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Getting Organized Quick Fix

Don Mize

© 2006, Don Mize


John was frustrated, angry, and at times despairing.  No matter how hard
he worked, he failed:  he forgot details; he missed deadlines; he
procrastinated on reports.  He feared losing his job as his boss became
more critical.  His wife complained that she felt abandoned.  He wanted to
watch his son play baseball, but he worked instead.  John felt
overwhelmed every day, worked far into the night, and still did not live up
to expectations.  Life became a burden.

Such feelings are common.  John could be anyone of any age perched on
the threshold of despair:  a homemaker, a student, a blue-collar worker, or
a professional.  The job could be keeping house, running a project,
managing a clinic, selling a product, completing household chores, or
passing schoolwork.  Three simple steps would allow John to find his way
out of the jungle of despair.  The first step is to join the appointment
calendar club.


Join the Appointment Calendar Club

John nurtured disdain for an appointment calendar because at the office a
secretary scheduled his appointments.  However, in one week John forgot
to pick up his daughter at school, missed a dental appointment, and stood
up a potential client for golf.  Everyone needs a personal appointment
calendar, for everyone promises to do certain things at certain times.

Keep in mind that an appointment calendar is not a general calendar
where a crowd of minutiae boggles the mind.  An appointment calendar
retrieves only appointments.  An appointment calendar allows you to view
all the appointments for the month at a glance.  Trips to the dentist, a
family reunion, a job interview, and a child’s basketball game all become
appointments when you agree to be there.

Forget appointments and you are perceived as an unpredictable dabbler in
life not to be taken seriously.  Forget appointments with your family (such
as a child’s concert at school, a birthday party, or a promise of a weekend
away) and you are building a tomb for your relationships.  Telling your
child that you will take her to the park becomes an appointment:  she has
the same right to expect you to keep your appointment as does your most
important business contact.

Many mistakes occur because we scratch down appointments
unprepared.  We meet someone in a store, the phone rings unexpectedly,
or someone pops in proposing a time to meet for business, for family, or
for recreation.  Even a small monthly pocket calendar avoids the peril of
conflicting promises or forgetting.  A promise to attend your son’s soccer
game should trigger a consultation with your appointment calendar just as
a business call should trigger a consultation with your appointment
calendar.  Once entered, an appointment should be honored.

Calendars on your computer are nice, and hand-held electronic devices
are the latest fad.  However, remember that computers crash, servers go
down, and networks fail.  One way or another you need a paper backup.  
The oxcart method of a small pocket calendar with appointments in pencil
is a solution.

Consider Susie

Susie, a progressive young woman with an appetite for new technology,
discovered that a paper backup is a good idea.  She bought a new toy with
which she could store and access tremendous amounts of information.  
She enjoyed not lugging around her laptop computer.  She could even use
her hand-held device to make presentations.  The snob appeal approach
always hooked Susie:  she liked feeling modern, cutting edge, and up-to-
date.

However, a server crashed and prevented a key presentation one week.  
Then she found that she could not access her network while on a business
trip. Often she found herself fumbling with the hand-held device while
someone waited impatiently.  These wobbles convinced her to carry a
paper backup of her appointments.

During an electricity outage in which her company’s server was down,
she pulled out her paper appointment calendar, noticed an important
appointment for that afternoon, realized she needed to access her
company server during the meeting, and phoned to reschedule.  The client
appreciated the notice and rescheduled for the next day.  Her paper
backup saved her embarrassment, gave her an edge on a competitor who
forgot to cancel, and led to new business.

Be Neither the First or the Last

A person should always beware of the ecstasy occurring among those
with new-market fever:  they are infected with the profit bug.  The Greek
philosopher who decided to be neither first nor last to try a new thing
saved time and money.  Undoubtedly, the Internet and electronic transfers
of information are the future, but a paper backup stockpiles strategic
information.  Your appointment calendar is the kernel of all other strategic
information.

Restrain Your Attention with a Deadline Calendar

In addition to having an appointment calendar, restrain your attention with
a deadline calendar.  Appointments and deadlines are two different
expeditions.  Appointments nibble at our time, catch the eye, and give a
feeling of importance.  Deadlines, on the other hand, ambush us.  
Deadlines require time in the kitchen while appointments consume the
already prepared meal.  Deadlines require a different state of mind and
require a separate calendar.  Restrain your attention with a deadline
calendar.

Consider Alice

Alice learned the importance of keeping personal calendars.  Alice, a stay-
at-home mom, found her life a mess.  Many assumed that without a job
outside the home, her life was simple and easily organized.  Women who
reported to jobs each day were often disdainful of Alice:  she was not
using her talents and was lazy.

Alice’s husband, like most husbands whose wives do not work outside the
home, was impatient with any complaints and intolerant of unfinished
tasks.  The children were in school, he reasoned, so Alice had the whole
day to herself.  However, Alice felt harassed, forgot promises, and
seemed never to have the laundry done on time.  Her husband wanted to
know what she did all day.

Alice discovered that running a home was a demanding and time-
consuming job.  She was responsible for housekeeping, laundry, food
procurement and preparation, transportation, correlating calendars, child
care, fashion, conflict resolution, education, banking, bookkeeping,  the
family social calendar, and innumerable other tasks.  She considered
hiring a staff (house cleaner, cook, chauffeur, accountant, etc.) but
realized that she would not have more time, only more people to
supervise, consult with, and motivate.

Alice adopted a personal (not a family) appointment calendar.  She kept
the big calendar in the kitchen where she could list everyone’s
appointments, but she needed to remember her personal commitments.  
She also adopted the idea of a separate personal deadline calendar.

Every night before bed, she would plan the next day by looking at the
family calendar, her personal appointment calendar, and her deadline
calendar.  Her daughter had a dance at the end of the month, and Alice
planned to buy her a new dress.  She placed a deadline for the new dress
two weeks before the dance, giving herself a margin-of-error in case
something went wrong.  She looked at an upcoming deadline that involved
writing a report for a parents group, and she wrote down a deadline for
the latest date she could start writing the report.

One morning the phone rang and her son’s teacher wanted her to come
by for a consultation since his grades were falling.  She looked at her
appointment calendar and saw that she had to get one child to a dental
appointment that afternoon, had a soccer game for her son the next
afternoon, had promised to meet a friend for lunch, but could see nothing
scheduled for the Tuesday afternoon.  She penciled in the appointment
with the teacher.

Her husband noticed a difference, but more importantly, Alice felt more
confident.  She was more organized, felt less harassed, and avoided
forgetting.  Alice stopped kicking herself as she realized she was awash in
demands and unobtrusive tasks that kept her family functioning.  She
realized that she was an extremely busy, no matter what others imagined.

Focus Your Time Commitments

Together, the appointment calendar and the deadline calendar focus time
commitments and enhance efficient organization and decision-making.  If
asked to take on a new task, a glance the deadline calendar exposes
deadline ambushes.  A glance at the appointment calendar highlights
promises.   “I’ll think about it” is one possible response.  “Thanks so
much for asking me, but I’ve already taken on some commitments; please
ask me again,” is another possible response.

When asked to take on a task, the unspoken first thought is “Can I do
it?”  We feel flattered.  A quick “yes” carelessly piles task on task until we
flounder in despair.  A more realistic question before we commit is “What
am I going to give up?”

You will give up something:  family time, recreation time, sleep, or
additional work.  Time abhors a vacuum.  You have no free time, even if
the something you give up is a nap.  “What will I sacrifice?” is always the
right question.  Unless you have something you are willing to throw
overboard, the answer to the request is a tactful “no” with a “please ask
me again.”

Mark Your Trail for the Day

The appointment calendar overlaid on the deadline calendar creates a
commitment map that allows you to mark a time trail for the day:  a
priority to-do list.  You begin by deciding on the most important objective,
the second most important objective, and continue until you list ten.

Ten objectives build a launching pad for the day.  The priority to-do list
nurtures the appointments and deadlines. Resources are well spent even if
the first objective consumes the whole day.  In addition, the trail from one
objective to the next is clearly marked.  Avoid a bulky “things to do” list
which only unleashes the vampire of despair.  To prepare for the next
day, review your appointment and deadline calendars and make a new
priority to-do list.

Consider Frank

Frank hated his job because he never finished his work.  He adopted the
priority to-do list as a desperate experiment, listing ten objectives for the
day in order of importance.  The most important objective was a
luncheon appointment with a new client at which he would make a
presentation.

While he waited until lunch, Frank concentrated on the second objective:  
writing up a new project.  As he started to work, he thought of John, who
was always forgetting reports.  He started to remind John of an upcoming
report, but remembered his list and fought off the random thought.  John
could take care of himself.  Besides, he and John would talk football and
waste time.  With effort, he returned to writing up the project.

The phone rang.  A friend wanted a favor.  Frank started to discuss the
request, but remembering his list, he asked if he could call back.  Just
then, his boss came in.  Frank realized that his boss trumped the project,
becoming the priority for the moment.

The boss asked how he was doing, discussed the big game coming up,
and commented on the weather.  Frank gave him his attention because he
was the boss.  Fifteen minutes later when he left, Frank felt frustrated and
angry.  However, he composed himself and returned to writing up his
project.

At 11 a.m., Frank reviewed his upcoming presentation and left for the
luncheon.  At last, he was dealing with his most important objective:  
selling the client on the marketing plan.  In the meantime, he had worked
on his second objective.

As Frank drove home after work, he realized that he had only finished the
first three objectives on his list, but he felt accomplishment.  He had
finished something and had worked on the important things.  Early the
next morning, he reviewed his appointment and deadline calendars while
prayerfully making out a new priority to-do list.  When he left for the
office, he had the day’s objectives firmly in mind.

Apply the Ideas

These three simple steps organize your time, clarify priorities, and create a
flexible approach.  All you need is an appointment calendar, a deadline
calendar, and a priority to-do list for the day.  Other time management
insights can build on this simple foundation.