Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using a Planner Part 2

I'm going to Cebu with my daughter this weekend so I decided I'd write something now so I can stick to my promise. I don't have an IPad, laptop or notebook with which to make my entries while I'm away. That's one of my goals for this year, getting a laptop or notebook or even a netbook just for staying in touch through the internet.

In my last post, I described how I did things before and how my methods didn't really work. I needed something to improve my efficiency somehow.

In the article, "Using Daily Planners Effectively - How to use the most important time management tool," they described how a planner can be used to manage your time and jobs. One of the first tips is this: When you receive a job request or you come up with one, schedule it for tomorrow or on some future date. The jobs you already have today, you do today. If a new job comes in today, you do it tomorrow. This isn't procrastination. It's practical.

If you just keep a list, like I did, and have the whole list in front of you, you'll wonder how you'll get to all of them. If you schedule your jobs, you'll have only the list for today in front of you. It looks manageable and relieves some of the stress.

How many should you have on your list per day? You're the best person to answer that question. It depends on the complexity of the jobs and how fast you do your work. Some jobs will be quick and some will take longer to finish. For now, you'll probably schedule too much or too little. As you go on, you'll be better at estimating how much a particular job needs in terms of time.

What if you don't finish the jobs for today or an urgent job comes along? Just reschedule the jobs that you didn't finish to tomorrow. For urgent jobs, you put them on the list (just to record at least) and do them now. You may have to move one or more jobs to another day but that's assuming that the job you deferred is less important than the one displacing it.

When I first did this, I developed two lists: one for today and another for tomorrow. The one for tomorrow had everything less the six to eight jobs that I put for today. Not the right way to do it. I discovered that some jobs could be done several days, even months, later. Almost magically, I found that the list had seemingly shrunk and I suddenly felt a sense of relief. It had not shrunk, of course, but seeing a small list everyday is less stressful than seeing a long line of jobs everyday.

This was where Outlook helped. When you add a task to the Task List, you specify the Due Date (when you need to finish it). There's also a space for Start Date. In this space, I put the date when i received the job or task. Next, there's a space for putting a reminder. In the reminder, I put the date when I intend to do the job. When you do this, Outlook will generate a reminder list box that will pop up on your screen on the same date as the reminder. All tasks that have a reminder for a particular date will appear in the list for that day.

Here's an example of how I use Outlooks Task List to plan my work.

Let's say I need to order a part. I open a blank task and on the Due Date, I put the date when I need to have the part in my hands which can be up to three months later. On the Start Date, I put the date today. Then, on the reminder space, I put the date tomorrow. When I save and close the task, the job won't appear on my list until tomorrow. I can then concentrate on doing those jobs that I scheduled today.

The next day, I fill out an order form, get my manager to sign it and send it off to Purchasing. Purchasing will take my order form, create a Request for Quotation and fax it off to several suppliers. The quotations may take several days to arrive so I change the reminder date to the next week to follow up with Purchasing.

Let's say the quotations arrive and I review them and decide on which supplier will get the order. I make my choice and send it back to Purchasing who will convert it into a Purchase Order. This can take another week so I change the reminder date again to the next week. The task again disappears from my list and I can go on without thinking of it for another seven days.

When my reminder comes up again, I call Purchasing and ask them if the Purchase Order has been sent out. Let's assume that it has. The supplier promised that the item will be delivered, say, in six weeks. I change the reminder again to six weeks later. Hopefully, the item will be delivered before the six weeks is over and I can change the status of the task to "completed." Otherwise, I will get a reminder six weeks later to follow up with the supplier.

That's essentially how it works. It's easy and simple and I don't feel so hassled everyday.

More next week.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Using a Planner Part 1

Almost didn't get to make my scheduled entry. My eight-year old daughter had been asking to use the computer for some time but I kept putting her off. She quietly sat beside me, waiting patiently, watching what I was doing. Then she put her head on my shoulder and that's when I caved in. I let her play her Tetris for an hour or so.

What I wanted to share this week was on using a planner. At the office, I use Microsoft Outlook's Task List and Calendar. When I first used the Task List, it was just a list of jobs. It quickly became such a long list that I despaired of ever finishing anything. Add a boss who insisted on my doing multiple things at the same time and you'd have a formula for stress. I either needed a lesson in time management or organizing my work.

I thought of using the internet to find a planner that I could load into my cellphone and use to organize things. Thus far, I have been unsuccessful. In my search, however, I found several articles on time management. One in particular gave me such a clear idea of what to do that I decided to use it. The webpage is and after about a week, I finally got the hang of it.

The essence of using a planner is to put a buffer on your jobs. They mentioned a book, "Do It Tomorrow" by Mark Forster. Unfortunately, I'm a little cash-strapped so I am unable to buy the book for now. The article did, however, describe the essentials.

Before I get to the essence, I think I'll describe how I did things before.

I mentioned that I had a list of jobs in Outlook's Task List. When someone asked me to do something or I thought of something that needed to be done, I put it on the list. Unfortunately, that's all I did. I just put it on the list.

Everyday, I'd choose an item from the list and work on it. If I finished it, I marked the task as complete and it would disappear from the active list. If I didn't, the task would stay on the list, unchanged. I didn't use reminders, I didn't write anything about status or even when I expected or intended to finish the job. It was just a list.

A lot of times, I didn't even put a job on the list. When I received a job to do and it was urgent, I did it right away without putting it on the list. If I finished it, I'd have no record of it. If I didn't finish it and still didn't put it on the list, it's almost a sure thing that I'd forget it.

Another problem was choosing which job to do first. I'd pick one at random or if I thought it was easy or can be finished quickly. If someone follow up on a job, I'd drop what I was doing and pick up his request. No attempt at negotiation or anything. It was all haphazard and confusing. It was also driving me crazy.

So here came the article and I decided to try it out.

Next week, I'll tell you how it it went. Furthermore, by next week, I'd have learned a few more things and I can add those too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wrong post date

I just went through my posts and found that the last post was dated November 28. Actually, I started writing it on that date and only posted it last week. When you're in the job I'm in, December is a very busy time.

Anyway, I'm putting a reminder in my cellphone to make posts every week. Saturday would be a good time. It's not Saturday so I guess I'd better close this hehe