“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” — Horace Mann, 19th century American educator and reformer
Self-management, like self-improvement is highly personal. What works for one person may be ridiculous to someone else. Over the years I’ve evolved a personal management system that works for me. I think of it as PODS:
This is where goal setting has become the most meaningful for me — at the daily, weekly, or monthly level (I am awful at hitting any longer-term goals). Starting with a paper time management system (in a leather binder I took everywhere) and now on my notebook computer (which I don’t always take everywhere), I make notes of things I want to do on a particular day, week, or month. These are recorded when I get an idea, make a commitment, or set plans.
At the beginning of the week, I prioritize all the ideas, commitments, and plans that have accumulated for that week. With my Personal Information Manager (PIM) program on my notebook computer it’s a breeze. Detailed notes can be shuffled to tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. I begin each day prioritizing the phone calls and tasks for that day in descending order of importance. At the end of the day I shuffle what’s left into tomorrow or some other date.
Very few people can “multi-task” effectively and concentrate on two things at once or flit back and forth from one thing to another. I certainly can’t. So I’ve found the clean desk approach to be the most effective. The only things on my desk and credenza are ornaments, family photos, computer, telephone, and an out-basket.
My in-basket is the top drawer of my desk. All incoming mail, faxes, and paper go in there. That way, when I am working on something, I am not distracted or overwhelmed by other papers waving to get my attention. Nothing is allowed to stay in my in-drawer over night (unless I am out of town). When I go through the paper in this drawer, it immediately goes to one of four places: the wastebasket or recycling bin, my filing system, my out-basket, or my “pending” file folder for reading later or responding to on an airplane. This forces me to handle it once and not form little piles that slowly become future hiding places for that document I remember seeing once and now desperately need.
Thomas Henry Huxley once observed, “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned.” Discipline is the engine that drives the whole PODS approach. Whenever mine wavers, the choking PODS process takes me down with it. Lack of discipline is at the heart of most of my performance problems. Like the battle of the bulge, this is a lifelong fight with “hardening of the oughteries.”
I am too lazy to look for things. I much prefer to know where things are and find them the first time I look. Personal systems take time — and especially discipline — to set up, consistently use, and maintain. But like investments in training or quality improvement, investments of time in personal systems pay back many times their costs by saving huge amounts of time later.
Keys go on the same key rack by the garage door as soon as we come in the house. Files go right back in their file drawers. Articles are coded and filed in my library system for book, column, or presentation research later. Books go into their respective sections in my library. Presentations or workshop designs are filed for later reference so I don’t have to start from scratch on something similar in months or years from now. Periodically I overcome the packrat in me and go through my filing system tossing things out, consolidating files, or moving files to my attic archives.
Since 1989, all correspondence, articles, columns, books, workshop or retreat designs, and anything else I “word processed” are filed in my notebook computer. In the last few years we’ve added databases for thousands of our personal contact records (the conversations of everyone we talk to are recorded here). I’ve added a research and quotations database filed according to my main article reference filing system (which is where most of the research, examples, and quotes sprinkled throughout my books come from).
I have also created and filed hundreds of my presentation slides. So whether I am in an airport, on a plane, or in my office, I can search files, presentations, quotations, and databases. I can then easily retrieve, cut, paste, and create something new.
My PODS approach looks dangerously obsessive to some and “interesting” to others. I am continuing to customize and evolve it to fit me. I have come to believe that there is no one right personal time management and organization system. We all need to continue developing and refining the system that works best for our own quirks and preferences.