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The Custom-Made Day Planner

Two CEOs' approaches to time management.
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Two answers to the same question: How do I get my time -- and my company -- under control?

We don't want to waste your valuable time, so we'll get straight to the point: on the following pages two CEOs who have built businesses on the concept of time management explain how and why their daily planning systems make them, and their companies, more productive. We're presenting two rather different perspectives on the subject because, according to time-management experts, there's no one right way to manage time. How you order your day and choose to use your time should depend on who you are, how you work, how you think, and what you want to accomplish in the long term.

Hyrum Smith is the founder and CEO of $70-million Franklin International Institute, in Salt Lake City, and is an advocate of a regimented, categorized, journallike approach to time management. His company's Franklin Day Planner, which he developed in 1984, is the result of that approach.

Smith's philosophy is actually borrowed from, and his company named after, Benjamin Franklin. In his autobiography Franklin discusses how he developed the personal constitution by which he lived, grounded not in the "inalienable rights" he later helped formulate for the U.S. Constitution, but in "governing values." That personal constitution then governed the daily tasks Franklin chose to accomplish. "For example," explains Smith, "if one of your governing values is to be financially independent, how will you attain that? First, by setting a goal -- say, to be financially independent by the year 2000. Then, to reach that goal you must start a savings account, buy life insurance, and perhaps change careers. These little bites end up in your daily task lists, while the governing principles are outlined in the back of your day planner."

Like Franklin, Smith runs his daily schedule with an eye on the big picture -- long-term goals like the reorganization of his company, as well as nonbusiness projects for his community, church, and family.

On the other hand, John Katzman, founder and president of Princeton Review, based in New York City, shuns such elaborate planning systems and opts instead for a scrappy, ad hoc to-do list. There's nothing fancy about it, and Katzman doesn't think there needs to be. As he sees it, his daily role is to be his company's catalyst, a delegator and facilitator. His to-do lists are daily shorthand battle plans reflecting needs of the moment. They have a transitory, rather than chronicled, feel.

Not that daily decisions shouldn't be tethered to long-term goals, says Katzman, but there is no need to take overt steps to align the two. Those goals are the "categorical imperative behind every project I take on," he says.

The business of Princeton Review isn't time management per se, but it does teach takers of SATs, GREs, and LSATs how to use their time wisely during the test. Katzman has built the company to $35 million since 1981 by teaching people how to organize their thinking and deal with the issue at hand. He thinks his own to-do list is a big shortcut when it comes to getting things done.

On the following pages Smith and Katzman each explain the benefits of their respective approaches. It's the reader's choice: you decide which is the "good form."

* * *

John Katzman on Why Planner Systems Don't Work

"I've never used one. They are too regimented. You know how they all have those neatly categorized note sheets? Well, when things get busy, all the information you're jotting down shifts and changes. You end up spending more time reorganizing the planner than taking action. Organization is an extension of personality. An inefficient personality won't be any better off with a day planner than a to-do list."

Company-Issued Desk Diaries

While Katzman is anti-day-planner, he does believe in appointment calendars. "Every year we publish a week-by-week desk diary for all our employees and franchise owners. In it we have important deadlines for the company and also cartoons and people's birthdays. Along the side is a 'don't forget' list of commitments for branch managers to keep. The diary helps us maintain control over corporate culture from a distance, in a hands-off way."

Delegate!

"The main reason I take notes is to pass off information to the correct person. Every good manager clears the way for others to do their work. I jotted down a 'Care Package to Sal' list during a telephone conversation with someone, then delegated the whole thing."

Keep Meetings to a Minimum

"Appointments take up the left-most part of the page because they are the most important. I've never had a problem with being buried in meetings, because I've organized my company so I don't have to go to too many of them. I tend to delegate and throw a lot away because I only want to manage longer-term objectives. I also want to be able to walk around and see what's going on, to field questions, or what have you. To do that, I make sure I attend meetings only when absolutely necessary and that I have confidence in my key managers."

Keep It All on One Page

"One rule I have is to keep everything I deal with or have to deal with in a given day on one sheet of paper -- no scraps. Some people keep Rolodexes or day planners on a computer, but I make sure I have all the phone numbers and addresses I'll need that day on this sheet. If I'm gone from the office for more than a day, I bring this sheet along with all the information I'll need. I'm not a big believer in keeping unnecessary records. If someone else is keeping a file on it or the task is completed, why keep my notes on it?"

Maintain an Even Work Load

"I want one day's worth of work on this sheet. I don't like to overwhelm myself. But big projects may stay on my list for a week or 10 days until I've done enough work to call meetings, set appointments, and start delegating. I try not to give myself due dates per se. It's best when there's flexibility in the system."

Brain Dump

"Cleaning off my desk and consolidating all my work for the next day onto a to-do sheet is a nice way to end the day, and it's evolved into a ritual for me. It's great to walk into the office in the morning and know exactly what needs to be done. I can go home at night knowing I've done a brain dump, and I won't take the job home with me."

Hyrum Smith on Why To-Do Lists Don't Work

"To-do lists are kind of fun. You put one together on Monday and it's still sitting there on your desk on Friday. When you're working your way through a to-do list, you're just about keeping your nose above water. The support system for keeping organized stops the minute you've made a check mark. Rarely if ever are to-do lists created with an eye toward meeting long-term goals."

Make a Ritual of Completion

Smith's system includes a group of status indicators [Task Completed, Task Deleted, and so forth] that elaborate on the common check mark. "Getting to check something off your list is like getting morphine, literally. It's been scientifically proved that checking things off lists releases endorphins in your body."

The ABCs of Prioritizing

"It should take about five minutes to prioritize your tasks for a day. A's are vital. Those are tasks that must be done today. B's are important. C's are the fun, quick, and easy tasks everyone looks forward to. Then you break those priorities down further with numbers. That breaks the list down into manageable, bite-size bits and keeps you focused."

Your Number One Priority

"My A1 priority every day is to start with 15 minutes of formal planning and solitude time. I always write it down because I like getting the check mark, and I don't take the time for granted. The number one reason executives say they don't plan their time is that they don't have time. That puts people in a reactive rather than proactive mode of behavior for the rest of the day."

The Time/Money Link

"Most people who are out of control with their time are out of control with their own money, too. That's why I added this box here [Daily Expenses]. Some people say I didn't give it enough room on the page, but I intentionally made the size of that box small to help put spending money in perspective."

Control Your Own Schedule

"I keep my own appointment schedule. I don't understand how executives can give control of their day to a secretary. Their time is their most valuable asset; they should control it closely. One thing I like to do is schedule appointments every four months with the 34 middle managers who don't report directly to me. It lets me spot rising new talent and keep tabs on what's going on throughout the company. I also like to schedule time with my six children so I don't take them for granted. And I even make appointments with myself to make sure I block out private time."

Keep a Running Record

"Each underlined section head on this page [Daily Record of Events] correlates to a meeting. I take notes on things that were discussed that require further action. If it's a busy day, I can add pages to this section if I need to. If a project gets big enough, I can devote a whole section to it in the back of the book. For reference purposes, it's important to write thorough notes. Shorthand notes lose meaning over time. These are more like journal entries."

Last updated: Feb 1, 1992




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