However well organized you may be or get to be, you cannot hope to keep all the details of what you will do when in your head. A good, clear diary system is a must. Many formal systems combine the conventional diary with their sophisticated version of the “to do” list. One thing that certainly works well, and which a looseleaf system allows, is to have at one opening of a binder a complete picture of your day, showing both appointments and things to do. Thus you might allocate a couple of hours to write a report. What form it takes is a matter of choice; though bear in mind the concept of a “master diary”: one place needs to have the deﬁ nitive record if you are to avoid coming into the ofﬁ ce with an appointment to list and ﬁ nding that someone has double-booked you.
Small things have an effect on efﬁ ciency. The diary should: • Show full details, certainly full enough to be clear. An entry that reads ‘R. B. Lunch’ tells you little—where is it, at what time is it, can you be contacted while you are out, how long will it last, and, not least, are you even going to remember in three weeks’ time to whom R. B. refers? If you want a real horror story, I know of a case where all it said in someone’s diary was the name of a town, with two days ruled out. He was away, presumably staying at a hotel, and had only told his family to contact him via his ofﬁ ce. When one of his children was involved in an accident, it took two days before the message reached him. His diary was a copybook example of clarity thereafter.
- Show how long is set aside for things (this will help you and others decide what else can be fitted in).
- Schedule all (or most) of your working time rather than just appointments, perhaps the most important and useful difference between just an appointments diary and a time management system.
The two additions are tasks, actually setting aside time to work on a speciﬁ c project, and thinking time so that creative work is not carried out, as so often happens, only in gaps that are left between appointments. If this is done—leaving space for the unexpected or reactive part of the work, whatever proportion that is—and linked to the concept of a rolling plan, you will stay more organized and be able to judge much better how things are progressing, whether deadlines will be met and tasks completed. • Be completed in pencil so that alterations can be made without creating an illegible mess.
Two final points.
First, the diary is a vital tool, to be guarded and treated with respect. A conventional diary is also therefore a good place to keep other key information, telephone numbers, and other data you need at your ﬁ ngertips, provided you do not overburden it so that it becomes too thick and unmanageable.
Second, the computer, and a variety of electronic personal organizers, are taking over some of these activities. Often this works well. Being able to set up a meeting with six colleagues, some in different cities, at the touch of a button on a networked system may well save time.
For many people a personal diary or planner, in the old sense of something that works anywhere there is a pencil, will always be a part of what helps them work effectively. Certainly the thinking that needs to be applied to diary organization is the same however the information involved may be recorded.