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Task Management System with Pen and Paper

I don't believe in time management. Instead, I subscribe to task management and energy management systems. Having a good task management system in place allows you to stay focus and accomplish great things. This is really the system I've enjoyed the most due to the simplicity of the process, plus it allows me to stay on top of everything.

I love experimenting with different task management systems. Every time I read about a new way to prioritize tasks, I'd try it. After multiple failed experiments, what really works best for me is paper and pen method because it's simple, and writing forces one to think.

My job scope could be different from yours but you may find this article to be useful if...

  • You own 3-4 Big Tasks and many, many Little Tasks at any point

  • You have multiple meetings that require action points post meeting discussions

  • You subscribe to the belief that "the simpler, the better"

Big Tasks + Little Tasks

I use the NOLTY 6501 to track any items I need to take action on, this means my Big Tasks and many, many Little Tasks.

Big Tasks [5 - 10 mins per week]

I list out my Big Tasks on the left column every week. When you reflect on your results and accomplishments during year end, those would be the Big Tasks. They are the heavy weights - complex, takes a while to complete and very value-adding to the business upon completion.

Each week, I'd write out the Big Tasks. The list won't change much but while writing, think deeply about your progression and how to drive things forward in the most efficient manner.

Little Tasks [5 - 10 mins per day]

Notice that there's a blank area at the bottom of each day. This is where I map out the little tasks for the day. When the task is done, I check it off.

Whenever I get an email that requires my follow up and I cannot action immediately, I'd pencil it in so that I don't lose sight of it. There could be recurring little tasks that I need to do, so I pencil it in the week ahead. If the list gets too long daily, I'd start to brutally minimizing or reschedule meetings so that I could focus on output.

The second key point to this - You'd want to map out tasks for next Monday before the week ends. When Monday rolls in, you could dive straight into a few tasks without wasting time on "warming up the engines".

Appointments [5 mins per day]

There is a tool to book in meetings and manage appointments on Bloomberg Terminal called APPT<GO>, which I use religiously. However, I've the habit of penciling all my meetings in the NOLTY the day before.

I'd color code meetings with a yellow highlighter. Too much yellow in a day means too much meeting time. This translates to time away from actual output. Too little meeting time is not good, it means I am not connecting with my stakeholders and team members enough. Color coding has been a very helpful way to visualize how I spend my time each week. It just takes 5 minutes to pencil meetings in a notebook for each day.

Also, the act of writing down each meeting provides some mindfulness to your appointments. Is there any agenda planned? If not, shorten the meeting or reschedule. You don't hop from one meeting to another mindlessly. Being busy is not the same as being productive.

You can purchase the NOLTY 6501 from Amazon, LOFT, Kinokuniya or any major stationery shops. And no, I don't earn any commission when you click on the Amazon link. I'm recommending it because it's really quite awesome.

Meeting Outcomes

I use the the Midori Grid A5 Notebook to take meeting notes. I'd divide the page into half - two columns to be exact. On the right column, I'd pencil down bullet points from discussion in meeting. Usually there are some call to action during meetings. On the left column, I'd pencil down next action steps for myself, and also jot down who should follow up on what. When I have pockets of time in between, I'd transfer my own actionable items from the Midori to the NOLTY. The grids helps me to stay neat and organized. The notebook is just the right size. It's small enough to carry around to meetings, and it's big enough to jot down notes. I'd review the action steps by end of day, and transfer them to my NOLTY. You can purchase the Midori from Amazon, LOFT, Kinokuniya or any major stationery shops. Once again, I don't earn any commission when you click on the Amazon link.

I used to bring along my Microsoft Surface Pro to meetings - it's a portable workhorse and I love it. I take meeting notes with Microsoft OneNote.

But meetings means you are talking with a human, and this means building a connection is just as important. I don't like it that when I am talking to someone, they are busy typing. While the Surface Pro has been very efficient, I just prefer an old school conversation - we look at each other, we talk and we jot down next steps by hand.

Deep Thoughts

Don't just end the week by clearing off your tasks. I usually spend Sunday morning to look back at how the week went by and think deeply. It doesn't take long, just 15 - 20 mins of pondering time while I drink my coffee.

  • What's the next stage (and even next, next stage) for each of my team members? What should they be doing more of / less of to get there?

  • If I were to stand in Dec to look back into the year, what are some of the things I want done?

  • For this project, am I able to make any projections and are we on track?

  • What have I learnt?

It's important for me to carve out some quiet time to think about things because I don't want to be just busy, I want to be strategic with my decisions and I want to reflect on how I can do better.

p/s It was during one of these pondering moments that I concluded it will be good to have an informal platform to share thoughts and resources, especially we can't do as much human connection during remote work. Hence, the creation of this blog.

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