Lesson 4 – Time Management

Planning Tools

Guidelines for Efficient Planning

  • You can save yourself an hour a day by getting organised.
  • It is important to identify and operate within two time horizons: short and long term. Anticipating events allows you to get things done in the short term which contribute to achieving long-term objectives.
  • An up-to-date master calendar can be your most helpful planning tool. However, detailed project plans should be developed before you make entries on your master calendar.
  • When things begin to get hectic, a “Things To Do Today” list helps focus attention on the highest priority items.
  • Action planning worksheets, milestone charts, and PERT diagrams are excellent planning aids when properly used.
  • Planning contact with colleagues and staff will help minimise disruptions. Keep a file for each person you meet with on a regular basis, with items to be discussed.
  • The most effective approaches to planning are those tailored to meet individual needs. Concepts, procedures, and worksheets should be modified to fit individual circumstances.
  • Experts say nothing should be attempted without prior planning, but there must be flexibility. Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will.

Five Point Planning Check

For every plan you make, cover all these points:

  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • How
  • Who

Five Minutes before the Hour

If you have a desk or other surface that is cluttered, set aside five minutes at the end of each hour to clear off one small part of it. At the end of your five minute session, set a timer for fifty-five minutes so you’ll remember the next five minute period.

What can you get done in only five minutes? Try it – you’ll be surprised. At the end of two weeks you’ll see a vast improvement. This example of instant success will bring a feeling of genuine satisfaction.

Using a Planner

What are your options?

  • A calendar. Like cockroaches, calendars have stood the test of time.
  • A to-do list. Someone once said, “Document what you do. Someone is sure to ask.”
  • A binder, with room for information, information, information.
  • A computer-aided planner, with time management software.
  • The digital alternative: they even talk to you!

When choosing your personal planning tool you should ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you want it to do?
  • How big do you want it to be?
  • How much do you want to spend?

Many types of planners can work, depending on the needs of the individual. Some people want a calendar, a week at a glance, a space for a to-do list, and room for notes. Others want something so small it fits in a breast pocket. As for strategies, there will be several suggestions about how people use their planner, but the most important thing is to use them.

  • How do you remember to call Jim next Wednesday? Note it in your planner.
  • How do you remember to follow up with a client in six months? Note it in your planner.
  • How do you remember to start a project in six weeks time? Note it in your planner.
  • How do you remember not to schedule an out of town meeting for your parent’s 50th wedding anniversary? Note it in your planner.

Once we begin using a planner, we sometimes have a tendency to only make note of meetings we must attend or other activities that must be completed, without allotting the time required. For example, if you are attending a meeting that will take up two hours of your time, block out that two hours. Then you have a more realistic sense of how much time has been used and how much time you have remaining to use. Anything over 30 minutes should have time booked.

The To-Do Book

A to-do book is one of the simplest, most effective time management tools out there. It’s easy to use, easy to carry around and easy to update and customise. To start, decide how you want to record your tasks. We recommend an elementary school style scribbler, but you can also use a computer program or a regular notepad – whatever works for you.

Next, write the date at the top of the page. Then, make a master list of everything you have to do for home or work. (We suggest that you make different lists for each.) Now, take out a highlighter and highlight the top three things that you want to accomplish. During the day, every time you complete an item, cross it off.

At the end of the day, start a new page. Write the next day’s date on it. Then, transfer any uncompleted items to that next page and add all the things you need to do the next day. Highlight the top two items that you want to get done. When you arrive at work the next morning, add any items that have come up, and highlight your third top priority.

Some people find that master list really intimidating. A modified approach is to lay out your week like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday

Then, list tasks for each day in each column. (For the sake of simplicity, let’s say today’s Sunday, and you’re planning out your week.) At the end of Monday, you’ll transfer any uncompleted items to Tuesday’s column and add any new tasks. At the end of the week, you’ll transfer any uncompleted items to next week’s list.

This can also be used for teams. Take a whiteboard and turn it into a chart like the one above. Then write each team member’s tasks in a different color using sticky notes or markers. (Sticky notes are useful because they allow you to easily move tasks around, rather than re-writing them.)

Don’t confuse scheduling with planning. Planning comes first. Scheduling means booking your plans. When we plan, we use that white space in our planners more effectively. Planning is making sure we do it now.