A CEO offers her insights on saving time by using an ordinary notebook to plan the business day and more.
All you need to plan your work is an ordinary notebook
I've never understood the value of a complicated time-management system. I tried one once -- the kind with a loose-leaf binder with a dozen sections for different types of information. With that system, I had to spend so much time prioritizing my to-do list and deciding where things should go that I could barely focus on running my company!
Instead, I stick to a time-management method that's simple but effective. It's ideal if your day -- like mine and so many other entrepreneurs' -- is full of multiple projects and details. My method works so well in my company, which specializes in book and author publicity, that I now insist that most of my employees use it. The system helps them do their jobs, and it helps me keep track of their work and my business. Best of all, anyone can use it.
All you need is a notebook. Choose one that's bound, not loose-leaf, so you won't be tempted to remove pages. One purpose of the notebook is to keep all the information you need in a place you can always find it, even months later.
Once I have my notebook in front of me, I put the day's date at the top of a right-hand page. Then I start listing the things I need to do. I don't worry about setting priorities at first or separating business from personal tasks; I just write things down as they come to me. When I finish I pick about five of the most pressing items and prioritize those, with a big number next to each task. I find there's no sense in ranking every item at once, since I seldom can complete more than a handful of projects a day. I leave the left-hand pages of the notebook blank, so I can jot short notes during conversations or attach miscellaneous information I want to save.
With this system, I don't waste time writing a new list every day. I cross out items as I complete them, then add to the old list until it takes up several pages. At that point, I carry over uncompleted items and start a fresh list on the next empty right-hand page. (For me, that usually happens every few days or so.)
I don't use my notebook to take detailed notes on a project. Each project has its own folder, and I keep extensive notes there. I also have a calendar for appointments. The notebook I use only for assignments and tasks. In one place, I have all the information I need about --
1. Everything I want to get done, both personally and professionally;
2. Everything I've promised other people I'll do; and
3. Everything I want to assign to my employees.
The notebook system is the best way I know to stay on top of the many details involved in running a business and supervising people. My notebook is so important that I never take it out of the office, and I insist that my employees follow the same rule. I don't want any of us to lose our most important organizational tool! If I go to an off-site meeting, I take notes on a pad and transfer assignments to my notebook later.
Perhaps a notebook seems old-fashioned in our electronic age, but I find it more convenient than even the most user-friendly computer. If your day is as hectic as mine, why waste time on complex time-management systems? Sometimes the simplest solution is the best.
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Jane Wesman is president of Jane Wesman Public Relations, in New York City, and the author of Dive Right In -- the Sharks Won't Bite (Dearborn Financial Publishing), a guide for entrepreneurial women.
TRY THIS AT HOME
There are some things you should never put in a notebook at work, such as personal reactions to business events. For those, I suggest a business journal at home, where no one in your company will be tempted to read it. I've found that such a personal business journal helps me run my business better, because I can detect trends that I would otherwise miss. For example, my business journal helped me realize that it's almost impossible for me to close new deals around Christmas. Until I recognized that pattern from several years' worth of journals, I grew anxious every year when business slowed near the holidays. Now I can stop worrying about that normal seasonal dip and instead prepare for it.