I have always considered myself firmly in the “Type A Personality” category, even before I knew what that meant. Growing up my mom would say, “She tends to bite off more than she can chew.” When I was in graduate school my behavioral sciences professor said, “If you do something that isn’t on your list and then add it to your list just so that you can mark it off your list…then you are Type A.” Yep, that was me! My lists spawned lists that would need to be rewritten and categorized each day.
But in retrospect, just because I have always depended on lists, doesn’t put me into the Type A bucket, which by definition (or at least Wikipedia says) is someone that is ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, takes on more than they can handle (I actually can relate to that), want other people to get to the point, anxious, proactive, concerned with time-management and are often high achieving “workaholics” who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.
Yeah…that’s not me. I’m not rigidly anything and just the idea of being highly status conscious makes me dizzy.
Whereas Type B’s, according to Wikipedia, live at a lower stress level and typically work steadily, enjoying achievement but not becoming stressed when they do not achieve. They may be creative and enjoy exploring ideas and concepts. They are often reflective.
Yeah… I would like to think that I’m a B with time management aspirations (or list issues as it were). So way back when, I was a new mom working from home building my business and every day I would come into my office during nap time, take yesterday’s list add everything that I did that wasn’t on the list, cross it off and then transfer everything that didn’t get done to a new fresh list and while I was doing that, I would think of 4 bjillion more things that needed to be done, even if I couldn’t get them done today, so I would add another list on the back of those things, and then I’d think of all of the grocery items that I needed, and then…you get the point. My list “strategy” was getting me nowhere fast.
So I recruited my friend Lise Stahl Brown, who at the time was an organizational coach, to help set me on the straight and narrow to effective time management. The system she implemented for me was so great, that I have used every aspect daily for 8 years! Here’s the secret…it involves tickling.
Lise set up a GO system for me. GO stands for Get Organized and there is a whole lot of components to the system that trainers charge lots of money online to help you implement—check out YouTube, but it boils down to the tickler file.
The overarching concept of a tickler file is to have a folder for every day of the month, and subsequent folders for future months, to track your to-dos.
This is my system and it’s well-worn after 8 years of use! Thirty-one of the folders will have a number on them from 1-31—one for each day of the month, twelve will have a month (January through December), one will be “Waiting for Response” and the last one will be for “Follow Up Forms”.
Once tabbed, put them into the file holder from front to back like this:
Follow Up Forms
Waiting on Response
Whatever the Current Month is (for me that’s January)
The Days Remaining (for me that is 20-31)
The Next Month followed by the remaining day folders (for me February and then 1-19)
And then the rest of the months in order
Easy peasy, right?
At this point you can kiss your lists good-bye…forever. I’ll give you a moment…
Take a stack of scrap paper (don’t worry about size, shape, color, etc.) and put it into the Follow Up Forms folder. Now instead of a list, you write one item that needs to be done on one piece of paper. Got that…one item per piece of paper. Now take all of those piles that are on your desk neatly waiting for something to happen to them and add to the pile all of the items you transferred off your list(s). Now, going through one by one, pick up the item and ask yourself these questions:
Can I DUMP this? Is there really something that needs to be done, or can I let it go? If so, throw it away and don’t look back.
If not, can I DO this right now? If so, just do it and be done with it.
If not, can I DELEGATE it to someone else? If so, delegate it to someone else and put the item into the Waiting for Response folder until it is confirmed complete if you need to track it, otherwise delegate it and be done with it.
If not, can I DEFER it to another day? If so, put it into the appropriate day and/or month when it needs to be done.
If not, you can put it into today’s folder to do later today.
If there is something that needs to be done, but you are waiting on action from others, you can put it into the Waiting on Response folder.
You can go through your emails and do the same thing. Either print the first page of the email, or jot a note on a sheet of scrap paper to the task that needs to be done from the email and go through the set of questions to find the correct place to file it.
As a result of this system, you are only ever focusing on what needs to be done today. If while you are working on a task today you think of something that needs to be done later, jot it down and file it for the time it needs to be accomplished and don’t let it sidetrack you.
Now, each morning, I come into my office and I go first to my Waiting on Response folder—is there anything that I was waiting on responses for that came in that now allows me to complete the task or at least do the next step? Then I go to yesterday’s folder—did I complete everything? If not, I put it into today’s folder. I then take everything from today’s folder, add anything that needs to be done today, and then put all of the items into order by priority. I then put the whole stack back into the folder for today and pull out the first item. That should be the only paper on your desk. I then set my timer for 15 or 25 minute increments and keep my head down until it’s done—and yes, I have a timer obsession.
This works great for family items as well. As I get brochures for summer camps, I put it into my spring month folders. Change of address cards go into November when I will be working on my holiday card list. I have a sheet for dentists, doctors, and other appointments that move as appointments need to be scheduled, etc.
Once I’ve completed an item, I cross it off the page, and put the sheet of paper back into my Follow Up Forms folder for later use. My boys also pull from the Follow Up Forms for all of their scrap paper needs! Sometimes items need to be deferred for another day, or need to take a break in Waiting on Response awaiting action by others. But regardless, they don’t go on a list, and they don’t go on a stack on your desk. One item on one sheet of paper and one item is focused on at one time.
It’s a crazy simple system that just required a lot of explanation. But it really works. Take it from me, the recovering list addict!