Tip # 9: Find a system for time and task management... and use it.

Jennifer Veltsos

September 26, 2019 |

As I finish writing this email at 6:30 pm, I am wondering what I’m doing wrong. I think I’m an organized person. I have plenty of systems in place to help me be organized. But do I follow through? Not as well as I should, I’m afraid. So for this week’s email, I decided to review some suggestions for managing work to get the best use of your day. Maybe telling you about them will make me hold myself more accountable?


I started with an article I read a couple of years ago called “How to Be the Most Productive Person in the Office…And Still Get Home by 5:30 pm.” (link is below). One of the best pieces of advice is to use your calendar as your To Do list. Create appointments with yourself to work on tasks, and be honest about the amount of time you need or can give to that task. You can also categorize the items on your calendar by color or tags. Every item on my calendar is tagged as CETL, teaching, scholarship, professional development, student support, service, or personal. At the end of the year, I can search for the tags and use the results to write my professional development report. 


The best part of the “Calendar-as-To Do-List” method is “It makes you be realistic about what you can get done. It allows you to do tasks when it's efficient, not just because it's #4.” The worst part (in my experience) is that it’s really easy to drag and drop those appointments to other days. Try to avoid that. (I’m serious!) And even if you don’t use your calendar as your To Do list, make appointments with yourself for the important tasks that tend to get shuffled aside, and protect those appointments from intrusion. Decline meetings. Close your door. Let your phone go to voice mail. Instead, work on your scholarship. Take a step toward inbox zero. Plan your next project. Talk with collaborators. Schedule it and make it so. (Failing to protect that time on today’s calendar is why I’m still in the office at 6:30 pm, you know.)


Since moving into CETL, I discovered that Matt Clay (IT Solutions) and Sheri Sargent (President’s Office) are list makers like me. We have spent more time than I should admit comparing notebooks, to-do list techniques, and technology to support organizational strategies. The three of us typically carry a notebook everywhere we go to jot down ideas or notes from meetings. I am picky about my notebook. One of my favorites is a top spiral notebook with no lines, like a sketch book. I tend to draw diagrams, squeeze in notes in weird spaces, and create arrows to connect ideas. By contrast, I avoid those horrid graph notebooks with the little squares but my husband loves them! If you run into Matt or Sheri, ask about their notebook recommendations. 


We all tried the Bullet Journal method with mixed success. (http://bulletjournal.com/) Bullet journals can be very elaborate, but at their core they are a daily To Do list. Each task is marked with a dot (or bullet). When you finish the task, draw a check mark through the bullet. If you cancel the task, draw an X. But if you don’t finish the item on that day, draw an arrow through the bullet and add the item to the next day’s list. The simple bullet journal method requires about 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to clean up the list and plan the next day. Of course, the idea got Pinterested and overcomplicated. Search for bullet journal at Pinterest.com and you’ll see what I mean: Beautiful but time consuming.


Once you find a system, tweak it until it works for you. I abandoned the daily To Do list after six weeks and switched to a weekly bullet journal instead. I’m now using (and loving) the Rhodia Meeting Planner. It has a column for my list of tasks, a column for action items, and space for big ideas that I need to think about for a while. The notebook lives on my desk next to my computer, and as tasks roll in, I add them to the list. When I finish them, I check them off with joy. And when unscheduled tasks pop up, I add them to the list and immediately check them off to prove to myself that I really am accomplishing things, even when it feels like I’m not. The combination of calendar for meetings and notebook for tasks helps me track my week remember things I completed in the past. 


Sheri was using Microsoft OneNote when we last spoke, and it sounds like that application works well to coordinate emails, meeting notes, and task lists. The app can sync across your computer, tablet, and smartphone. I used OneNote for lesson plans for a while, but it sounds like I was ignoring a lot of the program’s best features. I’m going to give her a few more weeks to test it out and then ask again.

 Orignally posted on U Betcha Teaching and Learning.

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