Several of you had questions after my post yesterday:
So my question, then, is this: Do you, or anyone else reading this, know of a good program to use to keep track of all these different time management aids? I’m thinking maybe even just an Excel workbook or an organized series of Word files, but maybe there’s some other productivity tool (for Mac, of course! that would work better?
Randy sez: For awhile I was using a program called “Life Balance” on my Mac. (I think there’s a Windows version too.) It works well for creating multiple To Do Lists, and maybe I should go back to using it. It doesn’t do tracking of time spent on various tasks at all. And furthermore, the computer has to be logged in and the program has to be running in order to use it. So I actually prefer the low-tech way on paper. There’s something viscerally satisfying about crossing out a Task on the ol’ To Do List that you just don’t get with software. I’m tempted to write a program that will just do what I want–no less and no more. (And it’ll make a loud crossing-out noise when I knock off a task, and it’ll do weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual totals of time, so I know where all my hours go. And it’ll learn how much I can handle in a day and insist on scheduling Fun when I start overworking.)
Several of you asked for examples. OK, here’s some detail on how I do it. This is not “The One Right Way To Do It.” This is how I do it, and it works for me. I bet you all can make suggestions to improve it, and many of you will just feel like doing it differently. May a thousand different styles of To Do Lists bloom. But here’s what I’m doing this year:
I bought a bunch of cheap tablets at Office Depot. They’re about 50 sheets apiece, which is plenty. One of them contains my Annual To Do List, along with all the Quarterly and Monthly To Do Lists. On the top sheet, I wrote “Goals for 2007” and it has six high-level Projects. Here are the first few lines:
1) Do consulting for Vala Sciences
2) Launch Fiction 301 and Fiction 401 products
3) Write one new book
So you can see that these are all high-level. The consulting thing is a continuing project that consumes an average of 10 hours per week. So this will appear on all the other lists, Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly, and Daily. If I’m out of town, then I don’t put it on the list for that week. If I’m spending a day doing something special, then I won’t put it on the list for that day. But most days, I put in a couple of hours of consulting time.
The Fiction 301 project has been on my lists for Q1 and Q2, but it got bumped because of other things that were higher priority. It’s high on my priority list for Q3, and I expect it to be done by the end of September or early October. So one of the items on my August list is to do the research for Fiction 301. And this week, there’s a line item that says “Work 10 hours on Fiction 301.” Today, there’s a line item (i.e., a Task) that says, “Work 2 hours on Fiction 301.”
As for the book, I’m still composting that idea, so it’s got a line item for August that says to work on the research for the book.
So you can see that the items on my Annual To Do List trickle down to the Quarterly, Monthly, Weekly, and Daily lists. If that were all, then those lists would be pretty simple. But each of those lists has some shorter-term Projects on them that don’t rate a line in the Annual list. For example, my Q3 list has a line that says: “Teach on the Alaska cruise, OCW, and ACFW.” This is a reminder to myself to schedule time for three big teaching slots. I didn’t want to clutter up my Annual list with this, because that’s too much detail to put in an Annual list. But it makes sense to put it in a Quarterly list.
Another line item in my Q3 list is “Create teleseminar series with Mary.” That’s a commitment to myself that this quarter I’ll be doing a series of teleseminars with a very accomplished speaker, Mary Byers, on how to create a speaking platform (something that many successful authors use to help sell their books and to earn money). Again, that’s too much detail to go in the Annual list, but it makes perfect sense to put it in the Q3 list, because Mary and I plan to create the content in August and September and then do the teleseminars in October. (My Annual list did have a line item on creating teleseminars, but it didn’t specify with whom or when.)
I have about 10 line items in my Q3 list, and it contains more items like those above. They’re generally more detailed than those on my Annual list (except for those that are recurring items, such as the consulting for Vala Sciences, which always appears all the way down the line.)
My August To Do List is even more detailed. Of course it reminds me to do my consulting. But now it reminds me to redo my 2006 taxes, because there was a tax deduction I forgot to take. And it reminds me to read a certain manuscript by a friend of mine. And it reminds me to negotiate the rights to a certain e-book I want to sell on my web site. And it reminds me to work on the research for Fiction 301. There are 12 items on my August list.
Some of you were concerned about how to prioritize things. The beauty of this cascading series of lists is that it almost prioritizes itself. For example, with 12 items on my August list, I can’t work on all of them all at once. So at the beginning of every week, I look at the August list and choose which ones to work on this week. And this week, there are only six items on my list. Some of them are quite detailed and some are more general. But the important thing is that I automatically chose those items that are most important to work on this week. And last night when I made my To Do List for today, I chose items from the weekly list that were most important to do today.
And if it doesn’t get done today, I bump it to tomorrow’s list. That happens a lot, because life happens. Do your best to knock the most important Tasks off the list every day; have some Fun; push the rest to manana; don’t beat yourself up. That’s the formula for having a good day, every day.
Likewise, if it doesn’t get done this week, bump it to next week. Ditto for the monthly list, the quarterly list, the annual list. As long as you are getting the most important things done on your list, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, who really cares about the other stuff? We all overschedule ourselves. By definition, that means some stuff won’t get done. If you manage your life using cascading lists, the important stuff will get done (eventually) and the unimportant stuff will get bumped. As it should.
I talked to a writer this week who had a To Do List with 100 items on it. How the heck do you prioritize THAT? You can’t. You can barely read the thing. You can’t really maintain a list that size. It’s too much to take in. It’s better to manage multiple lists that cover multiple levels of detail, from the highest strategic level right down to the lowest tactical level.
That’s my theory, anyway. If anyone knows of software that lets you track all of this, then please let us know. I may just have to write it myself.
Steve Lewis says
Once again Randy, completely fantastic. This post really solidified things for me. I think there would definitely be an interest in the software (I’d buy it, but then I buy all your stuff). I don’t know if it would justify the time to need to create it, though. Or if this would be too much of a tangental product. Just thinking out loud.
Also, I was totally stoked to hear that Fiction 301 should be out soon( pauses to do dance). Ditto for the speaking from the platform thingee. I’m guessing that this will be a way for us to promote both fiction and nonfiction?
Carrie Neuman says
I think you gave us this advice before in your ezine because I’ve been doing this for almost a year now. It was going really well until last month. I made the mistake of keeping the list in my email at work, and when the server crashed, I lost it for a week. I’ve been having trouble getting back in the groove.
Of course, the real problem is that I’ve accidentally overscheduled myself. I’m having to finish up old projects I’m not interested in anymore. I took on one that seemed fun but isn’t quite as good as an almost identical project a friend brought me, but now I’m committed.
The things I want to do and the things I’ve agreed to do are not the same thing. Now if I can just figure out how to want to do the things I’ve obligated myself to do, I’ll be doing ok.
Mary Hake says
I’ve finally caught up on your blog posts. I need to get more organized and productive. It’s so easy to let time slip by.
Now, I’d like to change the subject. Would you address writing the synopsis for a book proposal? How do you decide what and how much to include? Since you’re summarizing, does it have to be told in the order things happen in the book?
Thanks for all you share.
Well, I think I’m now prepared. I have my tablets: one for yearly/monthly, I don’t think at this point I need a quarterly, weekly and then daily. I have a long list I’m adding to of things that I need to do and ones that have to be done and then I’m slowly dividing them up as to how often.
I did accomplish all but one thing on my list for yesterday and it felt good.
Carrie, if you can think of your obligated projects as some sort of challenge, they would become more fun. Or just forget altogether that they are an obligation. As they say, it’s all in how you look at things.
bonne friesen says
Wow, Randy. This discussion has been so timely. I’ve just completed a week long “college success skills” class designed for people like me who’ve been out of school for mumblebmumble years.
Time management was a big topic covered, especially for those of us attempting to balance the student role with several others. It’s very cool to have the same kind of information coming from different perspectives. Chances are good I’ll actually catch on ~ I think it’s time I tamed this monster, thanks for providing some more equipment.
Karla Akins says
Excellent. I’m spending a portion of my day today making my lists. I love this. Thanks.
Carrie Neuman says
Thanks, Donna. I’ve decided to revamp one of the projects. Creating is always so much more fun than editing. 8)
Paul D says
Tablets?! This is the 21st Century. Anyone use a computer?