When your system works…and then it doesn’t, what’s the problem? What’s the answer? That’s what we’re talking about today.

Get two productivity guys talking. Invariably you wind up with nuances neither thought about. That’s what happened in a recent conversation with my colleague Francis Wade, a Jamaican productivity expert.

Francis and were recording a podcast episode, totally unrehearsed.

The takeaway for me was simple: As our responsibilities mature, our system must mature in response.

Immediate Responding

From the time we’re toddlers, we’re faced with to-dos. We’re told to eat our vegetables, wave “bye-bye” to a guest, or pick up our toys. In each case, someone else is giving us the task. In each case, we respond now.

The small child needs no planner or smartphone to perform the to-dos. They’re done in the moment.

Delayed Responding

“Your homework tonight is 20 minutes of reading and work the math problems on page 27, ” says the teacher.

The next day, some students did the reading and the math assignment. Others didn’t. What made the difference? Good memory? Desire? Maybe.

On the other hand, maybe it has to do with a system. Suddenly, there’s a delay of several hours between when the task is assigned and when the task will be done. How is the child to keep up with those tasks?

This example is a prime reason why student planners are an important topic. Their need grows throughout the grade school years. I invite you to the episode Leslie Josel and I recorded on this very topic. Leslie’s business, Order Out of Chaos, works exclusively with helping young people develop system, and in particular, use a planner to trap all of the delayed responses.

At this level, it’s all about having a place to trap the commitments others give us. At this level, we may hear the teacher ask every student to take out the planners and may even check to see if things have been written in the correct spots.

As we grow, this element will always be there, but we’ll be the ones in charge of writing down our commitment without the support system of someone to check behind us.

Creating and Executing

As we grow, our power to make choices that govern our lives also grows. Since we can’t do everything at one time, we need to place to trap the plans we have made so we can act on them at the right time.

With nobody to tell us to “write that in Tuesday’s afternoon’s square,” the responsibility is on us to decide where we write things so we see them at the right time.

The complexity of our plans grows. “Do the math problems on page 25” becomes “Make the basketball team.” The first is a task. The second is a project made up of many tasks. Figuring out what those tasks are and when each one will happen becomes the area of growth.

The system that worked before won’t work now. The only voice saying “Write it down!” is that inner voice. The fine art of breaking projects down into tasks now becomes our own. Our success in we’re creating and executing on our own idea is dependent upon a system that makes it happen.

This is where Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders shines.

  • You learn how to handle the papers so actionable papers appear at the right time.
  • You learn how to organize everything you have to do in one place.
  • You learn how to identify repeating tasks and put them on autopilot.
  • You learn how to organize projects and keep multiple projects going at once.


At some point in our careers, we graduate from being at the bottom rung on the chain of command. We move from a situation, like our school days, where we responded to what was delegated to us. We move to a situation where we create our work and act upon it.

If we are successful, we move to a level where we are getting work done through other people. The system that worked before may be failing us now.

When someone else is responsible, how will you know what’s been done? In the absence of a system, this is the level where things fall through the cracks on a regular basis.

Let me ask you this question…How do you keep up with the responsibilities you’ve delegated?

Teaching the System

You’ve reached the “delegation” level in part before of your success with handling your own tasks. Your system is to thank for it. Don’t assume others have such a system. It’s something you teach. It’s something you model. It’s something others come to see as an easy way to be successful.

Add to your own system

The addition you must make is simple. When you delegate a task, that task must also be present in your own system.

Decades ago, my organizational system was my Tickler File and the memo pad in my pocket. When I ordered something over the phone, way before the days of ordering anything online, I would make a quick note on the memo pad: “Expect to receive order from the XYZ Store.” I would decide on reasonable arrival date and drop that slip of paper in the Tickler File for that day.

If the items didn’t arrive on time, that little slip of paper would resurface and remind me to follow-up. I found this system works.

Pretty soon, I got tired of writing, “Expect to Receive.” It became “ETR.”

When I went digital in 2001, “ETR” lived on. Any task delegated to another person or another company went in my digital task manager along with the letters “ETR.” A quick search for “ETR” returned everything I was waiting on from anyone.

Today, I have an “ETR” tag and apply it when I delegate. One click on the tag returns everything I’m waiting on.

A special bonus with Remember The Milk

If you use Remember The Milk and others with whom you work also use it, you can make use of a special feature. You can add a task to your list and assign it to someone else.

The other person receives a notification that a task was assigned. They accept the task, and it now shows up on their Remember The Milk. When they mark it as “done,” you see that as well.

Our systems must be as mature as our responsibilities. That way our system works.

Nothing I’ve written is a revelation. It’s common sense. But in the heat of the battle, when we continue to do as we have always done, the edge on the saw becomes dull. There comes a time to sharpen the saw and resume at a new level.

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Want to join? You get them both. Plus, each week you’ll hear from me with nuts & bolts tools and strategies to make life easier and more productive. You’re one click away from making it happen