If someone asked you what you did or who you met with on August 31, 2015, would you be able to answer? I can, and I can tell you what I did, who I met, and what I accomplished every day for the last twenty years or so of my professional career. The company I am currently a part of implemented daily huddles per department over a year ago and I can now tell you my top priority, alert or good news for any given day since implementing the daily huddle because of the time management system that I’ve adapted.
Time management and prioritization of projects and tasks is perhaps one of the most important skills needed by an executive. For over twenty years I’ve tried many different techniques and have invested hundreds of dollars in tools to improve my ability to manage my time effectively and to document and retain critical information during lengthy projects, tasks, or initiatives. I’ve used the Covey methods, as well Day-Timer’s and over the years I have adapted some of their techniques as well as incorporating some of my own which I am happy to share.
I recommend an 8×10-lined ledger with 256 pages, this way you average two ledgers per year. Each day I place the date, day of the week on the upper left part of the paper for the current day and one for the next day. This is an important habit to adopt so that you can better manage action items, or follow up items. On the bottom left side of the paper, approximately five to seven lines from the bottom write “Action Items:” and list 3 to 5 priorities for the day that you would like or need to accomplish by order of priority. Only list up to 5 and leave a few lines for action items or other priorities that will most likely come up during the day. Start with item number one and work your way down, but ensure that you complete your priorities in order and do not start the next one until the previous is completed. You will encounter priorities that cannot be accomplished in one day and may require days, weeks or months to complete. In order to differentiate these from day to day action items or priorities, I label these “Projects” and place them on the upper right side of the page. More on how to manage these priorities is explained in subsequent paragraphs. You will also need to manage “Follow Up” items throughout the day. I do this by writing “Follow-Up” on the lower right side of the page approx. 5 to 7 lines from the bottom of the page. Here I list follow-up items from meetings, calls, or conversations that occur throughout the day.
As I mentioned earlier, we conduct daily huddles as a management team and then per department. These are 10 to 15 minute daily calls that are designed to increase the information flow between team members and departments where we share “Good News”, “Alerts” and “Top 1 Priority” for the day. Prior to the start of the huddle I list good news, alert(s), and top 1 for the day, which should be the same priority that was listed as your number one priority on the bottom left side. During the huddles, I share the information and also write down alerts or news that impact my department and/or that require follow-up. Here I write “Huddle Follow Up” and write this information for use during my huddle with my team or for action.
As many executives, I participate in and conduct several meetings and conference calls during the day and track these as they occur. I do this by noting the title or subject of the meeting starting with the line below the “Follow Up” line. I also include the names of the participants. During the call or meeting, I note only critical info, action items or follow up items. Action items are added to the list of Action Items on the lower left-hand side of the page and Follow Up items are added to the list on the lower right side of the page. I continue this process throughout the day and in between meetings I review the list of action items or follow up items and assign them to my team members or initiate request for more information via e-mail or calls. As I complete the Action Items and Follow Up items, I place check marks next to each one.
Longer term Priorities or Action Items are labeled Projects and are moved out of the priority list and written in the upper right hand of the page under the Projects section. Assuming that you determine that the Priority or Action Item in question will take days to complete, then you need to create a tracking mechanism to ensure that this not falls through the cracks. In this case, what I do is to determine how often I need to track status until the task is completed. Assuming a seven-day project, then go ahead and date each of the next six sheets in your ledger and list these on the upper right of the page under “Projects” and list those projects that are ongoing and require more than one day to complete. In this case, I would create an entry every two days for this project / task that will serve as a reminder of an ongoing project.
At the end of each workday I review the Action Items list and move the uncompleted items to the next page by order of priority. I also review the list of Follow Up items and take action to complete the follow-up task and place check marks as I complete. Any uncompleted items are moved out to the next days in your ledger.
I have been using the system described above for many years and find that it helps to keep me organized and allows me to execute on the company’s and department’s priorities in a more consistent manner. I also found out that using a paper ledger allows me to quickly capture important information during conversations, calls or meetings. Another important benefit of this system is the capability to access information from a previous meeting or call. As with every tool, thoroughness and discipline is key to successful time management.