Take Back Control of Your Day
It was one of the busiest times of the year, pre-pandemic but still a mess. Customer demands were high as this is usually the case in a business where your work can directly effect your valued customer's, customer. Like in most B2B's there will be a c-suite level, or regional account representative that has most of the communication responsibility with that business.
However, in some of businesses, the technician that works directly with the customer can fill that role of communication to the client.
We had a unique opportunity to make another great impression since our work will have a direct effect on the end user, our customers, customer. This required personal organization skills. Some of these would included: Strategic planning, Small project management, ordering and tracking, and best of all good time management.
So there I was needing to bring this altogether, like a jigsaw puzzle, but as a solution instead of a picture.
Many companies expect you to know personal time management, even without their involvement of providing direct training. It has only begun to gain traction at top and mid-tier businesses in recent years, as the value of time management is now recognized as a great return on investment within each level of the corporate structure.
Every employee will not invest the energy it takes to be a student of productivity, and if the need is somewhat small, due to many actions of employees are on a managed cycle or structure, I guess this is fine.
But what if every employee knew how to strategize, how to be the most efficient while keeping in line with the company's mission.
I studied, I listened to countless hours of podcasts, read books about time management, tried some processes.
I was ready for my journey; Or was I?
I now had one question first. Given the well-studied and known fact that capturing every detail was going to be crucial to having a workable solution, the following question had to be answered.
"Do I carry a pen and a planner everywhere I go, or go digital." I mean, we do always have our phones with us, right?
When having this discussion with a colleague, I said, "paper had to win." I mean, I enjoy the handwriting on a nice planner, and I know there's just something magical happening in the background when we put pen to paper.
Studies have been done to prove there is greater retention using this analog process. However, I couldn't let science get in the way, when there is too much at stake to miss a detail, or a simple next step in planning and organizing tasks. I just felt a loss without this age old, time tested method of capturing and actively or even aggressively planning.
There were many times I told myself I would remember a specific detail, or remember a meeting time, a persons name, so I could handwrite them in my planner later. But that was next to impossible to always have it with me. It just wasn't scalable.
Digital it is then.
In February 2018, I went to an online solution. I became a digital online fan, actively and thoughtfully planning - having my system with me on the phone or laptop, all of the capabilities; finding a certain planner for the week, within a particular year, with just a click - leaving paper style planners in the past. Keyword searches can become priceless and unavailable in a paper medium.
Now all of those priorities and next steps A1, A2, A3, B1... could change on a dime without cross-outs and white out. When new or higher priorities and changes needed to happen, it was no longer a mess that looked like a battlefield plan gone wrong.
Except for those times when I put my phone away during a deep work time block, my phone is always there, ready to capture and work for me.
Now, a new opportunity came into play. There are dozens of productivity apps, as you well know, and like you, I have tried many of them. Some apps will focus on one aspect or the other and claim their the best; that might be true for a certain feature or two. However, trying to be everything to all people will leave the water a bit muddy and confusing.
I ended up crafting my own with Tables and Tasks through Evernote. Is Evernote perfect? It is not perfect, but with all of the capabilities baked into it, and building your own planner-dashboard (that has the look and feel of a paper planner layout) you can go deep on the planning journey that your customers expect; and with any link you put into your daily planner, you can be a digital nomad too.
If you decide to change your fonts and colors for a personal look, go ahead. I change things up regularly as a new process is developed within my workflow, or a system I use just needs to be tweaked a little.
Your planner can be any color you choose. Add additional rows as needed
It wasn't until I realized that too many project details that I was responsible for and cared about were falling through the cracks and not being accomplished when I needed them to be. I was forgetting important event details and I was frustrated at the mess that my schedule and to-do list had become.
I hid behind the excuses that a lot of people do, like I'm super busy and there is only one of me, or there is only so much time in the day. Sometimes projects were so big and I just didn't know where to start and that made the tasks overwhelming and appeared that I didn't care. I was just focused on the wrong things within my work plan and my work schedule.
Something had to change.
I first had to accept, that it fell on my shoulders to time-block for projects and tasks. I would see my work associates and friends appear to be accomplishing a lot, but when I started to really watch what was going on, I could see they were struggling with their planning as well.
After discussing creative ways for solving problems within my team, the realization surfaced that we couldn't solve our problems with the same framework that led us into those challenging situations. No matter what team I got feedback from, I could tell there was a survival mode mentality instead of a growth type of mindset.
It was then, that I decided to separate myself from the way everyone was typically operating throughout their day, to figure this thing out.
When time-blocking, organize by colors
I had to learn "how to plan" all over again! It was worth it.
The Magic in using uninterrupted "Time Blocks".
Yes, its true that there is only so much time in the day, and yes there is only one of me. But the part about "I'm super busy", well now, it's not chaotic like before. Now its a focus thing.
I had no idea how much time I was wasting by switching tasks throughout the day, and focusing on the incorrect tasks for the given moment or priority by treating all tasks as equals.
What a mistake it was to spend a couple hours completing trivial type, busy tasks when those same two hours could be spent on high value tasks. That's not to say the smaller more trivial to-do's did not need to be done, they just didn't need to take the prime and high energy time slots in my day.
I had listened to many podcasts about productivity and leadership, and the ways described to be the most productive at what I do. Ultimately there was a common thread about protecting the "creative time", and the "relationship building time", with "Time Blocks". I found this to be true in my new planning style with this planner.
By working on what achieves the right result, its okay to leave some of the smaller tasks to another time, because our tasks are not all equal. This is why we schedule and "Time Block" the most important tasks during our peak energy hours of the day. I am a morning person, and like many, I am "in the zone" earlier in the day, and not allowing emails, text's or other noise of the day to cloud my thinking.
The battle of ink vs. pixels
What's the best time to plan?
Anytime and Always.
There are several schools of thought on this, and obviously with our diverse schedules, there is no set time for any particular individual that is a perfect time.
Let's ask a different time related question instead.
When is the best time to review?
Planning involves a few moving parts, such as jotting down tasks and to-do's, prioritizing according to importance and value, and blocking out chunks of scheduled time to work on our One Thing.
The act of jotting down tasks and to-do's, should be an easy process to put into your planner and you should get them documented right when you become aware of them.
If you had a meeting in 3 days from now, you wouldn't wait until that day to put it into your planner, you would put it there as soon as you knew about it and could get your fingers typing. You would also need to ask yourself: What preparations do I need for this meeting? Do I need to open a small project to get documents or materials ready for this meeting?
So planning takes place anytime and always.
The Review of our plans should be at a minimum, the evening before, the morning of each day, and most importantly throughout the day.
The review that takes place the evening before is a great time to arrange in order of your priorities, the importance of that task, and the value that it brings to you, and your team.
Remember that the biggest gain in proper planning our tasks and to-do's, is to spend the time that will have the most impact on our One Thing that's "time blocked" out. These Time Blocks are a beautiful thing.
When we bring our phone notifications down to a minimum, it lets us focus on the task at hand, and without that feeling that we are working on the wrong thing, and going through our day without deliberate purpose. You can even set time blocks for having a cup of coffee and being creative.
Outside of the Time Blocks should remain scheduled but flexible.
My wife, being the careful planner she is, will find a way to gently remind me when I do forget something, however, there are a lot less of those then there used to be. I can attest that it is because I forgot to plan or jot down that note.
Throughout your planning journey, go easy on yourself. It wasn't until I re-made this planner many times, that I added the REFLECT, RE-EVALUATE, & RESTART because I needed a reminder that things do change throughout the day.
In the beginning I found there was a great amount of frustration because things didn't go as planned. The real peace came in when I accepted this and Restarted throughout the day, after Re-evaluating the priorities, after, Reflecting on what had just happened.
Tip: As your planning journey continues if you mark #INX for an Internal Expectation, or #EXX for an External Expectation next to a given task, then in Evernote you can simply search the #INX to see what tasks are primarily Internal Expectations or #EXX for External Expectations during your review at the end of the week. Having a custom record of where your time went for the most part is a valuable resource for future planning.
Three Things to Keep in Mind
First, your plan works better when it is unique to you and compliments your strengths according to the time of day. You must get to a point where you know generally, what your time is being spent on, as to be accountable for that time, to yourself and maybe even your management team. You also need to be flexible until you learn what works for you with time blocking.
Second, the medium you use is also custom to you. I'll tell you that I really enjoy paper style planners but they don't serve my needs in a connected world.
Third, you have to review on a daily, then weekly time frame. There is no better way to keep yourself on track then to evaluate your goals for the day and week, compared back to where your time was spent.
Your planner becomes the dashboard as well productive to-do lists for the day
Daily Planner Dashboard
This planner is crafted within Evernote® using simple tables. It serves my needs really well. I start with a weekly template-form each week that lets me start planning and scheduling right away.
When you are at your work station, sitting on your couch, or on your phone, you have your ProFlex Planner right at your fingertips, as Evernote® syncs across all platforms.
Your new ProFlex Planner acts as both your daily / weekly dashboard with links to several notes in different notebooks, as well as being your daily organizer. The customization is up to you. Once you have Evernote® set up, click through to access the different templates, and begin your awesome planning journey.
Within the Monday-Friday notebook, you have a separate note for each day. Now you can link these to your weekly planner
Focusing on your "One Thing"
To be successful every day, we have particular tasks that we must attend to each day. Some of these are not exciting to complete, but many are necessary to chip away at the "Big Rocks" in our lives. The practice holds true, that if you filled your jar with all the little pebbles first, there would be no room for the "big rocks". As Gary Keller said in his book The One Thing "Sometimes we fail so slowly, we think we're succeeding". If every day was filled with small tasks, it could appear that you are getting a lot done, when the truth is, those small tasks and to-do's that we look forward to checking off, can eat up the time that could have been accomplishing greater projects.
The Project Planner
Use this as a starting template for your Projects . Add or remove sections as needed
The Project Planner will take you to your current projects. I set up a notebook for Projects, and each project has its own note. (Of course there are links in each and every project note that take me to emails and other items) I also use a note that acts as a Table of Contents with links to each individual project, and on that I add an additional column (as a quick glance "color coded RAG style") titled "Is this project going my way."
Does it appear to be a multi-step problem?
Am I having a hard time getting started?
Is there more then two "next actions" or steps?
Does it involve multiple people or additional stakeholders?
If the answer is yes to any of these, it should be moved from just a to-do list, or task list, and turned into a project.
After setting up your planner with all the customization you like; Get ready increase your productivity and enhance your workflow with Note Links. Your note links can be any color and will transform your planner into an awesome dashboard. Internal Evernote links can easily take you to your annual calendar, your project listing, your goals for the year, and even the daily tasks and rituals notes. Along with that, the links you set up can be to external sites you visit often such as: Weather Underground, Stock prices, NASA's image of the day, or your own Blog.
Some of what's included with free templates
Planning Questions = Thoughtful Planning
Ask yourself some questions as you set out to plan your day and week. These are from a variety of thought leaders including Michael Hyatt, Gary Keller and more
What problem am I going to solve this week, that I'm responsible for?
What Do I want to Do this Week?
What is my Ideal Situation and what would That look like? What would have to happen for That to be true?
What's my Next Action? When would be a good time to do that? Do I have reminders set at the right time for that Next Action?
Is there something I'm believing right now that might not be true?
What's the "One Thing" I CAN do, such that by doing it will make everything else easier or unnecessary? From the "One Thing" by Gary Keller
Anti-Goals. What do I NOT want to happen? What could go Wrong?
If I say Yes to you, I say No to something else. Is Someone Demanding my Time?
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Taking Control of Your Day (This page)