When I first introduced the ideas from Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management all tasks that came in today were added to tomorrow’s list which meant I had a plan of action. However when I realised this wasn’t going to work and started developing my own system I realised I missed the daily plan of action which wasn’t provided with a complete task list which just provided a list of all the things I could be working on. I needed something to lead me through the day in a clear, productive and defined way, so I developed a today planner.
At the top of the page are the tasks I should complete every morning to ensure I am set up for the day.
The current initiative is an idea of Mark Forster’s, so I will let him describe it:
The idea behind the current initiative is that you start work every day by concentrating on one selected initiative. By focussing on one thing in this way you can move much faster than you could if you incorporated the actions relating to it into the task list.
My definition of the current initiative is ‘what you do first every day’. It is what you do every day before you start on your email, voicemail, paper, tasks and daily tasks. This is a priority spot that is designed to be given only to those things that are important for the future.
There are three parts to reviewing my calendar:
- marking meetings on to the time bar on the left
- adding any day specific tasks to the day’s task list
- adding any repeating tasks for the day to the task list and my inbox
Reviewing my ticker file usually results in discovering agendas or notes for meetings, but occassionaly task related information for that day
Reviewing my waiting for list, phone, email and post could result in more items being added to my inbox.
Before I start work I ensure my desk is clear, removing anything I have brought into the office with me, throwing away any old envelopes from the post, tidying all the papers for the day into useful piles etc.
Using the time bar, I mark on the time I am expecting to start working on tasks and the time I intend to leave the office. Then subtracting the hours blocked out for meetings and lunchtime I calculate the time available for me to work on tasks.
For each task I’ve already added to my today chart from my calendar or tickler file I add my estimate for each task’s duration to a spreadsheet to calculate the total duration allocated. I then look through my ASAP task list and add further tasks to the today’s task chart until all my available time is fully allocated, I add a marker on my ASAP task list to show I have added the task to the day planner. I then draw a line under the list making it into a closed list, another idea of Mark Forster.
A closed list is any list that has a line drawn at the bottom so nothing can be added to it. This is in contrast with an open list, which can be constantly added to. It is much easier to work with a closed list rather than an open list.
There are several reasons for this. The most important is that closing a list enables all the items on it to be dealt with without the distraction of new work being added. The list acts as a buffer between you and distractions.
Of course the calculation is not precise, because for instance I could be called into a short notice meeting, a task could take longer than I estimated or sometimes shorter. However it provides me a framework for the day which I then adapt as the day progresses. I also gain an idea of when I have completed the day’s work.
Halving is another concept of Mark Forster,
It consists of taking everything you have to do and dividing it into half over and over again until you have only one thing left – then you do it.
I am using it here to find the items on my chart which I am resisting the most; I keep halving the list until I find the one task that I want to do least. The plan is then to start with that task and work through all the tasks with ticks so my day gets easier as it progresses. I admit I don’t always follow this guideline because sometimes I want a success to get me started or I have only a few minutes before a meeting and I can get something of shorter duration off the list. However I have found that I can no longer lie to myself that I’m not resisting a task and there are very few days when I haven’t at least made a start on the worst task on my list.
Same day urgent
In Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, Mark is very keen you don’t distract yourself with incoming tasks because it is disrupting your day by acting reactively. However he recognises that there will always be tasks which you have to complete the same day. My planner provides me room to write these tasks down, which has two advantages:
- I don’t have to complete the task immediately minimising the disruption to my flow
- I can review the tasks at a later date and decide if they were really same day urgent
Before leaving the office I have a similar routine to the morning which should ensure that as many loose ends are tied up as possible to reduce the getting started time in the morning. AlthoughI have to admit I haven’t been very good at doing this list recently and I need to ensure I use the checklist because it does help.
I developed this sheet when I was spending the majority of my time in office and so all of my tasks were were office based. Now I am out of the office more, contexts play a significant contribution to what tasks to do. However I still find this form invaluable when I am in the office.
EDIT (04/10/07): This template is now available to download