Jack Barber / Website Design

The Default Diary - My Productivity Secret

A few weeks ago I had a meeting with a business coach, Ros Jones from ActionCoach. I'm self employed and working by myself means I have little opportunity to discuss ideas.

It also means I can feel a little swamped by my 'to do' list.  I deal with the enquiries, quotes, project management and technical support. Not to mention the actual design and build of multiple websites, of course!

Taking the time to discuss my aims and objectives was really useful. And it gave me the opportunity to get some feedback on current processes.

Productivity and efficiency are two things I've learned to be a lot better at over the years.

But there's always room for improvement.

One of the things Ros and I discussed was the use of a 'Default Diary'. It's a simple technique but I'm already starting to see the benefits of using it. I thought I'd share my top tips for making this kind of simple tool work for others.

So here goes...


What is a 'Default Diary'?

My default diary covers my work days from Monday to Friday, and is split into hour-long blocks through each day. It's like iCal's 'week view' on a page of A4.

Within the structure of the week I have entered my key business tasks. Here's a photo:

My Deafult Diary

As you can see, my day starts with 'Respond to Emails' and then gets split into blocks for minor work, design and larger projects.

These items form the structure of my day. They ensure I assign an appropriate amount of time to each project in an effort to help finish things in a timely manner.


How I Use It

Each week (it's been a Friday so far) I print off my Default Diary. Yes, I print it. On actual paper.

This way I can actually write on it.

I write within the blocks, filling in the details of what I'm actually going to get done over the next week.

Writing seems to embed in my mind the stuff I have to do a bit more effectively than typing. Though I do use the Reminders app on my Mac all the time too!

Of course, I can't always estimate how long each item will take. Although estimating the time to complete a project has become a easier with experience.

This then acts as a guide for the coming week. I become my own irritating project manager, constantly looking over my own shoulder to check I'm doing what I should be, getting it done on time, and on budget!


Coping with the Unexpected

There are always unexpected interruptions in a working week. Particularly when there's no office staff to take the calls and handle the enquiries. Beacuse of this my 'Respond to Emails' time is overly generous. I don't usually have an hour's emailing to do each day. Instead, I can use this time to cope with unexpected issues or demands on my time which crop up during the week.

Also, I include 'Business Development' on a Friday afternoon. This is supposed to be my 'admin' time.

As it happens, I usually have 1 too many things to do in the week, so this time gets used as overflow.

Today it appears as though I at least have time to write this quick post, which is good!


Eating Frogs

I eat my frogs first too. Handling emails and seeing to small bits of work is my least favourite aspect of doing what I do. So I do them first. I get them out of the way early so I can look forward to the better stuff later on.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Mark Twain


Making it work for You

If you're self employed, or even if you just have a busy schedule and need to get certain jobs done each week, I would suggest that creating a default diary for yourself would be time well spent.

Fill it in with the tasks you need to do, or would be doing if you didn't have other things to be getting on with. Then print it out and write in the detail.

Put it on your desk, pin it to your noticeboard, stick it on the fridge. Make it accessible, visible, and stick to it - just don't ignore it!

And remember, if something doesn't work, you can always amend it for the following week. Give yourself more, or less, time for a job. Create a new section for something else or change the order of your tasks. Do whatever you can to make the most of your time.