Sometimes You Just Need to Make a List

Make a list ...

I don’t know about you, but when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed, it helps to sit down and make a list of all the things that need to get done.

I try to keep a running list of tasks and follow-ups, but sometimes, like today at work, I just needed to stop and make a list of the tasks that had to get done today.

Once I have the list on paper (and out of my head) the stress level goes down so that I can take a deep breath and begin to focus on the No. 1 task for the day.

What works for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed? How do you get your day started? And how do you keep ‘on task’ throughout your work-day?

Is a Paper-Based Planning/Organizing System Right for You?

Day-Timer :: Since 1947, Day-Timer has been helping people manage their workday. Their format hasn’t changed too much over the past several years.  I’ve used a Day-Timer system and, like any system, it works if you use it consistently.  You can learn more about all their products on the Day-Timer website.

Franklin Covey :: The first Frankin Planner was created in 1984 and now more than 15 million people use some sort of Franklin Covey system.  The “Covey” name comes from Stephen Covey who authored The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (and other books as well).  I am a fan of the Franklin Covey planner and am using one today.  I like the page format (two-page-per-day) of the Franklin planner better than the Day-Timer version.  But, it’s simply a matter of personal preference.  :-)   You can find all sorts of planners, refills and handbags at the Franklin Covey online store.

Day Runner :: Part of the same company that sells Mead(R), Cambridge(R) and At-A-Glance(R) products, Day Runner is another paper-based option for your consideration.  Yes, I’ve used this one too.  Day Runner is my second choice when it comes to planner systems.  The layout of pages and the space for writing notes is somewhat smaller than Franklin Covey.  I tend to have large handwriting so I need as much space as I can get.  I try very hard to write small and neat…but I’m not always successful.  You can check out the Day Runner line of products here.

FiloFax :: UK-based FiloFax began in 1921.  FiloFax means “file of facts”.  And that’s what their system is all about.  They offer much of the same type of calendar and task-list management forms that the others have.  The page format is a bit more ‘open’ than other systems, but again, it’s about personal preference.  You should find (and use) a system that you love to use and carry around with you (wherever you go).  Learn more about FiloFax here.

Planner Pad ::  The CFO of a company I worked for used the Planner Pad.  I was intrigued by its funnel-like approach and tried it out for a while.  It was not for me.  Not saying it’s bad.  Just saying the format was not conducive to my approach to staying organized.   As their website says, “each page works like a funnel to find priorities, organize work flow and plan personal activities.  You might find that it’s just what you need.  I invite you to find out by visiting their website.

Circa Notebooks :: Circa is the planner system created by Levenger.  This is probably the most flexible of all systems.  You can arrange the pages in any order you want.  Each page is a loose leaf notebook page bound together with special plastic discs.  Yes, I used this system for awhile too.  In fact, I carry a letter-size Circa in my laptop bag today.  I use it as a reference tool (corporate phone list, special customer data, etc.), rather than a planner.  I bought a Circa paper punch so I could add all sorts of printouts to my system.  You can get a nifty sample packet from Levenger to see if this type of system is right for you.  The sampler pack is $40 .  With your purchase, you get a $40 Circa gift card to use on your next purchase.    It’s a unique system.   You can learn more about Circa here.

Make-Your-Own Planner System :: You can skip all the hype and create a very functional system with a basic spiral notebook and some sticky notes.  Oh yes, I’ve used this system too.  I printed section titles like @Actions, @WaitingFor, @Projects, etc., on small-sized sticky notes and applied them on the outside edge of pages (in a staggered position) throughout the notebook.  The only drawback to this system is that you don’t have a true calendar.  Yes, you can certainly improvise by adding a very basic calendar (nothing wrong with that) but this homemade system is not as elegant as the others I’ve mentioned.

[box]Bottom line:  experiment.  If you’re going to use a paper-based system, I encourage you to do some experimenting until you find a system that you absolutely love.  If you don’t love it, you won’t use it.  And what’s the point of having a system if  you’re not going to use it?[/box]

PLEASE NOTE:  I do not have an affiliate relationship with any of the products mentioned in this blog post.  The opinions expressed are those of the author.  :- )

Weekend Wisdom – Choosing (and using) a Positive Attitude


Week-day posts here at The Empty Inbox focus on tools, tips, and tricks on getting stuff done.  I love the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology that I’ve learned from David Allen in his books and seminars*.  They have changed my life.  I’m passionate about sharing and teaching these best practices to other people.

As a slight change in pace, I’ve decided to use the weekends to share what I’m calling “Weekend Wisdom”.


This weekend, the post is all about attitude.  From time to time, we all need a refresher course on keeping a positive attitude toward work, home and life in general.  Agree?

Life can get pretty crazy.  While we can’t control all the stuff that happens to us, we CAN control how we react to it.  That’s where attitude comes in.  We have to be intentional (focused) on keeping the right attitude — no matter what life throws at us.


You are Responsible for Creating and Maintaining your Attitude

Simply put, attitude is all about YOU.  It’s about you deciding whether to look at the positive or negative side of things.

It’s about:

  • you deciding whether you’re going to be happy or sad.
  • you deciding if you’re going to try to lift people up or put them down.
  • you picking yourself up, dusting yourself and moving forward or quitting.
  • you constantly whining and complaining about your job or having the courage to change yourself…or find a new job.
  • you choosing to raise your kids with tough-love and patience or throwing in the towel and letting them take control of you.
  • you deciding that today can be the day to make new choices that will forever change your outlook on life.
  • YOU.

So:   How’s your attitude these days?  Do you need an ‘attitude adjustment’?

Your Turn:  Share your thoughts in the comments section below.




*If you’re interested in learning more about GTD, I invite you to visit The David Allen Company website or pick up a copy of David’s best-selling book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

Free Your Mind: Thirteen Tools to Capture Your Ideas, Tasks, and Reminders

Right Brain Planning {elements}
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Teresa Robinson via Compfight

There are Several Ways to Capture Important Information

Hi-tech, lo-tech or no-tech, there are plenty of tools out there to help you hold on to thoughts, ideas and reminders.  Here’s my list.

  1. Note pad and pen or pencil
  2. Short-stack of index cards (several 3×5 index cards secured by a binder clip makes a handy note-taking tool)
  3. Post-It notes (a must-have tool)
  4. Section of pages from your existing planner/system
  5. Cocktail napkin (don’t laugh…some of the best ideas ever created were captured on the back of a cocktail napkin).
  6. Hand-held mini- or micro-cassette recorder (A few years ago, I used one in my car during commute to and from work)
  7. Hand-held digital audio recorder (I bought mine on eBay for cheap and use it during my commute time)
  8. Voicemail or telephone answering machine (for both home and office reminders)
  9. The text or audio note function of your cell phone (refer to your owner’s manual or do a Google search for details)
  10. E-mail.  Yep:  send yourself an e-mail message.  Works like a charm and can be easily converted into a task in Outlook.
  11. A service like ReQall.  Using the Bluetooth function of my cellphone, I leave myself messages during my commute to and/or from work. The message is transcribed and forwarded to my Outlook email address at the office.  I used Jott until they went out of business.  Now I use the Pro version of ReQall and find that it’s actually better than Jott.  The Pro version is just $2.99/month.  There’s a free version too.  Check it out!
  12. Online tools like Remember the Milk, Nozbe,WorkFlowy, Google Calendar or Google Task List
  13. The note function or task list function of Microsoft Outlook

Your turn:  What is your favorite tool for capturing ideas, thoughts, and reminders?

David Allen in the New York Times

In case you don’t already know it, I’m a HUGE fan of David Allen and his Getting Things Done methodology.

Mr. Allen wrote a piece for the New York Times.   It will appear in tomorrow’s (March 18, 2012) print edition.  Here is the online version of the article.

In my opinion, success starts by getting all the “stuff” out of your head. As David puts it:

Capture everything that has your attention, in your work and your personal life, in writing. Maybe it’s your departmental budget, a meeting with the new boss, an overdue vacation, or just the need to buy new tires and a jar of mayonnaise. For the typical professional, it can take one to six hours to “empty the attic” of your head. It may seem daunting, but this exercise invariably leads to greater focus and control.

If you haven’t already read Allen’s most-popular book, Getting Things Done, I HIGHLY recommend that you get your hands on it.  And devour it.  It is full of good stuff.

Creating a List Helps Keep Us Focused on What Needs to Get Done

Shortly after breakfast, my wife and I came up with a list of things we need to get done today.

It’s too easy to forget this stuff if we simply keep it in our heads and try to remember it all.  And…working together we end up with a much more comprehensive list, too.  It simply works.  :-)

You’ll notice that I put little check-boxes next to each task.  It’s a habit I have and it serves a couple purposes.  I love the fact that when I can physically check-off a task that is complete, it makes me feel good.  Those theories about endorphins are true.

And empty box is a task that has not started.  A circle in the box means that the task has been started, but it’s not completed.  Laundry has been started (but does it ever end?!?!?) and we’re finishing house-cleaning too.

You’ll also notice a couple asterisks beside two of the tasks.  Those are high-priority tasks for today.  My wife and I need to sit down and synch our calendars so we know what’s coming up in the next several days.  Between work, school and sports schedules, an up-to-date calendar is a must.

“Food for the week” receives a star because we like to plan at least the first three or four days’ worth of dinners so there’s no “what’s for dinner?” questions.

Oh, and the fortune cookie message?  It’s just bonus.  The message reads:

[box type="info" size="large"]Make every day your best.  You will improve yourself greatly.[/box]

Amen to that.