Managing Your Action Items

One of the things I often recommend to clients is to keep a desktop file containing all of their “Action” papers.  This might contain manila folders or hanging files labeled with such titles as Action Required, To Do, Bills to Pay, Waiting For, To File, To Call, To Enter in Computer, Coupons & Offers, etc.  This system works well to contain all those stray papers that might otherwise litter your desk and other flat surfaces.

One issue that comes up, though, is will these papers be “out of sight, out of mind”?  Unless you can establish a habit of checking the folders on a daily basis, you’ll also need to come up with a system that will trigger your memory to actually accomplish the action items.  This could be your calendar, a paper or electronic planner, a tickler file, reminders programmed into your phone, or even just a list on a notepad or in a binder.  Most likely it will be a combination of these tools.

I highly recommend the book by David Allen for ideas about how to set up and work with such a system.  In it, he outlines three basic requirements for managing commitments:

  • “First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear. Anything you consider unfinished in any way must be captured in a trusted system outside your mind… that you know you’ll come back to regularly and sort through.
  • Second, you must clarify exactly what your commitment is and decide what you have to do, if anything, to make progress toward fulfilling it.
  • Third, once you’ve decided on all the actions you need to take, you must keep reminders of them organized in a system you review regularly.”

 “A system you review regularly.”  That’s the key point, I think.  Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different systems. Years ago, I received training in the Franklin Planner system.  (A similar one is the popular Day-Runner system.)  One time I tried an index card system.  I’ve also tried the Planner Pad which is a unique paper-based planner that includes your lists, daily to do’s, and appointments all on one page.  But since I dislike my handwriting and having to rewrite lists, I finally settled on a computer-based program called Achieve Planner, which is what I’ve been using for some time now.  It actually has more bells and whistles than I’ll ever use, but the basic program serves the purpose of keeping everything in one place.  I use this program in conjunction with a computer-based calendar, a desktop file and a tickler file.

To summarize, here’s a list of calendar and planner systems I’ve mentioned and others I’ve heard of:

There are many different systems out there. Sometimes you have to test-drive a few of them before you find one you really like, that fits with your lifestyle, and that you will use on a regular basis.  If you haven’t found one yet, keep looking until you find one that works for you!


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  1. Finding Your Perfect Calendar

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