Years ago, I purchased a Palm PDA – at the time, they were all the rage for keeping track of “stuff.” People used them to keep contacts, manage their tasks and calendar, and do whatever else they could do with them.
I had been using a paper based Franklin Day Planner (as shown above), and many told me that I could ditch the bulkiness of paper and be more efficient by having my tasks always in front of me without re-writing them every day. Sounded good.
Except it didn’t happen that way. I eventually returned to my paper based planner because in reality, it was more efficient in the long run (and that’s the key – efficiency). While taking ten minutes each morning to write out your daily task list may seem a time waster when you can just add to what is already there in a PDA and check off what is done, the reality is that I did not find that all that useful. There are a number of reasons for this.
Let’s first discuss the Franklin day planner system (which by the way is now “Frankin-Covey,” but I’ve been using this planner and the system as taught by the original founder, Hyrum Smith long before they added the “Covey” to the name). In a nutshell:
Three Months Of Daily Pages
You have twelve months of pages, with each day of the month having two pages dedicated to that day. You keep three months worth in your planner – the past, the present and the next month. The reason for this is that most of us, if we need to go back to a journal entry, in most cases it will be something in the recent past. If we are planning ahead, most plans are made for the very near future.
By keeping the other months, both past and future in a separate larger storage binder, you can still go back if you need to, and you can also still plan ahead. Planning ahead is quite simple as you keep a small calendar on two pages in the back of your planner. If you have some appointment for the month after next, you write it there.
Let’s say today is November 6th. At 11:00am, I get an unscheduled phone call from a client, John Smith. I take the call, and on the right side page for the day, I enter the time, John Smith’s name, and then I start taking notes of anything relevant that comes up in the conversation. I will even write non-business related information in point form as well. For example, if it comes up in conversation that John has been ill, I’ll write that down. Perhaps he mentions in passing he is taking his wife out for dinner. I’ll write that down as we speak on the phone.
If John suggests a meeting tomorrow, and I am able to schedule it, I will write that down. When the phone call ends, I turn to tomorrow’s date and in the appointment schedule on the left page, in the appropriate time slot and write John Smith (11-6).
This serves the purpose of having one calendar (even personal items go on my calendar), and also now I know we had a discussion on November 6th including details of the meeting. All I have to do tomorrow is turn to today’s page, read my notes – and I can be reminded as well that John has felt ill, but that he planned to take his wife out for dinner.
At tomorrow’s meeting, I’m going to ask him, “Hey John, how are you feeling today? How’s your recovery.”
I will also be reminded to ask, “How did the dinner date go with your wife last night? I bet she appreciated that!” – and our meeting, while a business meeting, takes on a deeper personal level.
What If John Wants To Meet In January?
Let’s say John didn’t ask to schedule a meeting for tomorrow, or later this month, or even next month. Remember, my planner has three months worth in it, so I don’t have all the calendar pages for January in here. If John wants to meet on January 10th, I can’t go to that page to fill in the time slot we agreed to in our conversation today. But what I can do is go to my two page yearly calendar and in the square for January 10th, write in John Smith (11-6).
On December 31st, when I remove October’s pages from my planner and archive them, I will also add the month of January’s pages, scan the annual calendar, and then turn to January 10th, and write “John Smith (11-6).”
On January 10th, that will come up in my morning, I can quickly turn to November 6th and see the notes I made of our conversation. I can be reminded that John hadn’t been feeling well back in November, and anything else we may have talked about.
I can even go further than this with my Franklin Day Planner as well. This is how the system “integrates” tasks and the calendar really well – simply by taking ten seconds to write something out after turning to a date’s page:
If I have an idea I should confirm the January 10th meeting a week beforehand, I can also write in my Daily Task List (not on the appointment schedule portion) on the January 3rd page, “Confirm John Smith (11-6).” On January 3rd, I see that in the morning, assign a priority to it for the day, and then turn to November 6th as described above, give John a call, have a conversation and confirm the meeting.
Done. Simple. And no need for trying to figure out complicated screens, entering information in the wrong place, and all the information I need is right there in front of me.
Franklin Planner Daily Task List
The daily task list is where things really come together for me, and as soon as I learned Hyrum Smith’s training on this, it was a like a light-bulb. I wish creators of task and calendar management systems could understand the system, it’s simplicity, and why it works. Perhaps there is no simple way to build this into a “modern” task and calendar management system, especially one where there is collaboration.
But here’s how the system works:
Every day, either first thing in the morning or the evening before the day in question, you create your task list. The idea is to spend 10 to 15 minutes of your time, prioritizing – not simply what is based on “urgencies,” but priorities from all areas of your life. There are some days when an educational task may be more of a priority than a business task. No one but you can say what your priorities should be.
We all know that most of us have lots of things to do, or lots of things we want to do. So, a task list is where you may write down all of it, and then according to your own values and what you’ve decided to make as priorities, go through and put an A, B, or C beside each one. This equates to many task management systems where you can set your tasks to have a “High,” “Medium,” or “Low” priority. But that is where they all seem to end.
With the Franklin system, you then go through all your A’s. What’s the most important thing to accomplish or work on with your tasks marked A? And you go through them, adding a 1, 2, 3, 4 etc to each one. You do the same with your B’s, and then your C’s – those tasks that if you never get around to doing, won’t really have any effect on your highest priorities.
Now you’ve got your road map for your day, and you know what you are going to spend your time on, first.
It’s also important to remember that a task is a task, and not a project. A project on the other hand, is simply a long list of tasks and sub-tasks that need to be done to get a project completed.
Not all tasks are related to projects, however. Sometimes however, completing one task is dependent on completing another. Often, I will refer to a “project” in my task list – but what that really means is that I need to load up my spreadsheets, file folder, or project management software to work on some of the tasks for that project.
Using The Right Side Page Along With Tasks
Above, we discussed the example of taking a phone call, having a discussion, and recording any relevant information or agreements that might take place in that discussion, with a time stamp written by you, on the right hand side page of the day’s calendar.
The same can occur with your tasks, and that right hand page becomes almost like a journal. For example, I may write in the left margin:
08:00 (I prefer to use a 24 hour clock, by the way). Then to the right, “Planning Day.”
My next entry may be:
08:20 – and then to the wrote “Spoke with K”. A conversation with “K…” may have been the first priority to me of the day, after my 15 minute exercise of “Solitude and Planning” for the day.
Having a background in law enforcement and social policing, I know the benefit of keeping notes of activities. It is now just a daily habit for me. This has so many advantages, in that I can see how my day went, where my time went, and next week, I can also look back at the day’s notes and understand better “why” I may have done something. It provides context to how I approached my daily task list that day, and this provides me with information that I can use, even sometimes re-evaluating my priorities.
If during my conversation with “K..,” I make a commitment to doing something next week, I will make a note of that under that entry, and then turn to November 13th, and write in Daily Task List, “K… (11-6)” On November 13th, I can see that I have something I promised to do, turn to November 6th, and read about our conversation and what it was. I can then prioritize that with the rest of my tasks for that day, on November 13th.
Really, it’s a very simple system, everything is there in front of you and is so easy to reference past conversations and future events.
Disadvantages Of Paper Planning System
While for the most part, a paper planning system has worked well for me for 25 years, there of course some big disadvantages in this day and age. While the digital age was supposed to help us become more efficient, which should mean less tasks to do, my experience is the opposite. There is more information bombarding us, technology moves ahead at a rapid pace, and so much of it has to be learned. We have more contacts as well as the opportunities for contacts and business. Business itself is far more competitive than it was 25 years ago.
Many of our business associates don’t work in the same country, let alone the same office. There are time zone differences to also deal with, in some cases. So my list of disadvantages of a paper based system include:
- It’s bulky to carry around. I am a firm believer in using only one calendar and not having multiple calendars to keep track of.
- Collaboration with others while using a paper based calendar is difficult.
- Collaboration on tasks with others is difficult.
- Sharing important information from notes made with clients and others is time consuming and basically repeating the same thing instead of just being able to share notes.
Obviously, collaboration with others is important in this day and age. Using a paper planner makes that process less efficient, but if I did not have to share a calendar, share notes, or view and/or allow others to view my tasks lists, there’s be no issues.
The Problems With The Calendar/Task/Project Management Collaboration Systems Toda
Where do I start? I’ve tried a number of them, and I think there are two extremes:
- They are either way to clunky, unintuitive, and trying to be everything to everyone, that they are actually inefficient. Having to learn each process even on simple things like setting a priority for a task, is just – frustrating.
- They are either way too simple and do not even have the basics for a minimum of collaboration, and use “cute” ideas to try to attract people – like using virtual cards or claiming that everything is “visual” and you can do this on your mobile device. Sorry, no – I hardly ever work from my mobile device. It’s handy to have if I need to reference something, but typing in notes, or even sending messages is not something I want to do on my mobile device. Look up my schedule? Sure. But work from it? Only in an emergency.
Some systems also want to be CRM’s (Customer Relationship Management systems) in addition to task, calendar and project management. While I can certainly see the advantage of having all your customer contacts in one place, this is another area where everything just gets clunky.
If in my example above of where I showed how I presently handle a phone call from John Smith, Mr. Smith had previously been unknown to me, I just put his phone number down beside his name. I can get all his details some other time, but he’s in “my system” by virtue of the fact I’ve written his name down.
In the online systems I’ve tried, this is not so easy to do, to pick up the phone, take a call and then start typing out notes of the phone call for this new potential client. Instead, I have to open another section of the system, where it wants me to input all kinds of information about the person, if I am going to add them to the system. Why not just let me have a diary entry area, I can click on the time of day, enter a name or a subject, then write notes? If it’s a name, and it’s not found in the existing database of contacts, it creates it.
Later, if I wish to add more information about the contact, I should be able to. But I should not have to go through hoops to add a name, and start making notes, from what should be a “diary entry” type of thing.
Better Task List Designs Are Needed
I can see an advantage in some ways of having all your tasks already there. You just add them, add new ones as they come along, check off the ones you’ve completed, and it could save you time in writing them out every day.
On the other hand, making that a habit to actually write them out every day, and then a few minutes prioritizing has some big psychological advantages as well. The act of writing them out seems to have an effect on the brain in a positive manner, more so than waking up, turning on your computer and going to your app, and staring at a list of pre-entered tasks.
Even the lists that exist are so unwieldy. Sure, you can prioritize in some systems with three categories High, Medium and Low, but then what? You’re still staring at list of tasks on your screen. The one at the very top may be the lowest priority of the high priorities. If you have enough tasks, the highest priority task might be hidden until you scroll down.
There are also other issues – a task for tomorrow might not be a task for today, but you still want to make note of it. But when you enter it, there it is staring back at you. But you don’t really want to see it until tomorrow. It’s not a time sensitive task that needs an actual calendar entry, just something you need to do. Tomorrow. Not today. I don’t want to see it there today, distracting me from today’s tasks.
Another issue is that I personally write out ALL my tasks, including priorities and things I want to do from all areas of my life. Today’s tasks might include having a conversation with one of my son’s about some subject, writing a proposal for a new project, pay the rent, or whatever.
It does not make sense to me to have multiple “Daily Task” lists.
Calendars & Calendar Collaboration
This is another area that really irritates me. Every person should work from ONE calendar. That’s it. Having multiple calendars is insane. Everything goes on one calendar, personal and business. You should not have a family calendar on the fridge, a personal calendar on your desk, and a work calendar somewhere else.
So having calendars that are not capable of bi-directional syncing is just – horrible. I was looking at one CRM/Task Management/Calendar management system that was capable of syncing to a Google Calendar, but could not sync up with it, or vice versa. But this bi-directional syncing is imperative, if I am planning things with other friends and family, who are syncing theirs with mine, and I cannot get all that information onto my calendar in my CRM system.
No matter what other features that CRM/Task Manager system had, as soon as I saw that it lacked bi-directional syncing, I went looking elsewhere.
Personally, I don’t like logging into Google, and I do all my email work from my Thunderbird application. I just don’t like my email hosted in the cloud. I like my Thunderbird Calendar, and it will sync with the Google account calendar, bi-directionally.
I found one system, Bitrix24, which had the ability to bi-directionally sync with Google calendars, which meant that if a partner or work associate wanted to create an appointment for me, if they had access to my calender on Bitrix24, it would sync with Google, which in turn would then sync with my local Thunderbird.
So in a sense, that is as if I am working with one single calendar. And I can give my partner permissions to fully view my calendar, which she should have in order to do proper collaboration together.
If my partner wants to make an appointment for me, or with me, she ought to be able to see that I have a dentist appointment scheduled for my son, so that’s not going to work, for example.
Solutions To The CRM/Task Management/Project Management System Problems
I don’t develop CRM or Project Management Systems. But I do know that there are a lot of them out there, some that existed years ago, are dead, and people and business keep switching.
Guess what that means? None of them have got it right yet. I can’t help you develop one through development, but maybe I can give you some ideas:
Stop trying to be the one that has the most and biggest features.
Having lots of features is great thing! If they work and are easy to use, and genuinely provide some efficiency. But having lots of features while totally failing at basic user interface issues and understanding how people are productive means that your product is not that great.
If your product cannot do bi-directional syncing with other commonly used calenders, then you are causing time management issues. It’s also important that others can have full permissions to view and edit my full entire calendar, if I choose to give that permission.
Start To Understand How People Really Work, Not How You Envision They Should
You might think that every one will appreciate having a full complete list of tasks all in one place. But you’re not thinking about reality. I might want to record a task, but I don’t want to see it until tomorrow, because it’s tomorrow’s task.
If I want to enter it for tomorrow, it should not necessarily show up as a calender event. It’s not. It’s just something that needs to be done, at some point, during the day.
Just like today’s tasks are not calendar events. A scheduled meeting, an appointment, a dinner engagement, the kids’ hockey game – yes, those are calendar events.
People also need to make notes. Their notes should all be in one place, and notes should be made, for the most part, in a chronological manner, and easily seen in both a detailed view and a wide view.
Daily Tasks Are Not Necessarily Time Or Deadline Based
I’m sitting at my desk and it occurs to me that tomorrow, I want to chop wood. So I go to tomorrow’s date, and in my “Task List,” I write “Chop Wood.”
I should not have to see that task now, until tomorrow. It also should not have a time associated with it, or a deadline, or be shown on my calendar as an “All day event.”
It’s none of those things. It’s an activity or task I want to do, tomorrow, and I want to remind myself of that, when I thought of it today.
Some tasks are recurring. I want to work out three times a week, but I don’t want to actually schedule a time; it’s just a task I’ve set for myself, and depending on other tasks that day, may be a higher or lower priority. I won’t know until it comes up that day. Maybe someone else does want to schedule it, and that’s fine. I’m using it as an example however.
Projects Are Task Based, But Not Necessarily The Same
One of my daily tasks might be to review a project, which has it’s own tasks that need to get done in order to complete the project. Projects and their tasks should be kept separately from one’s “Daily Task List.” If I want to have collaboration with someone with my Daily Task List, they may not want to see the 50 five minute tasks that need to be done to complete a project.
Productive People Like To Have The Wide View
When I start my day, I want to have a wide view, but not too wide. I don’t want to see a monthly calendar, but I do want to see my scheduled events for the day. I don’t want to see a great bit long list of tasks that are maybe even irrelevant to me today, but I do want to prioritize the ones that are there for today. I may also want to delegate some and see that I have them delegated, in my wide view.
Even though they have been delegated, I’m still responsible for their completion so they still need to be their.
Some tasks, I may “Move Forward” to tomorrow or some other date in the future.
Some of the tasks, even though a high priority, maybe be “In Progress” but I’m stuck due to some circumstance of needing more information, a resource, or something that has kept me from completing it, but I can move to the next priority task and begin to put it “in progress.”
Really, when I start my day, I want to see what I see in my day planner, and what most people would probably want to see, if they have taken any time management courses:
- Daily Task List (for only that day), a place to prioritize them and order them in importance, to mark them as delegated, in process or completed.
- Appointment Schedule: Similar to a regular paper based planner, I want to see my appointment schedule for the day with the ability to add new appointments if they come up.
- Daily Journal: I want to be able to record my day’s events in chronological order. It is possible that the notes I make there should also be duplicated in the CRM tools. But at the end of the day, I want to be able to see how I got there – where did the time go – and I can scan over the conversations I had, the commitments I made or that were made to me, etc.
I do want the ability to “turn the page” so to speak and see tomorrow’s Task List and Daily Calendar, as well as being able to see the Week, Month and Year.
I want ONE calendar, not a “Company Calendar” and a “Personal Calendar.”
After writing the above, it struck me that perhaps the folk at FranklinCovey would have an app that works like a paper based system. Well, sure enough, they do have an app, but it is ONLY task management. There is no real Calendaring functionality and no collaboration. It’s simple, and I can see how it would work for some people but it’s not really all that helpful. As well, one can prioritize their tasks, but only by “High,” “Medium,” and “Low.” Again, not really what works.
Extremely disappointing that the folks who came up with the best paper planner system in the world (as far as I’m concerned) have such a pitiful online tool. It’s pretty much something that anyone with a bit of knowledge of PHP and some MySQL queries with a bit of CSS could create. Certainly not what you’d expect from FranklinCovey.
I thought to myself, “well maybe someone else has experience with the old FranklinCovey system and has tried to replicate it with an online version and better features. So I did a search [online franklin covey calendar task collaboration]
Fourth result on page one of Google: Online Planner – Get Organized with PlanPlus
Curious, I clicked through. One of the first things I noticed was this:
Your Calendar, Tasks, Contacts, and Daily Notes included in one easy-to-use online planner!
“Daily notes? Hmmm.” Then I noticed,
Superior task management with ABC-123, as well as Daily and Master Tasks
Prioritizing with A1, A2, A2,…. B1, B2, B3…C1… daily and Master Tasks… okay, someone who knows about Hyrum Smith’s Franklin Time Management training is involved in this. I didn’t need to read anymore before creating a free account to test this out.
So far, I’m loving it! It’s almost exactly what I have been looking for, for years! I’m loving it so much, I signed my partner up for an account, and I have a very good feeling about PlanPlus Online! I’ll take advantage of the 7 Day trial, give it a whirl, and then provide some feedback about the system