calendarA few weeks ago, I presented at the National Association of Professional Organizers San Francisco Bay Area Regional Conference. My topic was Make Time for This: Effective Time Management. As I was putting the finishes touches on my slides and handout prior to the conference, I started thinking about the many different systems, tools and strategies people use to manage their time. Specifically, I started thinking about how far we have come with regard to digital/electronic systems compared to years ago. Yet, every time I speak to an audience about time management and survey the participants, it amazes me how many people are still using paper-based systems (paper, pen, notebooks, post-it notes, folders, etc.) compared to digital (software, apps, tablets, smart phones, etc.). And yes, even in a room full of professional organizers and productivity consultants, there were more than a handful that admitted to still using a paper-based system.

So which is better? That’s not an easy question to answer, even for a productivity expert because the winner is in the eyes of the user.

checkmarkA paper-based system has a certain solidness to it. You get to touch your system and hold it in your hands. For people that are very tactile focused, this concreteness can make all the difference. Being able to write with your own hand, feel the pen move across the paper, turn the page, tab it, shuffle paper, put a post-it note on it, etc. can make all the difference. The act of being able to physically manipulate the system is what helps the paper-based user to stay in control of the system and perhaps even enjoy using it. The disadvantages to this “ol d fashioned” type system include a limited/finite amount of space/storage, inconvenient size if the system is too large to fit into a small purse or pocket for example, and the fear that your system can be easily lost or destroyed with no back up.

People that are digital focused tend to do better with an electronic system. There are many advantages, including the ability to set reminders and alarms, an amazing amount of storage (especially if your digital system is in the cloud), portability and often a small size if you use your system on a handheld device, and the ability to share and synchronize with other’s calendars in workplace. Some disadvantages are that you can’t always see the full month view (a real pet peeve for those that are strong visual learners), and it’s not satisfying for tactile individuals who love the feel of pen to paper.

I used a Filofax day planner for years when I was still practicing law. I absolutely loved it! The smell o f the leather, the feel of the paper, the way my pen filled up the pages with appointments, and the fact that it was always with me ready to serve me at a moment’s notice. I was very careful about the way I handled it, and was adamant about not losing it. Some lawyers were so fearful that they may lose their daily planner that they offered a hefty financial reward to anyone that found it and returned it to them! I knew someone that left his planner on a plane and got it back and did indeed send a large check to the finder.

I fought the digital revolution tooth and nail for a long time, as I loved my Filofax and it served me well in the sense that I used it religiously and had great time management skills. But when the Palm Pilot was created (yes, I am dating myself!), I thought I had died and gone to Heaven, which is surprising for such a tactile person (I love to write by hand… even to this day!). I think it was the fact that it looked like a Filofax (leather bound, small size with the device inside) and you could “write” with a stylus. So it was a great transition piece as it mimicked many of the attributes of a paper system, but was the beginning of the digital overthrow — at least for me!

asanaThe Palm was the first in line of many digital time management systems. I am now fully digital using Asana as my digital task/project management system (if you haven’t checked it out, go to Asana.com — it is free and pretty amazing!), and iCal as my digital calendar system on all of my Mac devices (iPhone, iPad and iMac). BUT I still often make a daily to-do list on good old fashioned paper, and sometimes I even do a Brain Dump on paper when I have a lot of mental clutter in my head and need to get it out. There is still something so satisfying to me about running th at pen across the paper and watching the words appear. And there is nothing like the feeling of physically crossing an item off your to-do list!

If you are still struggling with whether to go fully-digital or continue using your tried-and-true-but-outdated paper system, realize that you can use both. Just be careful not to duplicate your efforts (by using two systems for the exact same purpose) or create systems that conflict and compete with each other.

In the end, there is no “perfect” system. The ultimate goal of any productivity or time management system should be to capture and complete the tasks and responsibilities that make up your personal and professional life, not necessarily HOW that is accomplished. The system doesn’t have to be pretty or stylish (unless aesthetics are important to you), or the latest and greatest digital marvel (unless being a techie is fun for you and you love being an early adopter). The system just has to do its job, which is to help you manage your time and tasks better. Free yourself from the mindset that one is better than the other, and ask yourself which is better for you at this particular time in your life. And if you absolutely can’t choose one or the other, feel free to create a system that incorporates both the paper and digital worlds. Heck, you never know… it just may become the next big thing!

To-do lists. Just the name of them sounds exhausting. They have become the thorn in many of my client’s side. Whether they are written in long form on paper, or maintained electronically on a computer or handheld device, they cause much stress.

And here’s one reason why. Most people unknowingly combine their master to-do list and daily to-do list together. This one act causes the list to become lengthy and overwhelming, which in turn almost guarantees failure. The person with this massive all-in-one to-do list will either abort the list altogether, or try desperately to get tasks done, all the while feeling inadequate and like a failure due to his or her inability to accomplish the items on the list.

What to do (yes, pun intended!)? Keep ’em separated!

Create a master to-do list and a separate daily to-do list. The master list includes tasks you plan to and want to get to, but cannot accomplish in one day, similar to a project list. Your daily list is only made up of the tasks you intend to, and can realistically accomplish, in one day, which is usually only about 3-5 items. The daily list puts your master list into action on a daily basis. That way, you get the satisfaction of actually crossing off your daily to-do’s, but have a more comprehensive list so you don’t forget tasks you need to tend to at some point later on.

 

Here’s an example. You need to do a home renovation project like paint your basement. Your master to-do list reads: paint basement. But the daily to-do list will break down that master item into several separate entries over a longer period of time.

  • Monday: choose paint color
  • Tuesday: call 3 painters for estimates (this is called delegating, but let’s save that for a future blog post!)
  • Wednesday: clear furniture from area to be painted
  • Thursday: buy paint.

Get the picture? The master to-do list names the project and the daily to-do list breaks out the action steps in a manageable, reasonable and realistic manner in order to accomplish that project. That way, the items actually get done. And isn’t that what a to-do list is supposed to be for anyway?

Copyright © 2009 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2009. Lisa Montanaro is a Productivity Consultant, Success Coach, Business Strategist, Speaker and Author who helps people live successful and passionate lives, and operate productive and profitable businesses. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for success-minded individuals, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com. Lisa is the author of The Ultimate Life Organizer: An Interactive Guide to a Simpler, Less Stressful & More Organized Life, published by Peter Pauper Press. Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through her work, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how Lisa can help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

Many of my clients suffer from what I call “mental clutter.” Mental clutter can be described as all of the thoughts, ideas, tasks, to-do’s, projects, and reminders that are swimming around in your brain taking up precious space (or matter, to be more accurate). This type of mental clutter gets in the way of you being able to be productive, stay focused, and enjoy a sense of peace and relaxation. Mental clutter can seriously affect your sleeping and cause insomnia. Many of my clients lately have shared that they feel so anxious at night when going to bed as they have all of this mental clutter taking up real estate in their brain and they can’t seem to turn it off.

What to do? A Brain Dump!
A Brain Dump is a great way to take all of the mental clutter in your head and get it out. It is the first step in an effective time management and project management action plan. People get caught up in what system should be used to record the Brain Dump. The system you use to do your Brain Dump should be tailored to you. The main difference is whether you want to physically write your Brain Dump (paper) or record it electronically (technology).

Old Fashioned Paper Method

Many people are strong tactile learners and, therefore, still love the feel of pen to paper. It is quick and easy, doesn’t require any fancy gadgets or technology, and can be implemented anywhere. I encourage my clients that are tactile to keep a pad of paper on their nightstand and dump their brain onto it at night before they go to sleep. In the morning, you can tear off the top page (do not use a spiral pad or this gets messy), and incorporate the items into your Master Project List or Daily To-Do List depending on whether they are short term or long terms tasks. The disadvantage to pa per is that it is not easily backed-up, and can be lost.

If you keep a Master Notebook where you track all of your projects and to-do’s, then consider using that for your Brain Dump so that all of your project management is in one convenient location. It’s better than a bunch of post-it notes or scraps of paper!

If you want something to keep by your bed that lights up, but is still tactile with pen and paper, check out the Nite Note Nightime Notepad by Dream Essentials. The pad “lights up” when the pen is removed and “lights off” when the pen is replaced. Nite Note features a pressurized Fisher Space pen used by U.S. astronauts because it writes at any angle, even upside down. Pretty cool, huh?

Harness the Power of Technology

So many people are now using powerful smart phones that come with all of the bells and whistles. If you are using such a device, this can be an ideal place to capture your mental clutter because it is backed-up or synched, can be accessed from almost anywhere, and has an amazing amount of storage space. You can use a task feature, your calendar (make a recurring daily item called Brain Dump and put items in there so that they get carried over everyday), a memo feature, or any other type of feature that makes it easy for you to dump the mental clutter, easily access it again, and keep it organized. If you prefer to use an “app,” then consider applications like Evernote, Toodledo, One Note, Treepad, etc. You can even just open a Word doc on your computer, and dump your brain into that, dating each entry to be able to find them again, or organizing entries by category.

The power of a Brain Dump is to be able to keep track of tasks, ideas, and information that you are afraid you would otherwise forget if you don’t write them down or record them somewhere. There is no right or wrong way to do a Brain Dump. Determine what type of Brain Dump recording system appeals to you, and then try it. I promise you it will help free up some of that precious brain matter so that you can refocus it on implementing the tasks, living your life, or relaxing your overworked brain once in awhile!

Copyright © 2011 Lisa Montanaro of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC.

Want to Use This Article in Your E-zine or Website?

You can, as long as you use this complete statement:

Copyright 2011. Lisa Montanaro, “The Solutions Expert,” is Principal of LM Organizing Solutions, LLC, a professional services firm created in 2002 that offers professional organizing, business and life coaching, and motivational speaking to individuals and organizations. Lisa publishes the monthly “DECIDE® to be Organized” e-zine for the general public, and “Next Level Business Success” e-zine for professional organizers and entrepreneurs. Subscribe today at www.LMOrganizingSolutions.com.  Lisa also publishes the DECIDE® to be Organized blog at www.DecideToBeOrganized.com. Through LMOS, Lisa helps people deal with the issues that block personal and professional change and growth. To explore how LMOS can improve your home or work environment, or help take your business to the next level, contact Lisa at (845) 988-0183 or by e-mail at .

To-do lists. Just the name of them sounds exhausting. They have become the thorn in many of my client’s side. Whether they are written in long form on paper, or maintained electronically on a computer or handheld device, they cause much stress.

And here’s one reason why. Most people unknowingly combine their master to-do list and daily to-do list together. This one act causes the list to become lengthy and overwhelming, which in turn almost guarantees failure. The person with this massive all-in-one to-do list will either abort the list altogether, or try desperately to get tasks done, all the while feeling inadequate and like a failure due to his or her inability to accomplish the items on the list.

What to do (yes, pun intended!)? Keep ‘em separated!

Create a master to-do list and a separate daily to-do list.  The master list includes tasks you plan to and want to get to, but cannot accomplish in one day, similar to a project list.  Your daily list is only made up of the tasks you intend to, and can realistically accomplish, in one day, which is usually only about 3-5 items.  The daily list puts your master list into action on a daily basis. That way, you get the satisfaction of actually crossing off your daily to-do’s, but have a more comprehensive list so you don’t forget tasks you need to tend to at some point later on.

Here’s an example. You need to do a home renovation project like paint your basement. Your master to-do list reads: paint basement. But the daily to-do list will break down that master item into several separate entries over a longer period of time.

  • Monday: choose paint color
  • Tuesday: call 3 painters for estimates (this is called delegating, but let’s save that for a future blog post!)
  • Wednesday: clear furniture from area to be painted
  • Thursday: buy paint.

Get the picture? The master to-do list names the project and the daily to-do list breaks out the action steps in a manageable, reasonable and realistic manner in order to accompish that project. That way, the items actually get done. And isn’t that what a to-do list is supposed to be for anyway?