive obligations, that is. The balance of any items remain on your “Wish” list, waiting to be scheduled, worked on during any spare time or abandoned.

I find I find that scheduling at least three days ahead prevents me from making unnecessary commitments for those days when asked to do so. It’s easier to say “no” when you already have something scheduled at the requested time.

It’s important to say no more often and reduce interruptions to a minimum as well; but that will be covered in a future blog article.

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Helicopter planning – getting a better view of the future

In this digital age of speed, change is taking place so rapidly, we have to spend more time planning and less time working from a traditional “To do” list in order to survive.

Planning could be seen as bringing the future into the present where you are able to change its outcome. Use the analogy of driving to work through traffic. You don’t know what the holdup is ahead; you only know that you have come to a standstill. And your focus is on inching forward one car length at a time. But if I were to take you up in a helicopter so you could see for miles ahead, you would know that there is a major accident six blocks down the road, and that you could easily avoid it by making a right turn just ahead and traveling along a parallel street. Seeing the future that awaits you allows you to make adjustments in the present.

Similarly, in business and in life in general, you must see beyond your daily “To Do” list and weekly schedules and get a glimpse of the future and how you can best adjust and prepare now for what lies ahead. I refer to this as “helicopter planning” – rising above the busyness of each day and spending a portion of your time visualizing and planning for the future.

I use the analogy of a helicopter because it can rise straight up, getting some space between you and the current situation, and it can hover so you have a good view of what’s happening right now, while looking ahead to see what the situation will be further down the road if you continue doing what you are doing.

Helicopter planning requires that you get some space between you and the clutter and busyness of everyday operations. It could be in the form of a weekend retreat with a few business advisors or in a local hotel for or a day or two in an unstructured meeting either alone or with your advisory board, partners or whoever. It is important that you distance yourself from your business so you can get a more objective view of it – as well as free yourself from the daily activities and interruptions

Today, you need the information, knowledge and wisdom of others more than ever. If you are a one-person business, the least you should do is block off a half day each week or two – dedicated to business planning. This is the time when you’re no longer working in the business, but on the business. Since Tuesday is considered to be the most productive day of the week, you might want to leave that time to work on the plan that you develop. You might consider a Friday morning, for your helicopter planning. Or you could make it a Saturday morning if necessary. You might recruit two or three retired businesspeople to serve as an advisory board. There are probably more than enough people who would gladly volunteer their services. All successful business owners need to get out of their daily grind and find time for helicopter planning.

If you are not in business, you can still use the same concept for your personal life. In this case you would involve your family as well.

In these planning sessions you might focus on areas of the business that are critical to making it to next month, the next quarter and beyond. You will have to decide which three or four priorities take precedence over everything else. These might include such things as managing cash flow, focusing on customers and quality service, and accelerating revenue growth. For personal planning, it might involve your career, financial status, self-development, family vacation, and so on.

Be sure to relate the 80-20 rule to your business. Do 80% of the new customers come from 20% of the things you do to get them? Is 80% of the new business obtained from 20% of your salesforce?  Is 80% of the revenue derived from 20% of your product line or services? Do 80% of the activities consume 80% of the time? And so on. Then plan what actions you will take to maximize your return on invested money, time and talent.

Change is occurring so rapidly, long-range planning is shrinking in length. We used to think of long-range planning as being 10 or more years, medium-range being five or more years and short-range being one year or more. Now you could consider five years long-range, and six months or less, short-range. That’s about the time it takes Apple to come out with a new iPhone.

Planning is an ongoing activity essential to the survival and success of your business.

 

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Increasing your commitment to get things done.

Taylor Day Planner

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Research has discovered that deciding in advance when you will do something increases your commitment to do it. Adding something to a weekly list of things to do – even though they are only intentions – is better than simply being aware that something has to be done. But even more effective is to choose the specific time during the week that you plan to do something, and then block off that time in your planner as an “appointment with yourself.” Then you have a true commitment to get it done.

The problem is that you probably have more things to do during the week than you have the time in which to do them, plus you also can expect a series of unplanned interruptions and crises to disrupt your commitment even more.

The solution to these problems is not to throw up your hands and refuse to schedule anything for fear of having to postpone it, but rather to limit the number of tasks and activities that you schedule in your planner in any particular week. Most people underestimate the actual time it takes to complete a task. So allowing up to 50% more time than you think the task will take is not unreasonable.

Of course that will leave even less time to get everything done. So don’t plan to get everything done. Choose only the most important items – giving priority to those that are urgent as well as important.

Don’t block off all the available time in your work week. Block off anywhere from 20% to 80% of the available time, depending on the nature of your job. This not only allows for real crises and emergencies that are even more important than those you have already scheduled; it also allows time in the same week to reschedule any original priorities that may have had to be displaced in the process.

Assuming that only about half the available time in a workweek has been blocked off for appointments with yourself to get the really important things done, you may also be forced to schedule some of the jobs up to two weeks or more into the future. This makes it easier to make decisions when asked to commit time to work on additional tasks or to attend unplanned events or whatever. We tend to think we will have more time in the future than we have now. This simply is not true. The easiest way to say no is to have a reason to say no – by seeing future commitments already scheduled in your planner.

What about all the tasks that are not considered top priorities, but still have to be done? Add those to your To Do list; but make sure the list is a part of your planner, not a separate sheet of paper or electronic device. Your planner should list your goals, personal policies, To Do list and your actual schedule for the next week or more. These items are worked on during those snippets of time still remaining after having completed the scheduled tasks, and after any emergencies, and additional urgent priorities that cropped up during the week had been handled. If there is no such time left over, you must adjust the amount of time being allowed for the individual tasks or lower the percentage of your total week being allocated to current tasks.

Here is a summary of the essentials of effective planning using a planning calendar.

  1. Remember that items on a To Do list represent your intentions; but time actually blocked off in your planner to work on these items represent your commitment to get them done.
  2. Trying to focus on any project or task for too long a period of time depletes your energy, decreases efficiency, makes you more prone to error, and increases the likelihood of interruptions. Work on longer projects in blocks of time of 90 minutes or less with breaks in between.
  3. Always allow more time than you think the task will take to allow for any interruptions. You can use any time left over to work on your To Do list items.
  4. Don’t schedule your whole week. How many items you schedule depends on the nature of your job and your experience to date. If in doubt, test this strategy by scheduling only one or two items initially. If successful, gradually increase the number.
  5. Schedule time for only your top priorities, with the more urgent ones scheduled earlier in the week. Everything else can be added to your To Do list and crossed off when they’re done. But don’t spend time on To Do items if there are scheduled priority items still to be done.
  6. Only reschedule your priorities if items of even greater importance and urgency crop up in the meantime. Never postpone items simply because they can be delayed. Be prepared to say no. Have as much respect for your time as you have for other people’s time.
  7. Schedule both business-related and family and personal items in the same planner to avoid any conflicts. At the end of the year your planner will look like a journal your activities and accomplishments.

If you feel comfortable using a paper planner, take a look at the Taylor Planner described at taylorintime.com. It has the features needed to maintain control of your time by making commits to get things done.

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The return of the notepad

Priority Pad

A simple notepad on steroids might be all you need

Research shows that things left undone cause stress. And an expanding to do list, which never seems to empty, is a constant reminder of all the things left undone – important or otherwise. This is true whether it is a hardcopy or electronic list.

If we had only today’s work to contend with – and had closure at the end of each day – we wouldn’t experience the anxiety that so many people are experiencing. This is especially true in today’s environment where we seem to have an endless series of things to do.

To add to our woes, prioritizing is more difficult, since priorities often change on a daily basis. It’s virtually impossible to list things in order of priority and have them stay that way.

One executive recently reported online that he had solved this problem by switching back to something he had used as a child – a pen and notepad. He felt it gave him more control than the various apps he had tried. And he can jot down the things he has to do on a daily basis.

Most people seem to experience the same problem. I solved it in my life by developing the Taylor Planner some 30 years ago; but some people feel their jobs are too volatile to actually schedule blocks of time in their planners, electronic or otherwise, and stick to a fixed schedule.

My son, Jason, is one of those people. Besides managing a restaurant and operating a website design business, he also runs the day to day operations of our Taylor in Time partnership. He extended the notebook idea to form a Daily Priority Pad (available in two sizes) which allows him to start each day with a clean slate. It’s a cross between a plain note pad and an actual planning calendar – with space for the day’s priorities, things that must be done that day, appointments, and follow-ups arising from phone calls and email messages and room for notes. It even has a Back Burner section where he can park items that come up during the day that can wait until the next day or later.

I tried using it myself, and it works well. But I had two or three pages going at the same time since I’m in the habit of spreading my total workload throughout the week. So I reverted back to the paper planner. But I can see that this simple planning pad can be more than enough when you also use a handheld device or tablet to organize most of your week.

One thing is certain. Regardless of how much you’re into technology, you can’t get away from using paper – even it involves jotting notes on scraps of paper or sticky notes until you get a chance to record the information into your smartphone or laptop. So you might as well do it in an organized manner, all in one place.

You can take a look at this new Daily Priority Pad at our website, taylorintime.com. You can even watch a brief video that Jason uses to explain how it works – and print off sample pages at our website as well. No sense in fretting about the things you have to do in the future. Take one day at a time.