An agenda is paramount for any activities that need to happen at certain times, at certain places, with certain people. While it is brilliant to keep track of fixed appointments, an agenda is not the best place to keep track of things that need doing, but not necessarily at a particular time, not even a particular day. This is why I suggest a to-do list besides your agenda.
A to-do list would hold all the actions that need taking, and may or may not hold a specific date when it has to be finished. An item that has a “do before” date might actually sit better in your agenda with a reminder set up for a useful time before the deadline runs out. Your to-do list should have tentative dates, just to give an idea when you should plan this particular task into your daily goals.
In fact, my own to-do list is a spreadsheet that I can easily change: adjusting dates and sorting is easy enough, and I have assigned a set of colours for different parts of my business, as well as some conditional formatting to highlight things I need to look at.
It’s easy enough to check if you have done what you had to do, but also where you need to shift dates to accommodate for obstacles or past issues.
So far, it’s all electronic, but I would advocate a secondary means of keeping track of your goals: a paper agenda. Yes, running two parallel systems may sound old-fashioned and counter-intuitive but it has a lot of advantages, not least of them all that transferring the information from your electronic devices makes you very aware of things that need doing, and it allows for short term (daily and weekly) goals to become much more apparent.
Having this type of columnar agenda provides an easy way to transfer items you have not been able to tackle to the next day by employing simple indicators, like boxes, arrows, triangles, etc. Although I could suggest certain ways to indicate things, it is probably best if you come up with indicators that make sense to YOU and that are suitable for your particular needs and situation!
Making use of all three options in unison is a perfect way to fulfil all needs of job tracking, and more: use the alert function in the electronic agenda on your phone to remind you of time-sensitive points, the spreadsheet to-do list to easily track long-term projects and keep on top of what needs to be done next, while being easy to adjust and shift focus, and the paper agenda because it is usually easier to keep track of all things at once, while also providing a useful place to add notes, phone numbers, etc.
Coming back to the subject matter now: setting goals and tracking them. Well, with those three lists you are pretty much there already. The to-do list allows you to see your progress clearly whenever you mark task off as done and allows an overview of the situation at the end of each day, while the paper agenda is a very visual way of following up on your achievement level by looking at the items you have marked as ‘done’ or moved to the next column. The paper agenda also provides an easy way to see when you have time for additional activities, and make space for meetings by shifting your daily goals to another column quickly.
You would then end your work day with a review of things on your list for the day, how you have done with them, and shifting things to accommodate for unfinished tasks so you can get going straight away the next morning. This system – starting the day with looking at the goals and jobs of the day, and ending the day the same way – has a hidden advantage to the sole trader: it provides a clear start and end to the work day, and will allow you to more easily switch into and out of business mode, thereby separating work and life times more easily.
Next week: Deal with incoming correspondence right away
Ask the ClutterMeister
Some pertinent ideas from the 'old office dog' who has seen it all, to help clear away the mess in your office.
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My name is Tilo Flache and it is my mission to help my clients organise and declutter their work spaces.