This is the second of two posts on diary and calendar management. The first post sets out the key issues and this one describes some of my solutions. Almost all of what I have written below could be as applicable to someone without dyslexia as someone with the condition. So if you are not dyslexic and this doesn’t seem unusual in any way then don’t be surprised. The key point is probably that dyslexics need both to be more effective with their time than others, as certain types of activity simply take longer, and frequently have difficulties with the practicalities of personal organisation.
I’ve set out some of the key principles behind how I work, in case it is of any use to others. I think there are plenty of opportunities for improvement so please do post comments if you have ideas.
Graphical diary presentation
My diary is held electronically, because it changes too much to be in paper form and multiple people need to access it from different locations. That’s ok but not very tangible… and I understand time as-if it were a physical thing, so I need to see a physical representation of it to understand what is happening.
Having said that, most electronic calendars now offer a graphical view. I have used a range of systems in the past – Outlook, Notes, Apple and Google. They all offer a “day view” and a “week view” that is vertically presented (day to a column) and displays meetings as blocks vs a linear time scale. These work well. I don’t use the “Agenda” or any of the traditional calendar style views as these are simply too confusing.
I access my calendar in a few ways – via my laptop or on a smartphone like a blackberry or iPhone. All of which need to be synchronised – not so easy as it sounds when you say it quickly! On these devices I try to use the same graphical views described above – which does mean that large screen devices like iPhones tend to work best as they are the best shape and tend to take the aesthetics in to account.
I would imagine that an iPad would be ideal for this but haven’t yet acquired one just yet.
All the standard electronic tools offer the ability to add a level of colour coding to the diary view. Outlook is the best in my view, as you can automate this so it doesn’t need thinking about when new appointments are added. In the past I’ve used it to highlight a range of things: chargeable time vs non-chargeable; locations (office vs client vs home office); travel vs meetings; fixed purpose time vs time simply held to complete tasks as yet unknown. Unfortunately, I’m not using Outlook at present so I’ve lost this.
Using All Day Events
I use these to set my base location for the day “London Office”, “Milan Office”, “Working From Home”, “Client ABC” etc. That reduces the chance of my booking something impractical. These are set as “Free” time.
When the day fills up too much, my PA discourages others from trying to book my time by adding a “No More Meetings” event that is marked “Busy”.
If you use “Notes” then “Free” is the same thing as “Pencil In”.
I’ve tried most things with reminders. In the end, I’ve settled on setting only very few – otherwise I start ignoring them. Those I do set tend to be for logistics like setting off to a station to catch a train… otherwise that extra 5 minute delay becomes catastrophic.
I would love to use a paper diary, but it’s not practical. However, I do sometimes print out my day / week view and carry them with me to make planning easier. That’s particularly useful as I’m often holding my diary (iPhone) to my ear at the time when someone is trying to arrange a meeting… so very practical!
Leaving enough time
This is key. I’ve started to book half hour “catch-up” time after every appointment to prevent my short term memory from loosing anything from the meeting that just happened. That works well.
I also have a few standard “Catch-Up” appointments in the week. Marked “Private” so that others don’t think they are simply free time.
I work out things like trains in advance if I can. Timetables are problematic and if I am reading them in a hurry something usually goes wrong. However, some of the iPhone and Android apps available now take the risk out of this – a “show me the trains leaving here and calling at station XYZ before midday” query will usually show exactly what you are looking for and reduce the risk of picking the wrong one.
In the UK these apps also show platform numbers for trains – which avoids the need to read the boards in the station. Brilliant!
Reviewing and re-planning
I have to force myself to do this. However, it is one of the most useful things that I can do to make this work better. I aim to review my diary twice weekly, look at the forthcoming two weeks. That way, there is time to reschedule meetings in advance, to make best use of my time in any given location. I tend to use the “Week View” – ideally printed out – highlight the problems and then deal with them. One of the things I try hard to build in is the time to deal with inbound emails, which usually go unread unless I actively leave sufficient time to deal with them every day.
I’m lucky in that I have a PA. Some of the main areas she helps me with are:
- Check for double bookings and conflicts – I often receive conflicting appointment invites that need to be resolved.
- Check logistics – Have I left enough time for travel or could the week be organised better to avoid it?
- Book multi party meetings – I have a real problem arranging multi-party meetings. Too many names, numbers, different sets of availability etc. So handing this over really helps.
- Reschedule meetings – My diary moves so much that meetings and arrangements often need rescheduled so this helps a lot too. I would not tackle this on my own as it would take too long and probably go wrong.
Diary vs. tasks
I must have tried 20 ways to manage my workload over the years and this is the area I am still least happy with.
How much of my day to day activity do I schedule vs. simply setting aside time and writing a “to-do” list. I’m going to write about this in a separate post as it is such a key are for me. You can end up doing too much planning and get no work done if you’re not careful! Equally, you can take on too much and leave too little time to do it… so the right approach is needed.
I’d be very interested to hear what others do so please do leave comments.