What’s the biggest single best practice to get organized? Glad you asked. Without a doubt, it’s writing things down as soon as they arrive. It’ not only a great tool for organization and time management. It’s a great stress reliever as well.

Documentation if you use a paper planner…

Going one step further is the question of where to write it. If you use a paper planner, I recommend either the Day-Timer or Franklin Planner. Specifically, look for the models that have two facing pages per day. The left-hand page is for appointments and tasks. The right-hand page is magic. This page is meant to take the place of the memo pad by the phone, the grocery list by the refrigerator, the back of an envelope you grab to jot a phone number, and the Post-It notes that decorate your desk.

Here are some examples of what you might find on that right-hand page:

  1. You get a call from a friend inviting you to a party. While he tells you the particulars of the day, time, what to bring, and directions on how to get there, you jot it all in one place—today’s right-hand page. When the call is over, you can close the book and resume doing whatever it was you were doing, trusting that all of the information has been captured in your planner.
  2. You order some materials over the phone. The right-hand page is where you jot down the name of the person you spoke with, his/her extension, the order confirmation number, any discount you will receive, and other information you might need later.
  3. You normally go to the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, so Saturday’s right-hand page is the place to make the grocery list. Every time you think of something you need, flip to Saturday, jot it on the right-hand page, and close the book.
  4. You have a conference scheduled with a parent. Every time you think of something you want to discuss, open the book to the day of that conference and enter it on the right-hand page. You are building an agenda as you go. During the conference, take notes on the right-hand page.

A quick review of that right-hand page at the end of the day is vital in keeping the system alive. Look at what you have written throughout the day on today’s right-hand page and ask yourself, “What does this mean to me?” or “When will I need to see this again?”

Handling the examples

The first example was an invitation to a party. When you look at those notes at the end of the day, that will be your cue to flip to the appropriate day in your planner and note the party on the appropriate time slot. You also see from your notes that there are a few items you are to bring. You flip to Saturday’s page and jot on the right-hand page a couple of items you need to buy at the grocery store.

On the day of the party, how are you going to remember what to bring? How are you going to remember how to get there? Here is the real magic of that right-hand page—being able to go right back to information exactly when you need it. Let’s say the conversation about the party happened on May 10.

As you review your notes at the end of the day, you will not only turn in your planner to the day it is going to occur and write “Party” by the correct time slot, but you will also put out beside it this—(5/10). Anything in parentheses in your planner tells you, “Go to this date for more information.” When its time to get ready to leave for the party, that little note that says (5/10) tells you to look back in your planner to May 10. Now you are right back at the notes you took. You are looking at a list of what to bring and directions on how to get there!

We have talked about taking notes on the right-hand page when placing orders by phone. When the call is over, your documentation is over. At the end of the day, you look at your notes and ask yourself what would be a reasonable amount of time to allow for the order to arrive. You flip ahead in your planner and in the to-do section, you write “Acme (5/10)”. When that date arrives, that entry sends you back in your planner to May 10, the day you placed the order with the Acme company. When you call to check on the order, you have the phone number with extension, the name of the person you talked with, confirmation number, and all of the information you need at your fingertips.

Documentation if you use a digital system…

In 2001, I traded my Day-Timer for a Palm synced with Outlook. The digital calendar worked great. Keeping tasks digitally worked great. What didn’t work great? All of the stuff we have been talking about in this post.

Information often comes to us during phone calls and in meetings, either one-on-one or with a group. In these situations, nothing works better for me than paper. My substitute for the right-hand page is a paper journal. Any book store will carry a wide supply. Prices range from under five dollars to around twenty dollars.

The most important thing about your system…

The most important thing about your system is that it works. One of the things that keeps it working for the long haul is that it is easy. Flipping the journal open to the page where I left off last is easy. Writing on the next blank line is easy. Closing the book when the conversation is over is easy. The book has the job of remembering. I don’t.

We all know that documentation is important. It’s about time we had a system that was easy enough that we would actually do it!

Where you do keep your documentation? Do you use a paper planner? A journal? Do you have a particular brand you use? Any techniques you use that makes your efforts successful? Let me know in the comments.