How the Right Day Planner Can Help You Get More Done
by Marcia Layton Turner
We all want to get more work done, don't we? To fit more and more tasks into the same 24 hours we're given each day?
Fortunately, there are dozens of products designed to help us prioritize our daily lives and maximize our efficiency — something our businesses' bottom lines thank us for.
Unfortunately, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. Which will work best for you? Should you used a printed journal or an electronic system? The truth is, the process you use to manage your time is just as important as your planning tool of choice.
A Well-Planned Process
The first step to being more productive is to create a process, or routine, to guide your day. Some key steps that will make you more productive are:
- Listing every task and project you are currently working on.
- Prioritizing those tasks based on deadlines and relative importance.
- Selecting no more than 3-5 "must-dos" per day.
- Breaking down big tasks into smaller action items. Some experts suggest we should aim to slice tasks into 15-minute increments to get them done faster and sooner.
- Batching tasks to save time, such as making several phone calls in a row, tackling several errands at once and looking at email only at specified times during the day.
- Using lists to stay on task when you're away from the office or home.
Marrying these behaviors with the right organizing system for you can boost productivity and reduce stress. Every productivity tool has a different look, approach or format. The key is finding one that matches how you live and work. Here are some popular products and their pros and cons:
Blank notebook or paper calendar. Some people swear by a blank or lined journal in which they jot down notes and ideas, work on tasks and track appointments. It's simple, but can be very effective for those who have enough structure built into their day — say, traditional nine-to-fivers — that task management is their primary focus. Others carry around a physical calendar to manage upcoming appointments and deadlines; the details of each day remain in their head. The problem with this method is that you can easily forget things. Some people, like time management guru Laura Vanderkam, carry both a lined notebook and a small calendar.
Day Runner. Perhaps the grandaddy of day planners, Day Runner products provide a basic approach to managing and tracking all your tasks. Business and personal items can co-exist, and you can take notes and store key contact information in this printed tool. Daily, weekly and monthly calendars are at the core. The downside is the lack of a digital component, making it difficult for those who rely heavily on electronic tools in their business to move back and forth from computer to planner.
Planner Pad. Planner Pads are physical planners built around prioritization and the importance of scheduling time to address critical activities. A monthly calendar lets you see the big picture, and the weekly calendars help you identify all your to-dos and break them down into manageable chunks to be completed using a visual funnel. Great for anyone who likes to work with paper and often handles large projects with many small steps to focus on each day; less useful for folks who rely on a smartphone or tablet to track these projects.
Franklin Covey PlanPlus. Using desktop software with a mobile component, users can set goals, schedule appointments and track tasks, whether in the office or on the road. You can print out daily tasks and reminders, which is a plus for those who prefer paper systems, and sync them with your phone. For those who transition between doing business in the digital and physical worlds, this bridge is ideal, and the calendar component is critical for business owners whose days may start and end at different times each day.
Evernote. An incredibly popular digital productivity tool, Evernote lets you file away websites, notes, articles and contacts for easy retrieval later with its search function. It's not so much a calendar as it is a repository for everything you're interested in that works on desktop and mobile. Though great for business owners who do most of their business digitally, for others who juggle appointments and deadlines along with tasks, an additional calendar-based tool is necessary.
QuickBooks Cash Flow Forecast. You work hard to organize your day so you can maximize your profits, but your finances need a planner too. Since money is always on every business owner's mind, being able to check in on your financial situation regularly and anticipate cash flow shortages is extremely useful. The QuickBooks module can be accessed on your computer or mobile device from wherever you are, keeping your cash flow as organized as your projects.
So Which Is Right for You?
The right day planner for you is the one that ensures you don't forget critical tasks, gets you to your appointments prepared and on time, and generally relieves the stress that comes with feeling overwhelmed. But look around, try a few, and try to stick with them for a month. You might find that the one you dislike at first is the one that ultimately works the best for you.
About This Author
Marcia Layton Turner writes regularly about small business. Her work has appeared in magazines such as Entrepreneur, Bloomberg Businessweek and Black Enterprise, as well as at CNNMoney, Amex OPEN Forum, and Entrepreneur.com.
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