Every planning system is different. You could use paper planners, digital devices, or a combination of both. But regardless of what you choose, there are four basic types of information that your system needs to be able to capture.
These four are appointments, tasks, contacts and documents.
Today, I’ll talk about these bits of information, what they are, and how I manage them. Oh, by the way, I use a paper planner (as you may know 😉 ), but my all-encompassing system is actually a combination of digital and paper.
Appointments are tasks that have a time associated with them. These are things I know I have to do at a certain hour of the day and/or day of the week. A appointment with the doctor is an example. There’s a specific hour and minute I have to be there.
I also consider some whole-day affairs to be appointments. A family picnic gets blocked off my schedule when I know I’m not going to do anything else.
As long as it’s an entry in my planner around which I schedule other activities, I consider it an appointment.
Can they be moved around? Of course. We’ve all had to re-schedule a visit to the dentist.
Every planning system needs a way to store appointment information. When we think of personal organizers or planners, we often think about a way to track this info so that we can be where we’re supposed to be at the right time.
This is why all organizers have calendars in them (whether it’s monthly, weekly, daily or the whole gamut). Depending on how your day is structured, your calendar could be a general overview or precisely divided into 15-minute increments.
At its most basic level, a planning system is simply a schedule of appointments for the day, week, or month. But to be more effective in our daily lives, we need to go beyond that. And most people do.
Unlike appointments, tasks don’t have specific times attached to them. I may have a goal of doing the laundry every Friday. But until I pin down an exact hour to do it, it remains a task and not an appointment.
Checklists and to-do lists are sets of tasks. They don’t have to be done at a set time. Ideally, of course, we’d all like to be able to check off those little boxes at the end of the day.
There are times when turning a task into an appointment helps me accomplish it (hint: productivity tip). But for the most part, tasks stay in my lists, and don’t go into the day’s schedule.
Do you need a planner to capture tasks?
Some people use a paper pad on their desk. Some scribble their to-do’s on index cards, a separate notebook, or just scraps of paper. Others use an app. That’s all still part of a planning system. I’ve tried those methods before, but I’ve found that keeping my appointments and tasks in one place helps me manage my time better.
My planner came with alphabetized/indexed pages for addresses and phone numbers. But I ditched them a long time ago.
The phone numbers of the people I call most often are in my phone.
I have never had to address an envelope while I’m out and about. So I don’t keep people’s addresses in my planner. Instead, I have a Rolodex at home.
The only exceptions are doctor’s phone numbers. Because sometimes, I don’t bring my phone with me. But I may need those medical contact info, so I have it all on a page. Along with service providers (eg., phone and internet), because those things could, and do, go out of whack without warning, and I may need to borrow someone else’s phone to complain (LOL).
I also use the dashboard on my planner to capture contact info on the fly. But when I process my dashboard, that information gets transferred to its permanent home, whether it’s on my phone or the Rolodex.
The term ‘documents’ includes many things. They could be whole-page printouts, or a planner page with information related to a project. Perhaps it’s a brain-dump page. Minutes of meetings. A review of the day. A set of goals for the next 6 months.
Documents are not time-specific appointments, checklists of tasks, or contact information, although they may include some of this information. I have project pages, for example, that have goals, phone numbers and email addresses.
The information found in documents often supports work or home activities, but they’re used for reference, and are not action steps by themselves. They may produce action steps, which then become either appointments or tasks.
Where a document goes depends on what it is and what it’s for. For a project that’s often top-of-mind, I like to keep a few pages about it in my planner. For work that I do only when I’m at my desk, files are kept in my computer or in hanging folders.
Having a system in place to capture and deal with these four types of information helps in managing both time and projects, as well as staying organized and reaching personal goals.
Do I have everything under control? Eh, no. But things would be a whole lot more chaotic were I to dump all my appointments, to-do’s, contact lists, and documents in one place.
A system, no matter how imperfect, beats having no system at all. 😉