If you are an active manager, always on the go or away from your desk I have an invaluable tool to help you with time and problem management. A pen and a pocket list. It is a very simplified “Getting Things Done” system, and very useful for active managers.
The concept is simple. Take a standard sheet of paper, fold it once and then again into a nice neat square. You will end up with four easy to access squares to write on. If needed you can expand the paper for a total of eight squares. On the top of an outfacing square write down the date for later reference when you file it. Now you have a cheap, disposable pocket list.
You may have a portfolio or notebook you carry to meetings, but odds are there are many times during the day when you do not have these items with you. If you carry a pocket list and a pen you will be able to write down problems and to-do items throughout the day, anywhere you go.
Some people use small moleskin or other types of notebooks for this. They fit right in your back pocket and do have an advantage over a pocket list in that you can carry many days worth of notes. If you prefer these you can use the same system. I just prefer a less bulky simple piece of folded paper for each day.
How to Use a Pocket List
First thing in the morning after you have a handle on the day on one side of the paper write down any tasks you must or want to get done during the day. Then take the paper and stick it in your back pocket. Throughout the day go back to your list and mark off items as you complete them.
As the day goes by you will find you need to add more tasks to the list. Don’t worry about writing down more than you can do in one day. The list is a reminder system as much as it is a to-do list. You meet with someone and they ask you to look into something, write it down. An employee comes to you with an issue you need to follow-up on later, write it down. Someone gives you their phone number, write it down.
I use one side for a to-do list and one side for a reminder list. The to-do list are my tasks I started with in the morning. To this I may add “send e-mail to…., call this person…”. The reminder list is usually comprised of problems that need to be addressed. The other folds are useful for jotting down information in impromptu meetings or encounters where you may not have your portfolio or notepad.
Another good use for the pocket list is a brain dump. While at lunch you have this great idea. Rather than use a paper napkin just pull out your pocket list and write away. If you are like me you routinely need to write something down. With your pocket list you always have it with you and everything is written down in one place.
End of Day Pocket List Dump
At the end of the day pull out your pocket list and review it. You now need to take all of this information you have collected throughout the day and process it.
- Take care of any e-mail reminders
- Take care of any phone calls or make a call list for the next day
- Update your contacts if you wrote down any phone numbers or other contact information
- Add any new meetings and to-do items to your main calendar
- Add any pocket list tasks to be done at a later date to your pocket list calendar
- Transfer any detailed notes you need to document to your portfolio or notebook
- Create a new pocket list for tomorrow and transfer any remaining to-do items to it. The next day you will already have a start on your to-do list.
- For anything you do not transfer, but still want to retain use a highlighter on it.
After you are done processing your pocket list at the end of the day, toss it in a box or a folder. Or put them in order using a binder clip and keep them on your desk. You can go back and reference it throughout the week. At the end of the week you can go through the lists again, pull any information you want to keep and toss the used list in the paper recycle bin.
You don’t have to wait until the end of the day though. When you get back to your office review your list and knock out anything you have time for or that is a priority.
Merge Your Pocket List With a Calendar and Note Software
One way to maximize the use of a pocket list is to sync relevant parts of it with a calendar. I have a separate calendar in Outlook just for these items. Items on my pocket list that need to be taken care of later I add to the calendar with a reminder. Each morning when I am creating my pocket list I look at this calendar to see if there is anything that I need to add to that days list.
If you don’t have time to deal with an issue that day just drag it to the next day. Need to delegate a task to someone else? Outlook can do that too. Between your pocket list calendar, your regular calendar and your to-do list in Outlook all of your reminders and tasks are in one place.
If you have note keeping software such as Microsoft OneNote or EverNote you can transfer those great ideas or other notes to remember. Start a new page for that date and transfer anything you want to keep to your note keeping software.
There are several other alternatives for your hip pocket that many people swear by. They do have an advantage of organization and being able to carry days worth of notes with you. I have tried them, but found them to be too bulky compared to a simple piece of folded paper.
- Hipster PDA – The Hipster PDA is a paper-based personal organizer, popularized by San Francisco writer Merlin Mann. It is merely a collection of index cards with a binder clip. The index cards can be different colors for different uses or tabbed.
- The “Original” Pocket List – Booklets carried in a heavy bond paper holder.
- Mini Moleskine – Moleskine notebooks are very popular. This is an example of cutting them down to a size suitable for a hip pocket. Still large for me and you can find them now made to this size.
- Mini Marble Notebook – Look around in your favorite office supply store and you will find these mini marble notebooks.
Simple and Effective
You may not be one of the Getting Things Done types of people, but a pocket list is dead simple to use. No complicated system, just jot down your tasks in the morning, mark them off as you do them, add to the pocket list anything you want to remember and process it at the end of the day. A simple but effective time and problem management tool for busy managers.