Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Low-Tech Task Management

Everyone has their own method of organizing their daily tasks, and many people today use electronic organizers and smart-phone applications to manage their daily tasks.

I've tried a few electronic calendar applications, and find some of them useful for reminding me of things like doctor's appointments.

But nothing I've found in the world of electronics surpasses the organizing tool I've been using for decades.

1. It's small.

2. It's cheap.

3. It fits in a jacket pocket or in your purse.

4. You don't have to do a lot of data entry to reschedule events.

5. You can re-prioritize tasks in seconds.

6.  No batteries required.

7.  No membership fees.

It's called:

A packet of index cards held together with a stout rubber band.

And this is how it works:

Rather than writing a daily things-to-do-list, I make an individual index card for each task that needs to be done.

Some of these individual cards may contain a list: for example, the "GO TO GROCERY" card will include the grocery list, or "GO TO DRUGSTORE" will include a list of things to be obtained there.   When I am done with each card, it will be discarded, and a new grocery list will be compiled when needed.

Most other cards will contain one specific task:  "Dentist appointment at 2:00pm, October 21,"  "Meet with sales rep at 3:00," or "Pick up dry cleaning."

Cards for  task on a specific date and time are discarded after use.

Cards for tasks with non-specific times and dates are replaced in the deck and are re-used: for example, "Pick up prescriptions," "Get gas," "Go to bank," and "Book club meeting first Wednesday of each month."

And here is how I manage the cards: while I have my morning coffee, I go through the cards and put them in order based on either importance or by the time of day they need to be done.   The first OR most critical thing to do for the day will be on top of the pile, and so forth.  But I always carry the entire pile with me.

For example, I had a day off work today, so my pile included some "standard" cards as well as some cards specific for today, in this order:

"Put garbage out"

"Go to bank" (I needed to cash a check)

"Buy heartworm medicine at vet's office"

"Go to post office" (I had two packages to mail, and I needed stamps.  I could remember that, and did not need to write a list).

"Go to grocery" followed by a list of things I needed there

"Pick up prescriptions"

"Get gas"

"Meet Janet for lunch."

"Return library books."

"Bring box to Goodwill"

"Get car inspected."

These cards were placed in the front of the deck of index cards, in that order.

Most tasks on my list were not for a specific date, so as I completed each tack, I moved it to the back of the deck. When I finished at the grocery, I discarded that particular card, because, of course, it was a very specific list for today's needs.

But as it turned out, the weather turned bad after I went to the library, so I went home.   Tomorrow, I will make another attempt to get the car inspected and stop at Goodwill.  All I needed to do was replace those task cards in the front of the deck, since those tasks were not urgent.  Both tasks could be postponed a day or two.

Simple, isn't it?

Likewise, if you are especially efficient one day and finish your priority tasks earlier than anticipated, you can flip through your deck for something else to do.

The deck of cards also allows you to easily re-schedule your day if something unexpected comes up, or to route your errands for maximum gas efficiency.

Try making your own deck: one card each for tasks you must do daily, weekly, monthly, and specific tasks, lists, and appointments for specific days.  You will find yourself continually adding and deleting cards in your deck.

Please tell me if you like this method after you try it.  I hope you find it helpful.

I've done this for many years and it really, really works.  It's better than any day-planner, personal organizer, or other system I have ever tried.

What tips and secrets do you have to share to manage your own time?  We can all learn from each other's ideas.