[Revised October 2018]
It’s not the diary that makes you organised – it’s how you use it. However, your style of both working and remembering information will impact your choice of planning tool.
Of course, you may be very happy with your electronic calendar. Most companies have an intranet system – the common ones being Outlook, Apple Calendar or IBM’s Lotus Notes. Google Calendar has become very popular due to its location in the Cloud. They all enable you to schedule meetings, delegate, turn e-mails into appointments and much more. And the electronic systems are great for quick communication across-team and for setting meetings.
If you’re using an electronic system, you may be missing major efficiency opportunities. It’s human nature to learn enough about a new system to get by on, then stop looking for further functionality. Few companies train their staff on the fine points of their programmes. I strongly recommend your organisation either hire a specialist trainer to run regular short courses or ask a ‘best practice’ staff member to run 20-minute training sessions on an as-needed basis.
The big question is, should we rely just on electronic systems or should we remain, or return to, a paper diary system? Basically, it depends on your preferences. Don’t spend a lot of money on fancy technology until you’re sure that’s what will work for you.
Many very technology-smart people prefer paper-based diary systems. Interestingly, that number is increasing year on year, despite our reliance on technology in so many other parts of our lives. Perhaps the user needs a bigger view. Or, they don’t feel connected to their plans unless they can hold a paper planner in their hands. Or, their creativity is enhanced with pen and paper.
If you want paper, what are the options?
As I edited this article in October 2018, my search for ‘best planners’ didn’t throw up the old favourites such as Daytimer, Filofax and Franklin Covey. Although these proprietary 7-ring binder systems are still around, they’re reducing in popularity now. Many people find a simple diary from the local stationers is all they need, perhaps because so much of the information we used to store in the bigger diary systems is now held in our smart phones.
What to look for?
A 2-page per day layout gives you one side for appointments and the other side to write your To Do list, notes, record phone calls, and all the miscellany of information you might otherwise be tempted to jot down on scraps of paper. I’m currently using a 1-page per day A5 size, simply because I couldn’t find a suitable 2-page per day when it was time to purchase. I draw a line of about 3 cm (just over an inch) on the left to record appointments and divide the rest of the page into two sections. On the top two-thirds you’ll find my To Do list. The bottom third takes any notes or small miscellaneous details such as the address for a meeting, shopping list on my way home, or agenda items for an up-coming phone call.
If your planner also has a weekly, monthly or even a yearly view you can see your commitments at a glance. Very useful.
Daily planning is highly important, but only half the story. Weekly planning is a powerful part of planning and saves a lot of time if done right. (See below for where to get that information.) I’ve designed a simple weekly planning page for you, available here. You’re welcome to download and adapt or use however you wish. It can be inserted in any of the proprietary brands, as long as you have a paper punch to fit that system. If you use a regular hardbound diary, you could paper-clip the weekly page in at the beginning of each week.
If you don’t need a lot of daily writing space nor need to carry a diary around, my weekly pages may be all you need. You might store them in an attractive ring binder.
You’ve got more than one diary system? What can you simplify? Try to operate with only one planner. Perhaps you’ve got a desk diary or a computer-based view for everyone to access, but you prefer to carry a diary with you. Or the company uses an Intranet to book meetings? You have to be very vigilant to manage two systems – there’s no simple answer, and even more so if you’re synchronising two paper-based systems. Just decide which is your primary ‘go-to’ place when you first make an appointment and check there before committing.
Summary: The best planning system is one that does the job you need – in the simplest possible way. As soon as it becomes complicated you set yourself up for difficulties. Trial, test, ask others, and wait – until you’re absolutely sure you need the latest bells and whistles. Why make a simple task complex? We have to cope with enough electronic change every day without turning our scheduling and planning into another potential challenge.
You’ll find more details on planning and prioritising in Getting a Grip on Time Management, available at Amazon. It’s the 2018 completely revised edition of my first best-seller Getting a Grip on Time .