Effective Leaders Stay Organized (part one)

If we are effective, we are probably quite busy.

Many of us have tried different ways to stay organized, including electronic gadgets, pen and paper planners, whiteboards, etc.

I’d like to share two ways that have worked for me. I’m sharing them here, because others who have adopted them have found quite useful.

Both of them go the pen and paper route, so if you’re looking for ways to incorporate Outlook or Evernote or iCal or GoogleSomething, then check out another blog, like the awesome lifehacker.com.

Each of my two methods has a time and place.

The first is for when life is normal, and the second is for when it’s overwhelming.

When things are at their normal level of hectic, I use a technique based on the Franklin Covey system:

I have a to-do list for each day, and each item is labeled with A, B, or C.

“A” means that the item must be done today. No exceptions. I do have a rule for myself, and that is this; there may never ever be more than three A items in a given day.

“B” means that the item must be done this week. These are items that are urgent, but don’t have to be done today. If these items appear on Fridays list, they can easily wait until Monday or Tuesday of the following week.

Those things that are long-term ideas, or things that it would be “nice to do,” are labeled “C.” Some of these items have been at the bottom of my to-do list for months.

You can create the list fresh each morning, or at the end of each day for the next day, or a couple of days at a time and then scribble, cross out, or change things as needed.

Franklin Covey would ask you to take things one step further, and prioritize each item within each priority level, e.g. A1, A2, B1, B2, etc. I don’t do that, because for me, that’s when the system becomes a hindrance rather than a help.

Incidentally, that’s how I feel about any electronic organizing solution I’ve ever tried, be it PalmOS, iCal, or the like. I do like the new iOS5 “Reminders” app on my iPhone, but I only use that when I’m on the go and don’t have the capability to write things down on my paper list.

Here’s how I put that system into action:

When it’s time to work, I look at the list. Then, I take stock of how much time I have; do I have 5 min.? An hour? A whole day?

Then I look at the A-list to see if there’s anything on that list that will fit into my current timeframe. If so, I get to it. If not, I scan the B list.

Sometimes, I get bored, stressed, or hit a block with an a item. In that case, I realize that my quest for efficiency is interfering with my effect of this, so I move to a B or C item that looks more fun.

So long as I pound out each “A” item before the day is over, this method suits me fine.

(Read Part Two)

2 Responses

  1. Aaron McCullough
    | Reply

    Do you use a “master” to-do list, or are the items you’re referring to only the ones you come up with that day?

  2. alanfeirer
    | Reply

    Basically, I use a daily list, but usually put about twice as much on it as I can do in a day — I do that on purpose, to give myself options.

    However, I do have a monthly list of C items so I don’t clog up the daily list — when I have a light day, I transfer some of them.

    If I have a number of things, I might spend a few minutes at the end of one day parceling them out over the next two or three days, rather than doing a straight transfer to the very next day.

    When things get crazy, I switch to the “master list and post-it note” strategy that I’ll share next week.

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