Every manager should use a time planner… a diary, a day book, an appointment calendar, a daily organiser – call it what you will. Although effective time-management primarily depends on personal discipline and willpower, time planners can help you win that daily battle with time. Here are a few guidelines to get you thinking about how to make best use of those essential management tools – diaries and calendars…

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1. Know what a diary should be.

Pocket or desk diaries and calendars are the traditional ‘appointment books’ – but they ought to be used for more than recording appointments. They require enough space to list one day’s appointments and, on the same page opening, enough room to comment on the planning or recording of the day’s work: telephone calls, reminders, meeting notes, goals, ideas, lists, events. Your diary should become a written record of events, thoughts, and plans – a book you will want to keep dipping into, a basic tool you will not want to be without.

2. Be aware of how a diary can help you.

If you have any doubts about the value of a diary to you as a busy manager, consider that it can:

  • reduce your stress by reminding you of appointments, telephone messages, promises, and tasks to be completed.
  • enable you to recall incidents and ideas.
  • increase self-confidence and control, all the key aspects of your work being recorded in one handy volume.
  • remind you that time has both an economic and a spiritual value.

If you intend to become an effective time-manager, you’ll need a workable diary or calendar for daily use.

3. Choose your diary thoughtfully.

A survey by the US magazine Business Week found that effective managers look for certain qualities in their diaries and calendars. They prefer:

  • a ‘planner’ format to a simple diary. For them, a diary is more than an appointment book: it’s a planning tool.
  • a diary that lies flat. It should lie open on a desk without needing to be pressed flat.
  • a diary with a time management section. They believe that a proper planner can help them manage time.
  • a diary with aesthetic appeal. It’s a personal tool. It says something about the user, who wants to look good in front of others.
  • a range of features, including a double-ribbon bookmark, to keep two places; quarter-hour time subdivisions; simple, uncluttered layout; and usable forward planning components.

What features do you require in a diary or planner?

4. Investigate buying a commercial time management system.

For the ultimate in diaries, consider a commercial time planner (essentially a diary with enhancements). If used correctly, they literally organise your work life. In essence, you buy into a refined system of planning paraphernalia. Pages in the six-ring binders can be added or deleted; and often models ranging from pocket to desk-top versions are available. You can, in effect, customise your organiser using a variety of page formats – daily schedules, to-do lists, appointments, delegations, new ideas, project planners, meeting agendas, expense sheets, blank and lined pages, directories, forward planners, and so on. Various systems are available, each with its own advantages – e.g. FiloFax, Day-Timers, Day Runner, or Time Design.

Quality organisers are not cheap, however. But, as Robert McGarvey writes in ‘As Time Goes By’:

“Sift through the rigmarole associated with any organiser, and ultimately the indispensable key is to use it. Write down all appointments, phone calls that must be made, and chores – half of what any organiser provides is the freeing of your mind from the job of remembering little details that are better committed to paper and forgotten until needed. Do all this and, say users, the systems will shortly pay for themselves.”

5. Make your diary work for you.

Your diary, planner, or calendar can become a most powerful time-management tool if you remember these points:

  • At the beginning of the year, enter the important dates – e.g. staff meetings, product launches, conferences, and vacations.
  • Always break activities into time blocks, with a beginning and an end. Time-management problems are often caused by fuzzy end-times.
  • Don’t allow the entire day to be booked out. Leave some spare time to accommodate unexpected interruptions and thus reduce messy reschedulings or cancellations.
  • Avoid scheduling yourself too tightly. The pressure to finish one task or meeting in time to begin another reduces your effectiveness.
  • Allow time for rest, lunch and relaxation. Error rates and stress increase with lack of rest.
  • Block in time to complete important projects. Schedule enough time to build up momentum.
  • Always allocate important tasks to the beginning of a day.
  • Schedule long-winded callers at strategic times – just before lunch or closing time.
  • Ensure that you can carry your diary or planner with you at all times.
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