While I am on sabbatical I am having a number of friends guest post on my blog. This is Jesse Garner, my Executive Assistant. Part of the reason I hired him in this role is because he manages his time and productivity so well. He also loves to teach others what he’s learned. – Kevin

We’ve all been there – that sinking feeling when you realize that there was that really important thing that you needed to do and you completely forgot. That gross feeling when you realized that something didn’t make it on your calendar and you’re going to miss it. There’s got to be a better way, right?

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’m going to be guest blogging a series of posts on Kevin’s blog about personal productivity and time management. You probably won’t find anything I say to be revolutionary in itself, but when all the pieces are put together people often are struck by how helpful looking at personal productivity can be.

As Kevin’s Executive Assistant, one of the major pieces of my job is to be as efficient as possible. Part of the reason he hired me is that this is a personal passion of mine. I’m going to take you through some of the things that I’ve learned over the years in these blog posts to help you evaluate where you are and perhaps try some new techniques.

But first, there is a very important point I must emphasize (and will probably emphasize again in the future): your productivity system must work for you.

Know Thyself

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from someone “oh, I tried to get organized but it just didn’t work for me.” Most of the time, what really happened is that they tried someone else’s method for getting organized without actually looking at their own needs, personal preferences, and life situation. You can’t ignore these things when you are creating your own productivity system. If you hate to use a computer, it’s probably a bad idea to use a digital to-do list system. If you are constantly on-the-go and traveling, it’s probably a bad idea to use a calendar that requires you to be at your desk.

Know the Temptation

I often use the example of a palm pilot for this concept. Many people (you may have been one of them) saw these personal electronic organizers and went out and bought one with the resolution of “getting organized.” But they never really looked at the way that they lived closely enough to see that they weren’t going to end up using it the way it was designed to be used. The Palm Pilot was a tempting symbol of the organized life they could have, but it wasn’t realistic for them. Fast-forward a few months and that shiny expensive palm pilot was gathering dust in a desk drawer.

Know What You Need

This is the exact same reason that professional organizers only recommend going shopping for organizing supplies like bins, baskets, and drawer inserts after going through your stuff and purging and sorting what you need and don’t need. When you start with shopping, you get distracted by all the bells and whistles and buy more than you actually need. I usually recommend when people get started that they use only pen and paper for the first few weeks before they spend money on any kind of software.

Over the course of these posts, I am going to try and avoid being prescriptive, but look at the underlying principles and methods of good productivity that are applicable within any system – paper, digital, or otherwise. Then you will have the freedom to take those principles and use them within something that works for you.

The four major pieces of every productivity system are:

  1. Inboxes
  2. To-do lists
  3. Calendar
  4. Filing System

The next blog post will be on inboxes and to-do lists and how your email inbox is not your to-do list.

Some questions to answer as we prepare to dive in together:

  1. How much of the time do I have easy access to my desktop computer? My phone? My laptop? A notebook or planner? Identify what is most commonly accessible.
  2. Will I actually take time to write things down in a phone or on a computer or will I reach for pen and paper? There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but this preference needs to be considered.
  3. How many different ways does stuff come into my life? Some examples might be your voicemail, your email, your laundry basket. We will talk about these inboxes more in my next post.
Jesse Garner is the Executive Assistant for the Executive Director of Ministries at Pine Cove. He is a masters student at The University of Texas in Tyler, and a proud graduate of Louisiana State University and Pine Cove’s Forge program. When not being efficient, you’ll probably find him hosting a dance party. Connect with him on twitter @jessepgarner.

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