I rarely drop the ball. Yes, that’s a bold statement. I’ve spent a significant amount of time trying to manage my own “to do” list and work priority efficiently. This has helped build my reputation as someone who gets the job done and is dependable. So, here’s what I’ve learned over the last seven years of working in the “real world”.
Not dropping the ball requires dedication to a system of personal organization. Also, it requires experimentation and self reflection. I’ve tried several methods from simple notebooks to high tech web pages to Microsoft Outlook tasks (with significant customization) to sticky notes to email prioritization to Franklin Covey’s system (partially), and a few other random systems. Discovering what works for you is very challenging. My ideas may or may not help you. But, here they are for you to think about.
So far, I’ve found the best combination is a balance of low tech and high tech solutions. The low tech solution is a page numbered notebook with a structure around each written item. Each meeting or discussion topic is separated with a squiggled ~~~~ horizontal line, a title or subject is captured, and the current date. The action items that I commit to use a simple label on the left margin of the page.
Square boxes in the left margin are actions or tasks I’ve said I will do. They have not been prioritized and are currently incomplete. Square boxes with a checkmark in them are completed. Square boxes with an “X” through them (crossed out) signify that the task is no longer required or relevant. Square boxes with an “-->” arrow in them signify that the task was moved to a later entry. This may be due to significant changes in the task or new requirements.
The high tech solution is a web based collaboration task list. Anything that ends up being a long term task that won’t be completed the same day, gets captured into a web based task management system with a due date. The date is estimated if not known. I “circle” the check box in my notebook to identify it as being captured in the web system. Inside the web system I then prioritize it (similar to Franklin Covey) with high, medium, or low priority. I attach a date or estimated date if known. If other team members are involved, I assign the task to both myself and them so it pops up on their own task list. By reviewing my notebook each day or at least once per week, it forces me to capture the tasks into the web system and to keep the list fresh and clean. Additionally, it helps me think about each task, update details or status, adjust priority if necessary, and generally helps me move closer to completion.
Our high tech solution is an open source (free) web collaboration system built on Drupal and Open Atrium frameworks with some feature customizations. But, this doesn’t really matter. The point is to get the tasks out of your notebook and into a prioritized and easy to find reference system. It’s icing on the cake if you can leverage an online collaboration system. The notebook system tends to break down after a task is pushed into previous pages that you don’t visibly see them without some heavy page sifting. One week of heavy notebook usage buries the previous weeks tasks to the point of being completely inaccessible and thus, forgotten or missed.
The circle is complete only after periodic review and capture of the notebook, cleanup of your online system, and archival of tasks for review later as needed (performance appraisals..hint hint). I’ve found the secret to getting things done with a low stress level is to write it down, move it to the correct reviewing location, prioritize it, and think about it periodically.
The next step is to turn the tables and make sure my whole team or others in the company get things done that they say they will get done. But, that topic is for a future blog posting.
I hope this quick organizational tutorial will help you improve your own system, whatever it may be. I look forward to your comments, ideas, suggestions, or any other thoughts on how you organize your to do list and get things done!