The Value of Reference Numbers

I've been asked a number of times, "What's the deal with the reference numbers in your templates? Aren't they just taking up valuable space?" Well, no: a reference number is a very handy thing to have in an organisational system. Although I'm sure other people implementing the D*I*Y Planner (and DayRunner and Day-Timer forms) have no doubt come across other uses for them, there are two that do stand out in my mind: Dockets and Links.

Reference Number as Docket

If you've ever worked in a large organisation, you've probably experienced the ubiquitous "docket numbers", and may have even considered them the bane of your existence. They are numbers, usually created and tracked by an accounting department, that are assigned to each project. When you spend time working on the project, you must note its number, along with the time spent, on your timesheet. The accounting department then adds up all the time for that docket as a way of tracking project costs. Numbers often have several parts; for example, "04-0543-012" might be department 4, client 0543, project 12 for that client.

All well and good if you're in a large organisation, but there are benefits to using them for small companies and even personal projects. First and foremost, it serves as a way of separating projects for filing. Now, a paper planner is not infinite. If you use it much at all, you'll probably want to clean out all the "done" stuff every month. The reference number serves as a valuable way of grouping the material for your files. Simply keep a folder in your file cabinet labelled with the docket, and move all work with that reference number into that file. That way, you won't have hundreds of pieces of unsorted paper teetering in a pile atop your scanner or other semi-flat purposes.

Second, the number becomes important when you're tracking work for clients. "043-03" could stand for client #43, and the third project with them. Tracking projects in this way becomes important if you provide ongoing service for a client, or are sending them an invoice for work completed. It can also be used to track contracts, bills paid, expenses incurred, agendas, and so forth.

Third, a reference number can become an easily-understood identity for certain types of projects. "ENG2201-04-01-03" to an English teacher might mean the 2201 course, unit 04, section 01, lesson 03. When you sort your work later, keeping all the course resources together and in the right order becomes a no-brainer.

Of course, if you're using a docket reference system, be sure to keep a list of ongoing docket numbers in your @Reference tab of your planner, so you have an easy look-up system when the number escapes you.

Reference Number as Link

Even if your work situation demonstrates no clear need for dockets, the reference number can still become invaluable for linking material together.

An example might best demonstrate this. In my planner, I have a tab for a certain project, and in it is a Contact Log form for keeping track of discussions with that client. Normally, there's only a line or two for the subject discussed, and the date on which it occurred (as well as a date for follow-up, if necessary). Let's say, though, that we discussed quite a number of matters on a particular date. I write up the details of that conversation on a Notes form. But how to link them together? Simple: with a reference number. Atop the Notes form, I might write "CL-050603-01" (using the date as a basis), and in my Contact Log I write "See CL-050603-01" in the appropriate line for the date. Voilà! Instant link. I simply put the Notes form behind the Contact Log in the planner, and have immediate access to it when I need it. I use similar "links" for material in Project Details, Project Outline, Objectives, Finances and anywhere else there isn't enough room on the base form to contain all the important details.

People using software or Palm PIMs will no doubt have their own way of creating linked notes, but I've found that this concept works fine on paper too.

I'm sure there are other ways of using reference numbers in planners, and it is very much dependent upon how you work, who you work with, and how your filing is set up. Regardless, the reference fields can prove quite handy -- if you get into the habit of using them regularly and consistently.

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