I've discovered, the hard way, that the physical system is the key to success. To make this system work, you really have to have all your ducks in a row BEFORE you get started.
When I first started, I set aside two days and started collecting and processing. Then I got stuck. Why? Because I only thought I had my system in place. There are so many holes in it that stuff is leaking out everywhere.
Therefore, I designed a little "System Test" for myself that others might find useful. The idea is to test your system with a couple of exercises before you commit your "real" stuff to the system. Better to find out now where the holes are. Something like this could be an interesting tool when evaluating systems too. I know I considered using a PDA, using Life Balance, using a Hipster PDA, using Outlook without the add-in, using Outlook WITH the add-in. One of the problems I ran into was that I hadn't committed to one before getting started. While processing, I'd try one for a bit, then a different one, and all I got was a mess. I wished I'd done a test run first.
Getting ready for the Test:
- Do this test in your primary office area--whether that's at home or a physical office.
- Have nearby your ubiquitous capture device--whatever that is for you.
- If you have already implemented the system and your in-box has "stuff" in it, temporarily move that stuff aside. Your in-box should be empty.
- As you go through the exercises, you may get ideas of things that need to be fixed, office equipment you need to buy, or other projects or actions you want to capture. As those ideas come up, capture them in your capture device.
- Don't go through these exercises mentally--actually do them. If you use a paper planner, write them in (you can use a pencil and erase them later). If you use an electronic system, type them in.
Copy the workflow diagram and file it for reference.
Copy this list:
- Stack of plain, letter-sized paper
* Post-It Notes (3x3)
* Paper Clips
* Binder Clips (variety of sizes)
- Scotch Tape
- Rubber Bands
- Labeller Tape (TZ)
* File Folders
* 3 Paper Holding Trays
* Scotch Tape Dispenser
* Automatic Labeler
* Wastebasket/Recycling Bin
Before you put this list away, TOUCH each of the items marked with a *. Now pick up and put down each of the items marked with a '-'.
Now file the list away so you can refer to it later--just as you'd file any important list you want to refer to.
My birthday is December 21. Put a reminder in your system to send me a birthday card. My address is 123 Main, Anytown.
You and I have an important lunch meeting this Friday that you can't miss. Put that appointment on your calendar. You need to bring 3 things to the meeting: the price of a Dyson vacuum cleaner, 2 chocolate chip cookies, your list of office supplies. Put all this information into your system.
David wrote a really good article on how he does a weekly review. It is at http://www.davidco.com/tips_tools/tip16.html. Put this in your system for reading when you have some time.
Also...go grab a magazine somewhere nearby and put it aside for reading later too. (If you can't find a magazine, just scrawl "MAGAZINE" on some paper as a placeholder.)
- Think of one exotic place you'd like to go someday (but not anytime this year). Write on a peice of paper "Brochure for Exotic Place"
- Think of one skill you'd like to learn but don't have the time for yet. (If you can't think of anything, use "Become an expert Sword Maker"
- Think of something your boss or spouse would like you to do soon (but you don't want to). (If you can't think of anything, use "Clean Garage".
Capture these three things in your system. For one of them, break it down into smaller chunks of how you could actually accomplish it. If you need to, pull out your "Workflow Diagram" for reference.
You just figured out that Dyson makes 3 different vacuum cleaners. You called me and left a message asking which vacuum cleaner I want. Put this in your system.
Take out two pieces of paper. On one, write "WIDGET 1 DESIGN NOTES". On the other, write "WIDGET 1 MARKET REQ'TS". Imagine for a moment that you've stepped out of your office space. (Don't actually leave or you'll miss the rest of the exercise!) While you're out, you run into your client (or boss or whatever). Your client says "Oh, I'm so glad I ran into you!!! Here's the material you need to get started on Widget1. Give Sam a call for the rest of the information and get back to me by the beginning of next week with your budget requirements! Oh, and you'll need to know that the third item on the Market requirements is wrong--it says 15% and it should be 51%."
Before you continue with this exercise, stop a minute and think of the past two days. Write a list of all the places where you spent more than, say, 15 minutes. My examples would include: Gym, Car, Stables, Home Office, Work Office, Client Site, Grocery Store.
Consider how you would have captured this information in each of these locations. Simulate one of the methods. If you'd use your voice recorder to capture the information, do it. If you plan to carry a notebook, grab the notebook out of your pocket and start writing (it is in your pocket, isn't it?). If you plan to capture it using a PDA, write it in to your PDA the same way you would if you ran into your client away from your office.
Taking the results of your simulation, transfer that information into your action lists, etc and put the pages the client handed you in the correct place.
I call and remind you I have two dogs that shed. I need the Dyson Animal. Capture this.
At this point, you should have:
- A Projects List
- Project Support Material
- Calendered actions and information
- Contact information
- A next action list for several contexts including @Computer, @Errands, @Waiting for
- Reference material
- Someday/Maybe list
Without going any further, you probably have a feel for whether or not your system works, but if you want to make sure, here's some tests.
Referring only to this material--and not the information in the exercises:
Your spouse just popped in. He/she is going to the store on the way back. He/she needs to leave right now, but wants to know if you need anything. Can you give him/her a list of only the office supplies on your required list that you're running low on? Is there anything else he/she can pick up for you? (Hint: did you remember the chocolate chip cookies?) Was your office supply list readily available or did you have to dig it out of a tickler file?
It is now December 18. Do you know what day is coming up? Can you complete the required action? Do you have all the things you need? (Hint: Did you remember to actually go out and get the card or do you have to dash out today to get one). Where's my address?
You're at your computer and have a meeting in 10 minutes. What can you do while you wait? (Hint: your action list should include: Check price of Dyson vacuum cleaners; and possibly something about that link to the article I gave you)
You have an appointment and know you'll be sitting around waiting for at least 30 minutes. What can you grab as you leave? (You should be able to readily grab some reading material and your list of calls to make, if you have to take your whole computer with you to do this, you probably have some holes in your system).
Your spouse brought back the cookies. You checked the price of the vacuum cleaner on line. It is now Friday and you're running late because of an impromptu meeting that couldn't be avoided. How hard is it going to be for you to meet me and bring all the required material? (There is no one BEST way to do this, some may put together a folder with my name on it and then put all the material in the folder to grab on the way out. Others may put a note in the calendar where to find the information.)
OK...I'm tired of thinking up tests. If you find this an interesting exercise, add your own tests!