Better planning, or job loss

Anyone else have this fear? I don't know if I have a memory problem, or a "learning to say no" problem, or a "there's just too much expected of me" problem, or an "I'm simply not capable of doing all of this" problem.

Even though I've been tested and told that my memory is normal, I am having more and more trouble staying on top of the multitude of discrete tasks that I have on my job. There are periods (like now) when I really feel that, if I don't find a way to get a handle on what is expected of me, it's going to result in job loss, eventually.
Unfortunately, these periods result in me spending tons of time looking for solutions (when should probably just be GETTING TASKS DONE).

I've tried lots of electronic solutions; some paper. My job is not my life - I work only to afford my home and my health insurance, but I *do* like what I do (database admin, report development, help desk, workflow analysis, ironically, etc.). Sometimes I think it's because I'm SO at the mercy of a large number of highly-unorganized people who don't document what THEY do that I have such a hard time -- but that shouldn't matter.

I need to find a way to manage my work -- and, so far, after really DECADES of looking, I'm not there, yet. And I worry that, as I *do* get older, this will get worse.

Anyone else just worried about LOSING TRACK, and have something that worked for them? I know there will not be a magic pill for me -- but I'd just like to hear ideas.

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my newest solution...

well, MK, I am with you on this! I will forget what I am going to the file room for, while I am walking to the file room (and this is only about 10 feet away from my desk!)!! UGH! There are days where I wonder how I even get to work on time!

Here is my newest solution which has been working wonders for me... wait for it....

BLANK PAPER! I bot a small sketch book (3.5X5") which contains all blank paper. This I carry in my purse and around the house. Anything I think of (work or personal) gets written down! And, since it is all blank, I can write big, small, upsidedown if I want to. I can write one item to a page if need be. Then, I bot a "junior" size sketch book to have at work. Sometimes I carry it home with me in my purse, but only if I want to review stuff when at home. Again, it is all blank, so I just scribble away. I have no fear of writing too much or too little. No fear of writing too big or too small. I just write EVERYTHING down! Date it as you go so you know where you are. I write only on the right hand page so that I can add notes on the left if need be that reference what I wrote on the right (did that make sense).

Anyway, I have no idea why, but the structure of templates and lined paper was limiting my use of notebooks! Give it a whirl. Just take out a blank piece of paper and start writing - see if it works for you!

Best of luck and keep your chin up as I am sure you are doing a GREAT job! :)

bound book

I'm famous for my bound book. I start a new one every year and everything goes in it. The first page is for contact info (leave more than a few if you have a lot) - as folks call, I put their name/email/phone in the front. Everything goes in by date. Each assignment starts with Date and Who and When Due (circled). If I write down a phone or email in an entry, it gets highlighted. I start a task list every few days (still inside the book). Once the task list gets messy, I turn the page and recopy what's still open - that 's a good mental reminder that I still need to do it. Is this confusing? Or is my method clear? Seems to work for me. I also stick in post it flags when necessary to mark my page or redirect me to open notes. I like the bound book because when people ask me why I do "X" - I turn to that date and remind them what I was asked to do. I never understood how people can use legal pads.....

PS - I'm contemplating switching to Circa. I work for about 6 people - I'm thinking about giving each person a tab to make it more streamlined and having a separate to-do section. I own the rings and punches, It will be next on my list.

Checklists might help

When I had tasks in a hectic environment I eventually realized I needed to improve my accuracy and speed or would have problems. So I set up checklists for tasks I did weekly, quarterly, and even annually. I updated the checklists and improved them each time I did the tasks until, after three or four iterations they were pretty good and as a result my work improved.

If I was interrupted I would be able to quickly figure out where I had left off. Of course for detailed checklists I didn't stop to check off each item as I went along, but I did make sure that I would stop and mark my progress several times an hour, so I would always be able to get back on task.

And on detailed repetitive jobs where there is no margin for error, and where there is some variability between individual tasks which are repeated every year --for example tax returns for different clients where you need to check that the client's investment income is reported, and perhaps several partnerships or small businesses--each client will have different types of income but you're doing the same one each year, so there are differences between the clients but there is also repetition of the individual client's issues, it really saved me time so I didn't have to go back and research everything again. Things like that I don't think anyone would be able to remember but having notes or a checklist really helps.

And once I developed three or four checklists I knew exactly what kind of things I needed on my lists so it wasn't a complicated or time-consuming process to develop a new one. And I was able to use existing checklists and customize them for new tasks as new situations or tasks were assigned to me. So it's not a difficult thing to implement although the first few did take more time. At first I would stay late at night off the clock working on my checklists but I soon felt comfortable taking the time to set them up on client time, as I knew it would help me get the work done more efficiently.

The checklists and notes really helped me feel in control. And by setting up checklists I analyzed my workflow and put it down on paper, which helped me because my thought process isn't ordinarily that analytical.



I second checklists, be they electronic or paper. I also favor keeping all the notes about a given topic in just one spot, be they electronic or paper.

Start slow. Think about the coarsest categorization of the stuff you have to do, so your stuff is divided only into a very few rough categories. Then make a list/note page for each category and just dump everything in there.

Also, be sure to update your notes and lists--strike out the stuff that's done or that no longer need concern you. Some people use a highlighter for this so you can still read what it was while noting that it's done. I just do a simple strikethru or checkmark.

Anyway, don't start willy-nilly making a bunch of real specific stuff. Start broad.

When I had an overwhelming feeling on a project I worked on at the beginning of the year, I grabbed a mind-mapping software and started brainstorming all the stuff I had to keep track of on that project. Then after I had stuff like 'meeting notes' and 'issues' and 'bugs' and the like, I broke it down further until I had everything in that one mind map. After I did my brain dump/mass collection of info, I felt a lot better about what I had to keep track of. I eventually moved away from the mind mapping tool as a dashboard, but it was really great for giving me that 10,000 foot view I wanted. It also helped me figure out what lists I wanted to keep, etc.

Right now I'm working on a huge project for which I'm not the PM, thankfully. But I still have lists of things I have to work on. My things take a week or two each, so the list helps keep the 'pending' items out of my head while I work on the 'current' items. I still feel a little behind, simply because my inbox is so cluttered right now. But I know those few lists are being kept up to date and they won't let me forget what I have to get done.

Right now my lists are soft, mostly because they have to be visible to other people also. My work is all computer-based, so there's not an issue with taking it with me. I jot task-notes on some papers I've made into a book, but these mostly get thrown out once the task is completed. It's all gibberish, frankly, except when I'm in the middle of getting something working.


Keep 'em coming

I've always tried to go back to electronic notes because I like being able to search for stuff just based on a keyword -- but I think electronic makes it less likely that I'll write things down. So maybe I do just have to lean towards plain paper, with lots of extra room, and small enough that I always carry it.

Those of you who use paper -- how do you find what you need, when you need it?

I need to work on becoming a better note taker, too, then -- can't tell you how many times I've gone back to a note the next day and not know what the he** I meant, when I wrote that...!

Thanks. Don't stop suggesting, please!

i made

I made my own book to keep all my stuff in. I can glue things, doodle, sketch, draw or just make lists. LINK to PIC

I haven't had any trouble finding important info in it yet... But i plan on using post-it tabs and flags if needed when in fills up more. Highlighting is a great idea... or even coming up with your own coding system like dots of color on the edges or even a punch in a certain spot. :)

my artwork | my blog

finding things

"how do you find what you need, when you need it?"

Some people make indexes to their books. They number each page, and then at the back of the book, they write the page number and a keyword or three. Then to search, they scan the index for the keyword, and go to the indicated pages.

I'm not quite that organized, but perhaps some of the people who do that will pipe up.

I don't have too much trouble finding things in my books. I set up sections for different categories of info; in a couple of cases I've set up separate books.

"I want to live in Theory. Everything works there."

Do you have repeating tasks

Do you have repeating tasks that you need to remember to do regularly? A Smead Tickler file with tabs for the 12 months and 31 days in one book might work well for that. If you need to do something by the 15th of every month, or if you can group some repeated tasks on the 15th, you could staple a list to the "15" tab.

If you need to make running lists of things like Nay Nay and AP mentioned, you could reserve the last ten or fifteen pages of a journal or sketch book for an index that you could update once a week -- it's lots easier to scan down a list that you have confidence you've maintained regularly than it would be to scan through several hundred pages.

If you know you have a checklist for something that only comes up once a week/month/year, you can have a note in the tickler file to remind you to do the task, and you can keep the actual checklist in a file in your desk drawer, or just keep the checklist in your tickler file.

You could set up a desk book for your job, with checklists and reminders in that, and keep it annotated in case you are away on vacation and someone has to fill in for you.

What kind of tasks do you deal with, and is your job like a help desk, with lots of tasks coming in to be dealt with immediately, or do you have more long-running projects to track, or a mixture of both, or what? With a bit more information we might be able to come up with something more specific.

What I do

I have a wide variety of different types of tasks, over different durations. Actually, one of my biggest problems is that I spend a ton of time chasing down answers and/or forcing people to follow-up on things that I need to do my job FOR THEM. I do work in an I.T. environment. I'm part database administrator (where the checklists of recurring tasks of various types does come in very handy); part project manager (where I have projects / project categories / project tasks / project minutia / followup reminders / and LOTS of "cya" notes; part help desk (where I have items that get responded to immediately but that sometimes then generate follow ups or bigger tasks/projects).

I try to only check email a couple of times a day. But I hate the telephone, so I rely on email. So SOMETIMES true "emergencies" come in via email, so I have to look at it a lot.

In reality, I guess the biggest thing I have trouble tracking is thta stuff that requires me to remember WHERE A TASK WAS LEFT OFF. I might send a request to someone for further information that I need to do a task FOR THEM. I have to remember to follow up on that information that I need from them in order to help them. I SHOULD just let it drop - it's on their plate; let THEM remember to follow up, if they want a result. BUT, if I do that, it comes back to bite me in the butt because they don't remember to provide me with what I need until their work is due in 5 minutes -- and then I end up scrambling to get THEIR work done FOR THEM, if I don't persist in chasing them down. This type of stuff comes down to the "A failure on your part to follow up on what YOU need does not consistute and emergency on my part to help you out." But I suffer from "rescuer syndrome," I guess, and I like to help people get their job done, no matter how disorganized THEY are.

Sorry -- that turned into a vent. But it's hard enough for me to keep track of what are really my own tasks; I also end up keeping track of OTHER people's priorities...

Add to this mess that I have one of those "busy minds" that's always trying to think of better ways to do things; and that often results in new work that is not required but that could make things go easier to me and for others. So I generate my own tasks, too!

More than you wanted to hear about, I'm sure. This is an example of how my mind races, during my work day. What was I supposed to do today? What's due? What would I rather work on that might make things better in the long run? What did they tell me about that 6 weeks ago?

My work life is a nightmare. I'm on a quest to make it more of a "weird dream," than a nightmare.


Follow ups


The easiest way I ever found to track stuff to forget about but follow up on later is a simple 3x5 system. For each task, jot down on a 3x5 card where you left off/what you're waiting for and from whom. Then stuff it in the 'tickler' file on the day you need to follow up. So if today is the 10th and it's due on the 20th, stuff it in on the 15th, let's say. Each day you look at the tickler in the morning to see what the 'follow ups' are for the day and send off your emails first thing, then go about the rest of your day. It's very simple and it works for more than just 'follow up on ticket 12345' also works for project reminders, doc appointments, events.. You just have to develop the habit of looking at the file every morning.

Note: You can do the same thing with email reminder flags (Outlook allows reminders on flags and color coding on later versions). Just send out the email with the piece of info you need, then go to your sent copy and flag it with the follow up date--better yet, set the flag before you send the mail so the recipient gets the reminder too. :) Since you're in email all the time anyway this might be manageable. It will tend to work only for emails you send or receive, though, whereas 3x5s will work on anything for which you jot something down (spoken instructions from the boss, snailmail, phone info).


I've had a similar problem.

I've had a similar problem. I work in an IT organization, and while I don't do Data Base management, there are days when I feel like I have a dozen bosses, all of them able, and willing, to change my schedule at the drop of a byte.

I have adapted the GTD+R system that was posted here at

I found that using letter size paper for the envelopes made them the exact right size for business card/Circa Micro-PDA size cards. This size is just big enough to write a task name and maybe a couple of notes.

To that, I added a Circa Compact notebook. When a task is complete, it goes in the notebook. If it can't be done today, for whatever reason, it goes back to 'inbox'. I might write a note on the back if I'm waiting for something.

Partially done... that gets more difficult. I usually write a note on the back and put it in the 'completed' notebook provisionally. A partially completed task might spawn a new card for tomorrow, and might not.

What pulls the whole system together is my reviews at the end and beginning of the day.

At the end of the day, I go through the completed cards. I write down what I've done in a bound journal. Completed one-time task cards get tossed. Repeating, or partially completed cards go back in inbox.

The next morning, I do the review as the GTD-R instructions recommend, dividing tasks that need to be done today (at least as of my early morning view... I've learned this will not survive the first e-mail check), those that need to be done later this week, or within a month, or later.

Tasks coming in all get a card. Mostly, they go in front of whatever I'd planned to do next, but sometimes I get lucky, and I can put it in 'inbox' and ignore it until tomorrow.

This system is still evolving, but it's helped me organize my work day much better than electronics ever have. I still use my PDA for some things - it's where my work and personal calendar meet

Be more formal in your correspondence

Hi Mk,

You are getting snowed under by people who don't do what you need them to do and when.

You need to stop rescuing people. The only person being hurt by you doing more than you have to is yourself.

Of course I'm not suggesting that you not help at all (especially on the help desk work) but that you limit yourself to providing extra assistance to people who obviously genuinely intend (or intended) to meet your deadlines, and not people who are taking advantage of your habit of chasing them up to avoid providing you with info in the first place. And do your work first, and help your co-workers second.

To start, I think you need to be much more formal with people when asking them for information in your project work and include extensions to deadlines for delays into your contract with them.

So, for example, if you need to know 3 things from someone for a stage of work you could do something like this
- phone or speak to (or email informally) the person and tell them what you need when and get that agreed, along with a verbal argreement of the impact of the work being late
- then email the person and set out the requirements very formally. For example: "this is to confirm our discussion today. You have agreed to provide me with X, Y and Z by 30 october in the following format. In exchange I will ensure I meet the agreed deadline of ABC date. Please note, as this is a short turnaround, as per our agreement delays will result in a renegotiated deadline or your work becoming lower priority (or whatever is appropriate for your work)". Also include any parts of the work that they have agreed to do.

Then put the deadlines and any steps for your part of the work into your diary/planner/task list.

If the people you're working with can't get their act together and get you the information on time, why should you meet their deadline or support them before someone who will support you? I'm sure the people hiring you would not expect to meet their own deadlines if they received information late or not at all. So why should they expect it of you? (And even if they do expect that, you must not let yourself be a victim in this because it'll only get worse if you don't take control of it. Many managers assume that everyone can do 10% more work if needed. Could you cope with 10% more now? I doubt it.).

Also, if you're not really supposed to be doing the work, putting it in writing will often get the work taken away from you. Co-workers often don't want anyone else to realise that someone else is doing their work - the company doesn't need them then...

Firm but fair does work. By putting agreements in writing you're ensuring that you can explain to the person overseeing your contract that you've done your best to meet the project's needs. You also have a record of exactly what you agreed to do and when. And if you're asked to drop everything and do something else, you can then ask your contract manager "who should take over this work?" and send them the email agreements.

I hope that helps

P.S. The email reminders Shris mentioned work even better if you put them on the emails you send out. We call it "automated nagging" where I work

Better planning or job loss

Try something RADICALLY different. Analyze your situation using GTD. It might need some time and effort but it's worth it. When you start the process you will get to an "Aha" point and realize the problem and solution at the same time. Kind of a zen-like apparition.


you'll end up thinking I cant do this either.........

Love GTD but really who has ever fully implemented it? I doubt even the Allen man. Few god ideas in it but think the advice of 'persuading' others to meet agreed deadlines might help you out here.......

Waiting for...

Wow, there are a lot of good ideas here. Wish I'd had something like this fifteen or twenty years ago.

In one form or another, a Waiting For list, be it in index card form or in another paper format, sounds like a really good idea. And you need to keep on top of it so you can remind people to get back to you. I suspect that if they succeed, you'll succeed also. Although those are their projects, if you're the one who facilitates things, you want them to be successful. I know how annoying it can be to watch someone get behind, but maybe if you start keeping on top of things it will show them that it can be done. And none of us in an organization are really independent -- we all succeed together or fail together.

And a journal or some sort of bound book might be a good idea so you can document what you've accomplished come yearly review time.

And it would be a good idea to read Getting Things Done and see if you can't pick up a couple of ideas from it. And if you read it again a year later you'll find another couple of ideas that will work for you. If you only implement a handful of his ideas you will be ahead. I don't like his idea that we have to get a label machine and only use manilla file folders, and some other concepts don't make sense if you're in a smaller organization. But you'll learn something useful. And you can pick up a lot from the website and the forums. See davidco (dot) com and look for the forumns.

Good luck.