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Many of our executive productivity coaching clients come to us because they’ve postponed organizing their to do list for one day (& night!) too many. They decide getting by for one more quarter is not how they want to live. They empower themselves to work with us to make different choices. To live better. To operate from a place of greater daily control.

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How often do you estimate a task and not have it completed in the allotted time? The delay may not be under-estimation, but rather unplanned interruptions.

If you’re unsure what’s stealing your time, we challenge you to document a day of delays in an interruption log where each time you must pause, shift focus, then re-engage in the original task, you document the disruption.

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When Chicago executives need time management coaching, sometimes all they need is greater awareness and understanding of their relationship with time. Following are tools I use to help them do just that.

Time BudgetI reach for the time budget when folks need to ground their weeks in more ritual. They confess they need to be doing particular activities with greater regularity, yet they don’t have them scheduled.

After creating an inventory of routine tasks, experiment with this document to plan when particular things should happen in an ideal world.

Most folks lives are not so duplicative that they can plan every segment of time. However, all of us can benefit from occasionally thinking through how we spend our weeks, and scheduling associating particular days/day parts with activities critical to our success and well being.

For instance, one of my client considers Thursday morning errand time. And another considers Friday afternoons planning time. (He more cleverly named this time, “don’t put the horse away wet.”) Putting pencil to paper streamlines the process for determining the best time to insert a new habit. For more on time budgets, check out our Time Budget white paper.

Time Sense ImageThe time sense tool is paired with those clients who don’t seem to have an accurate sense of the passage of time. They frequently admit to not knowing what they accomplished throughout the days, despite feeling busy the  entire time.

This loose time log has room for jotting the time, the activity and observations. Used throughout the days for a week always produces a revelation or two.

For instance, one client noticed she expected her work rhythm to be a steady beat from the time she arrived until the time she left–and she had no routine for stopping to renew her energy. As a result, she decided to orchestrate her days with high-energy projects at the top of the day and low-energy tasks toward the end. She also set her phone alarm to chime every two hours to “wake her up” to the passage of time.


time log

This time log has a spot for collecting what-am-I-doing data in :15 increments. I sometimes suggest clients with little to no structure to live with this tool for a week or two so we can begin to see what activities are driving their days–and what tasks might be preventing critical work from happening.

One client realized checking his email at the top of day frequently dragged into lunch time if he had no meetings scheduled. However, when he started his day with a meeting, he only spent roughly :45 on email for the first half of the day. He used this to determine setting and accepting morning meetings could not only help move projects along, but could also prevent him from losing time to the email monster.




Time Estimate Tracker image

fellow professional organizer turned me onto this time estimate tracker–a tool based on anexercisedeveloped by Bonnie Mincu.

I turn to this tool when my clients seem to chronically under or over estimate their activities…or the tasks of those on their team.

With room to track estimates of how long an activity will take/took, you\’ll also find room to calculate the gap between your perception and reality.

We have updated the time estimate tracker document to automatically calaculate the times in excel. On April 30, 2012, this enhanced time estimate tracker tool was added to this post.

Time Estimating Worksheet

What other tools do you use to calibrate your relationship with time? What lessons did you learn from the attached measuring devices?

If you decided long ago At-A-Glance appointment books, wall and desk calendars were not for you, it might be time for a second look. This Ohio-based company sells a family of planning notebooks at many major retailers (CVS, Kmart, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Rite Aid, Staples, Target, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, to appeal to those who have a great calendar system, but need a place to record daily tasks and notes.At-A-Glance Planning NotebookWith roots back to the early 1900s, you’ll be surprised how modern the circle the date, one day per page, two days per page, 6″ x 9″, 8.5″ x 11″ options are.

They feature:

Don’t let the lack of day of the week, month, day and year identification dissuade you from these notebooks. Instead print and apply labels to quickly mark everything you want to know on each page. I created the following labels for a client–can you guess her favorite color? Download the template, make changes as you see fit, and print your customized version on Avery 5167 Return Address labels.

at-a-glance planning notebook labels

What successes have you experienced with At-A-Glance or another planner company?

The age-old tickler filing system may not have the sexiest name, but it is a powerful time management tool to track tasks. Following are nine steps to turn the old fashioned filing system into a customized machine to help you organize your daily tasks.

1. Make space for 50-60 hanging file folders in the easiest-to-access place in your office.

2. Gather 50 high-quality hanging file folders (in your favorite color or colors) & 50 clear tabs. (The daily files consume 43 folders: 12 for the months & 31 for the days. Most people have another half-dozen or so files they add to complete their system.)

3. Customize & print your tickler tabs (we have several to choose from at the bottom of this post), and then slip them between the plastic flaps.

4. Then insert the tabs into the front (Illustration 1) of the hanging file folder. Consider using straight-line techniques or color to separate the months from the days from the extras (Illustration 2).

5. Arrange the hanging file folders in their space in this order or in an order you prefer: Scrap Paper –> Waiting for Response –> 1-31 –> Jan-Dec –> Other

6. Rotate the files so the day you are experiencing is the day at the front (Illustration 3).

7. Convert your current tasks to reminder sheets (one per sheet) & drop into your trusty new system. When you’re stuck, ask, “when is the next time I want to be reminded to this?” (You go through a lot of paper in the beginning, but this subsides the more you use the system.)

8. Commit to using the system every day.

9. Rejoice in the liberation & peace of mind you just created.

Select one of these tickler tab sets by clicking the image you want. Further customize after opening. Test print. And then print a final copy on Avery 5167 Return Address labels. You’ll make all your colleagues jealous!

tickler tabs pink  tickler tabs green purple brown  tickler tabs orange green brown

tickler labels blue gold lime  tickler tabs blue gold red  Tickler tabs blue green purple

What tickler tricks do you think others should know?

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Regain Inbox Control

Our advice on how to organize email. We sincerely hope it delivers the results you're seeking and that you regain inbox control.

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Manage Time With a Budget

Our advice on how to organize time with a budget. We trust it will help you to be more realistic about scheduling so you accomplish the important stuff.