Like you, I have tried every time-management tape and seminar that exists. Pieces of each system work for awhile, but managing the time–management system can be more complicated than managing the chaos that is your professional and personal life. Some of the systems do work for some of the people some of the time. But what about the big-picture people like you who need a system that won’t require surgically replacing your personality?
I have found such a system. I call it the brain dump. It’s not a particularly sexy name, but it’s simple and it works. There are two components to this system. The first is a brain-dump list. What are the best tools for creating this list? I recommend the Palm Pilot’s to-do list, Microsoft Outlook’s task list or an Excel spreadsheet—something electronic. If you keep the brain-dump list on paper, it will get torn or misplaced. When you use an electronic tool, it is easier to set and change due dates and to list priorities. Your chance of maintaining this system also increases dramatically if you use an electronic tool.
The second component is an appointment book. Again, use what works for you—a Palm Pilot, a computer program or my least favorite, a paper-based book.
If you use this system every day for three weeks, it will become as automatic as brushing your teeth.
The brain dump
The brain dump is simply the action of listing everything you need to do, would like to do and wish you could do. This list is usually quite long because it includes personal and professional activities—everything from dropping off the video you rented over the weekend to going to the printer to pick up your business cards to delivering that long-term care insurance policy to your client 20 miles away.
Many of my clients say they feel emotionally relieved after this step. After all, once these tasks are out of their heads and recorded somewhere, they don’t have to remember them.
Now that the list is created, prioritize the activities. No. 1 priorities must be done in the short term. No. 2 priorities can be done in the longer term. No. 3 priorities are your I’d-sure-like-to-do-this-someday activities.
The appointment book
Next, put due dates next to the No. 1 priorities. This is the chunk of your brain dump that you work with daily. Over time, the No. 2—and some of the No. 3—priorities will make it to the number one priority list.
Now transfer the No. 1 priorities for this week into your appointment book as if they were actual sales appointments. Give them specific time frames (five minutes, one hour, etc). Do whatever it takes to complete the task.
When a task is completed, delete it from the brain dump. This will quickly become your favorite step of the system.
A twice-a-day habit
Maintenance of this system is easy. Before you begin your day, check the brain dump for action items that you put into your schedule for that day. Adjust the due dates for No. 1 priorities that won’t fit into the day’s schedule. At the end of your day, check your brain dump again. Delete items you completed and add new activities that came to mind during your day. Prioritize the new items and plug in future due dates.
This is a seven-day-a-week, twice-a-day habit that is easy to form. If you use this system every day for three weeks, it will become as automatic as brushing your teeth.
Increase your productivity
Frequently an activity on the brain dump is a project or goal.
Most of us get behind on projects and goals because we get stuck looking at them as a whole. When we add that image to an already busy schedule, it looks overwhelming. And we all know what most dynamic individuals do when they become overwhelmed—they procrastinate.
Don’t let that happen. Instead, break the projects and goals down into their smallest components and enter the smaller pieces into your brain dump. Remember to label your No. 1 priorities with due dates.
Each activity you tackle on a daily basis should take only one step to complete. If not, break it down. Each morning, small components of a large project will show up as a single activity that you complete that day. If every project or goal were presented to us daily in small increments like these, we would get to our desired result more quickly.
I have used this hybrid time-management tool for about four years. It is the only method that keeps my clients and me focused on the big picture, while still completing smaller tasks in an uneventful, less stressful way. It works for busy people like me. It will work for you, too.
Lana M. Lombardi, CLU, ChFC, LUTCF, a consultant, speaker and coach, is president of Empowerment Strategies. Contact her at 304-856-3339 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.