5 Ways to Remember What You Need to Do

Do you recall the trick our Grandparents used when they needed to remember something? They would tie a string around their finger. Then, when they noticed it, they would remember the thing they needed to do. Unfortunately, for this strategy to work today we would need a very large reel of string and a hundred fingers!

We have so much to remember every day, and so many things clammering for our attention. It is not surprising that some of these just slip through the cracks, or become urgent before we get to them. I believe that this is leading to increased reactivity and stress for many workers. It also means that we are less likely to have time to proactively work on the meaningful work that really makes a difference.

When it comes to capturing our activities, we often just leave the work in a pile (your Inbox is a good example) or capture it on our ‘To Do list’. When you only have a few things to do, these strategies work. Just like the string on our Grandpa’s finger. But when you have multiple competing priorities on top of a busy meeting workload and a steady flow of incoming emails, you need more robust strategies that help you to focus.

Electronic tools like MS Outlook, Lotus Notes and Google Calendar allow us to capture actions in a number of ways. These powerful scheduling tools have built-in functions designed to schedule both time-specific activities and more discretionary activities. We need to choose the right tool for the job depending on the activity, it’s deadline, and it’s importance.

Here are five ways that you can capture work using these tools so that you get the right work done at the right time:

Consideration List: Sometimes you will think of things that you should do at some stage, or you would do if you ever had time, but they are not a priority for now, this week or even this month. They are worth capturing on a ‘Consideration List’. This list should be reviewed on a weekly basis to decide if anything is worth scheduling time for this week.

Scheduled Tasks: Lots of work that comes your way needs to be done in the short to medium term, but has a loose deadline. It is worth scheduling these actions into a date-based task list. Many electronic calendar systems allow you to schedule tasks for specific days. These tasks can be scheduled roughly over your week. This helps you spread your workload and ensure that your priorities are visible and don’t slip through the cracks.

Date-Specific Tasks: Some actions need to be done on a specific day. Commitments you have made, work that is time-sensitive, critical priorities for that day. These can also be scheduled in a date-based task system, but should be highlighted in some way so that they stand out from the non-critical tasks for the day. Be highly selective with these, as less is more in this case.

Blocked-Out Task Time: Electronic tasks are generally the best way of managing task workload, as these activities are usually discretionary and need a certain amount of flexibility as your priorities change. But sometimes, a task should be locked into your calendar as blocked out time. This works best for those bigger, more complex concentration tasks. Blocking it out in your calendar will protect your time and reduce procrastination.

Meeting & Appointments: Probably the most time-specific activity you will schedule is a meeting. Meetings are very specific when it comes to when they need to be done as other people are involved. We need to choose an exact time and schedule it to ensure we all turn up at the same time. These of course, should be scheduled in your calendar.

As you see, there is a continuum of action tools, ranging from very loose to very tight. They work together, allowing you to capture and schedule a range of activities that will help you to work in a focused but flexible way.

Or, you can just buy some string and tie it around your finger.…

The power of a weekly plan

If you are a busy executive, you probably spend some time planning the week ahead. Most of us have a Friday or Sunday ritual that helps us get our head around what the week in front of us has in store. Unfortunately, because we are so busy, most of us don’t spend enough time on our weekly plan. There is an irony here, as this is exactly the reason we should stop and spend time planning – because we are so busy!

I have worked with several executives recently helping both themselves and their EA to design a powerful weekly plan. At the senior level, if there was one lever that I could use to boost productivity, it would be a solid weekly planning process shared by both an executive and their EA, or indeed their team. But it needs to go beyond the one-dimensional planning that they are used to.

Weekly planning serves several functions. It firstly gets you up to date. It is a time to review anything that is outstanding or incomplete, and make decisions on how to move these things forward. Secondly, it is a chance to get organised for the week ahead, and ensure that your time and attention is well spent on the right activities.

Thirdly, it should allow you to look ahead and anticipate what is coming down the track at you. Lastly, and most importantly, it provides time to reflect on the bigger picture and plan time for the important activities that are going to make a real difference.

So, if you want to reduce your stress levels, increase your focus and get set for a truly productive week, try a 4 dimensional planning process:

  1. Look back at last week and get up to date
  2. Look forward to next week and get organised
  3. Look ahead several weeks and anticipate
  4. Look up at the big picture and make sure you are working on the right stuff



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