A recurring theme in time management is that it is better to keep track of things using a system rather than your memory.
Some examples are systems for capturing project and task information, commitments, ideas and thoughts, and various documents, memos, and other paperwork.
This best practice deals with all the other things that you may need to remember such as appointments, meetings, time sensitive paperwork, deadlines, etc.
Like all the other best practices, the key is to establish and consistently use a reminder system instead of having to rely on your memory alone.
A calendar is a very useful tool to remind you about time specific events such as appointments, meetings, and deadlines.
It is also very good for scheduling or blocking out certain times for working on specific projects/tasks or other activities.
Having said that, the calendar is not the appropriate place to manage your projects and tasks. Many people that don’t use a master project and task list use their calendar to record and manage what they need to do.
For example, Sam needs to write a memo and call a colleague to find out information about a proposal; since he is only using his calendar, he makes an entry “Write Memo” on Monday from 10:00am to 11:00am, and “Call Fred from Marketing” on Tuesday at 2:00pm.
The problem with using your calendar to manage your projects and tasks is that when you don’t finish the task in the time you’ve allotted, or when something else comes up during that time, you need to remember to move the unfinished task to some other future date or allocate more time for it.
If you forget to do this, you will not have any reminder that the project is not yet complete. In Sam’s case, his 9:00am meeting ran 20 minutes late and when he finally got to his office he got a call from an important customer that took another 20 minutes.
He then started working on his memo, but quickly ran out of time. At 11:00am he rushed to his next meeting and forgot to make a new appointment to complete writing his memo.
That is why I recommend using the master project list to keep track of everything that you need to get done, and use your calendar only to schedule time blocks for projects.
If you don’t finish your project on the day you scheduled it, your master project list will reflect that there is still work required and you can easily schedule more time for the project at a future date.
The system works as a failsafe to prevent projects from falling through the cracks. The Weekly and Daily Planning best practices will help you setup and make the best use of your calendaring system and show you how to integrate it with the master project list.
I recommend using an electronic calendar like Achieve Planner whenever possible because it provides the greatest flexibility for adjusting and updating your schedule as the day and week progresses.
Paper based calendars also work, but they are more difficult to update when things change.
Checklists are another useful tool to help you remember important details without having to rethink them each and every time you perform some task.
Airline pilots make extensive use of checklists to make sure they’ve covered all the important details during takeoff and landing, which are the two most complex and stressful tasks associated with flying.
A well designed checklist promotes consistent quality irrespective of who is doing the work and can be used to detect and correct common errors and problems quickly and effectively.
Cheat sheets are used to help you remember information you use regularly without having to rely on your memory alone.
If you find yourself looking up the same information over and over again, a cheat sheet is a useful tool for collecting this information in a format that is more accessible and easier to search.
In a previous job, I moved to a new project that was using a command line configuration management system to keep track of files. Some of the commands where straightforward and I used them frequently enough to remember without having to look them up.
Others were more specialized and I used them much less often. I kept having to look them up in the manual every time I had to use them.
After a while, I created a cheat sheet to summarize these commands. The cheat sheet was in my desk filing system and took less than five seconds to find whenever I needed it.
It was organized so that the commands where easy to find and contained the most common information. They also had a reference to the manual in case I wanted more details.
You could use cheat sheets to keep track of common phone numbers, important dates, or any information that you use regularly.
Reminder cards are simple notes that you leave yourself to help you remember something important.
They are very similar to the Scratch Pad best practice, but also take advantage of your physical environment to get your attention.
I don’t know about you, but back in the old days I hated paying late fees for video rentals.
Almost all of my late fees were simply because I forgot to return a movie the day it was due. Often I would remember about the videos when I was already at work, and too late to do anything about them.
The simple system of leaving the videos by the door to the garage after I finished watching them was enough to remind me to drop them off the next morning. There was no need to write something in the scratch pad, or put something in my calendar.
Reminder cards also work well when you need to remember to do something or take something before you leave.
Just stick a reminder card on your door and get in the habit of looking at them before you leave.
Here are some keys to success when using this practice.
Use it consistently - Make it part of your routine.
Limit the number of systems - Limit the number of places you have to look for reminders. Avoid littering your desk and monitor full of sticky notes when you can use your calendar or scratch pad instead. The more places you have to put reminders, the more places you have to look.
Take advantage of your environment and daily routines - An exception to the previous key is when you can use your environment to get your attention without having to think about your system. If you leave the videos in front of the door, or put a reminder card on your keyboard, you won’t have to think about the reminder, you’ll literally run right into it.
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