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Productivity & Organizing Myth #5 – the right planner (tool) is all you need

Productivity & Organizing Myth #5 – the right planner (tool) is all you need
Moleskine

    Myth: Having the right portfolio planner, calendar, mole skine and containers (tools) will make someone productive.
    Reality: Having the right tools is the first part to being productive, managing your time well, and being successful. The second part, which is even more vital, is that one knows how to use the tools.

    None of us would expect to be master gardeners just because we purchased a shovel and rototiller. Nor would we think we could play Chopin because we purchased a piano. Ditto for playing like Tiger Woods simply because we bought good golf clubs. Why would we think we’d be magically productive and organized by having the right tools?

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    Fortunately the second step to being productive and organized follows immediately on the heels of the first step. The second step is to create then implement personal standard operating procedures! Just as we know that using those clubs, garden tools, and piano, correctly and practicing will yield a good golfer, gardener, or pianist, you can be assured of turning in projects on time, having accurate budgets, and allocating your day effectively by using standard operating procedures (sops).

    Simply, the solution is to have the tools AND learn how to use them proficiently. Notice I don’t say use them perfectly – that’s a quest that requires too much energy and time. Use tools proficiently and they will impact your life in many positive ways.

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    The concept that makes SOPs most powerful is that you ‘automate’ things that you can so that you have energy and focus for that which you cannot automate – planning, decision making, and communicating. For example, if you know that you always list phone calls to return on the next line in your notebook you will always know where to look for someone’s number. Closely linked to this SOP is ‘enter contacts into your address book weekly’ (or daily if that is better for your own SOP). An additional benefit of using the notebook (tool) consistently – elimination of scraps of paper that you have to toss into your inbox and process later so less clutter!

    A quick list of useful SOP for productivity & organization that are meant to trigger your thinking as you develop your SOPs:

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    • Calendar SOP: list every time commitment in the calendar, print the calendar and post the copy at home (update weekly)
    • Calendar SOP: Color code types of activities
    • Business Meetings – the company color IE blue for SAP
    • Personal activities – Gold (because that’s what your time is worth)
    • Annual events like birthdays & anniversaries – Dark Green
    • Actions – Black
    • Things to do while driving around – Bright Green
    • Travel days – Red
    • Kids Activities – Orange
    • Inbox (paper) SOP: all unattended collect in the inbox. This includes receipts to be recorded, mail to be open, notes from others – everything. All things are held here until processed. Process the inbox once per day. (processing is a subject unto itself – for a future post)
    • Moleskine notebook SOP: I’ll refer you to Kathy Sierra at the Creating Passionate Users Blog because it’s ace!
    • Addressbook SOP: categorize your contacts as you enter them. This allows you to create a Holiday Card mailing list, for example, throughout the year rather than having to review every contact at that busy time of the year. Yeah, you’re streamlined.

    There are many sources from books to classes to coaches that will help you use your tools more proficiently. Explore the help menus, view the tutorials, ask a colleague, for their ideas on using productivity tools. You don’t need to learn to use them on your own!

    Previous Myths:

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    Susan Sabo is an intrepid traveler who has organized her life to be out of the country for months at a time. Antarctica is the only unvisited continent (so far). She’s the author at Productivity Cafe, consults with professionals on improving their personal productivity and presents motivating productivity SOPs & tips(such as how to get home for dinner) to groups.

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    Last Updated on April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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