2009 13 Oct
Keep a diary

Keep a diary

So now you’re ready to sit down for 15 minutes at the beginning or end of each day. And you are going to transfer the variety of notes in your notebook across to your diary. All of them. For this, you need a decent-sized diary. Go and get one if necessary. You need one that has room for notes as well as having each day broken down by times.

The core of getting organized, working productively and looking effective is a well-planned diary. Boy, does that sound boring – the sort of thing a Monty Python-style accountant would have. But actually it’s not so bad. In fact the feeling of control it gives you is rather enjoyable. And your 10 to 20 minutes a day is there to keep your diary (or should I say your bible?) in order.

As well as your 15 minutes each day, you will also need to find a few extra minutes at the start of each month for diary planning. In fact, you need to schedule four stages of planning, all very simple:

• yearly
• monthly
• weekly
• daily.

Yearly Planning

At the start of each year, you’ll need to spend about half an hour (which you will have scheduled into your diary for the purpose) entering all the dates you already have details of for the rest of the year, such as:

• regular meetings
• special events (trade shows or product launches, for example)
• regular events (a monthly departmental lunch, or a weekly team meeting)
• holidays
• personal time (if you want to plan a day off for the kids’ birthdays or leaving early on the evening of an anniversary).

You should also schedule:
• fifteen minutes at the start of each month for a similar diary session
• at least one full day a month – more if possible – for working on major proactive tasks such as developing ideas and planning productive new projects.

Monthly Planning

Repeat this on a smaller scale at the beginning of each month. Schedule time for things you didn’t plan at the start of the year. This is especially important for managers, who need to schedule:
• selection interviews
• appraisals
• presentations (including preparation time)
• time to prepare reports and proposals
• time to delegate key tasks.

If your month is already looking overly full (and you know how many unplanned things tend to crop up so be realistic), now is the time to trim your workload if you need to. Cancel or excuse yourself from meetings you don’t really need to hold or attend, delegate anything you can, and streamline your diary. For example, if you have two trips to the north-west planned this month, move them both to the same day.

Two by Two
Always look for opportunities to do two tasks at once if you can still give each the attention it needs. For example, do your filing (which you never allow to build up, of course) while you are holding for people on the phone. Or begin entering your notes into your diary while you’re waiting for a meeting to get started, to save time later.

Weekly Planning
Once you’re into the swing, this takes only five minutes on a Monday morning (or the previous Friday evening if you prefer). Start filling in some of the blank spaces in your diary by scheduling time for:

• monitoring any staff who work for you
• catching up with phone calls
• dealing with miscellaneous tasks (these are the ones that really mess up your diary system if you haven’t scheduled them – they push in and throw everything else out; Friday afternoons are a good time to block in an hour or two for this).
• taking phone calls – then get the receptionist or an assistant to field calls saying you’ll definitely be available on Wednesday afternoon, for example, or before 10:30 on Friday.

Daily Planning

This is your 10- to 20-minute session that you are going to get into the habit of holding each day. Write down on the relevant page in your diary everything you have gleaned from your intelligence-gathering operations during the day:

• If you noted down that you would phone someone on Monday morning, enter it in the diary for Monday morning (with a brief note to remind you why you’re calling).
• If you were handed a leaflet for an event you need to attend, which you stored in your folder, transfer the date to your diary (along with any contact phone number).
• If someone promised to call you back on Tuesday, make a note for Tuesday to prompt them. If they didn’t give you a specific date by when they would contact you, write the reminder for whichever day you would expect them to have replied by.
• If you made an action point to write a letter, note it down for a time when you are scheduled to write letters, or to do miscellaneous tasks.
• Add into the diary any meetings, appointments or other dates and times you have collected during the day, and any contact names, phone numbers or directions for getting there that you might conceivably need.

By doing this, you will find that when you open your diary each morning, it will already include a list of phone calls to make and things to do, all entered over the last few days and weeks. If you find that you need time scheduled to work through these, simply make sure you give yourself a regular time. For example, you might arrive at 9:00 each morning but ensure you never make an appointment earlier than 9:30, so you have half an hour at the start of each day to keep on top of phone calls and daily action points.

Organized people have all sorts of systems and codes for prioritizing tasks. But the more organized your diary, the less you need to prioritize – it only arises when you don’t have time for everything. But it is worth having some kind of code to indicate, as you make a note in your diary, if it is urgent that you do it the day it is entered for (just in case an emergency crops up and things slip …). Pick whatever suits you – underline it, write it in red ink, run a highlighter pen over it. It’s up to you.