time management

I recently took a time management course through the Especially for Nonprofits program at VCU. It was awesome. The professor was (and is) Elaine Kiziah and she is FANTASTIC. Mucho recommendo.

Time management is one of those wonky things that demands a somewhat significant investment up front from people who don't have the time to spare in the first place. The thing is, you just have to carve it out to make it happen, and it might take more than a day. Funny how that works. But in the same way you have to spend money to make money, you have to find time to make time.

One of the books we talked about was Getting Things Done, by David Allen. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, but I did page through a copy and I've familiarized myself with his processes a bit via blogs and podcasts. His method is all about maximizing every minute you have, to build toward your bigger goals. (Other folks like to look at the big goals and use a more top-down method for productivity.)

One of his hacks is the thing I like to call 43 Folders (mostly because I used to listen to a podcast called 43 Folders, and I never knew what it meant until I took this course). It's a tickler file - a system for having a folder for every day of the year. It's meant to be a home for physical items that you need to deal with on a given day in the future.

When I moved into my office, I'd 'inherited' this weird container thing for hanging files - it's almost like half a mesh file box, minus the lid part.  Or something.  So I pulled that out and filled it with my 43 folders - one with each number, 1-31, and one with each month of the year.  This is set up so that each day of the year has its own folder.  1-31 apply to the rest of this month and the beginning of next month, and the files are slipped behind the folder for next month, as the days go by.

SO, today, October 6, I will go into my office and see my tickler.  The folder with #6 on it will be in the front, with 7 and so on behind it.  Behind 31 is the November folder, and behind November is folders 1-5.  behind 5 is December, January and so on up through October.  I'll pull out folder 6, which is for today, take out the contents, and slip it behind the 5.  It becomes the November 6 folder.

It's really easy to use.  For example, if I have a meeting next Thursday but I got the agenda in my email today, I can go ahead and print the stuff out and stick it in the 16 folder. That way it's out of my inbox, I can check that off my to-do list, and it's in a safe spot until I need it.  And if I get an invitation for a dinner next March 23rd, I mark my calendar and then stick the directions in the March folder. When I've made my way to March, I'll pull out the folder, distribute all the items to their date folders, and stick March in the back for next year.

I really hemmed and hawed about making this tickler, for some reason. I kept thinking I could come up with a system that would work better for me. Maybe I could, if I really wanted to sit down and plan, or research all over, but this one works just fine and I had the stuff to make it happen. Besides, I had already missed 2 days of work taking this class and I needed to put some of this time management/productivity business to work, fast!

It's pretty janky-looking, because all the folders are recycled so they're soft and ratty and have writing all ove rthem, and actually that drives me crazy a little bit. (I also realized in this time management class that I am a visual learner, and I'd had no idea how greatly visual clutter distracted me until now.) But, I work for a nonprofit. And Lord knows I don't have the spare cash to get it myself, right now. Maybe when the Staples Reward check comes in.

The system is pretty cool, really. There's a folder for each month, and then for eacy number, 1-31. Combining these in the right order gets you through every day of the year. Pretty sweet, no?  You can learn more about ticklers here or here and you can see some photos on flickr.  It's a great tool, and I'm thinking of a way to adapt the system for home use too.
Anybody out there looking to get rid of some clean manilla folders?

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