Saturday, June 25, 2005

Tickler Files

I frequently run into people who attended one of my workshops. Of all of the ideas we covered in the workshop, the one that seems to be the favorite is the tickler file. For me personally, it is the tool that has allowed me to work with a clean desktop and a clear head for over 20 years.

Wouldn’t it be great if all of the papers that sit on your desk would go away and magically come back exactly when you need them? That is exactly what the tickler file does for you.

A set of tickler files consists of 43 folders. Take the first 31 and number them. Each file will represent a day of the month. Label the remaining 12 with the months of the year and your system is ready to go.

The idea is very simple. When paper comes your way that you will need to see again on some future day, slip it into the appropriate folder. If that day is going to be within the next month, slip the paper into the correct numbered folder. A piece of paper you drop in folder 17 will resurface on the 17th day of the month. For papers you will need to see again in a month or more, slip the paper into the correct monthly folder. The paper that you do not need to see again until sometime in November is filed in the “November” folder. You have earned the right to forget about that piece of paper!

At the end of the month, you have a nifty ritual—opening next month’s file. At the end of February, you open the “March” file, make a decision about what DAY in March you need to see each item, and file them in the 1-31 folders accordingly.
I prefer to use hanging file folders. I have a file drawer in my desk where I keep the tickler files. Having the files handy is extremely important, because throughout the day as papers come your way, they are going to be slipped into the appropriate tickler files.

Here are is a partial list of the kinds of items you might put in your tickler files:
  • You receive tickets to an event that occurs 3 weeks from now. Drop them in the numbered file corresponding to the date of the event. On that date, the tickets appear. You don’t have to carry them in your wallet for fear of losing (or forgetting) them. On the day they are needed, there they are.
  • You can buy birthday cards for all of your friends and relatives with one trip to the card shop. When you get home, address all of the envelopes and attach the return address labels to the whole batch. Pencil in the date each card need to go in the mail in the spot where the postage stamp will later go. Now you simply drop the cards in the appropriate folders. Throughout the year, cards will keep popping up on the exact day they need to go in the mail. You will never forget a birthday again!
  • You are attending a workshop and have a flyer giving you the driving directions. You will need that item on the day of the workshop, so put it in the tickler file. It will appear the morning of your workshop.
  • You are completing a report and do not have all of the information you need. Jot down in your planner what information you need to get and make a plan for how you will get it. Slip the report into a tickler file. When the report resurfaces, you will have the information and can complete the report.
  • You have prepared a “problem of the day” for your classes. Drop each one in the appropriate tickler file.
  • You have prepared a test and need to duplicate it, but the copier is down until Thursday. Drop the test in the file for Thursday. It will be out of sight and out of mind until the day you can do something about it.
  • You duplicate the test on Thursday even though you won’t be giving the test until Wednesday of next week (because after all, that copier could go down again). Put the tests in a manila folder and put the whole folder in next Wednesday’s tickler.
The list could go on and on. See if you don’t find this simple set of folders can do great things for you.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Creating a Master List

Take a look at your to-do lists from the last few days. How do you feel about how they were organized and what you accomplished? For the most part, are your tasks grouped by context—phone calls listed together so that you can run through the list when you pick up a phone, errands grouped together so that you can run them all when you are out?

The problem all too many people face is that they try to list everything they have to do on tomorrow’s list. At the end of the day, most of those things remain undone and are rewritten on the list for the next day. At the end of the next day, the same thing happens. The avalanche begins as tasks are rolled from day to day. Soon, we dread all of the re-writing we will face at the end of the day. Some may give up on the idea of making a to-do list altogether.

One simple way around this cycle is to compose a “master list.” The master list is a page (or several pages) in the back of your planner. When a task comes your way that does not have to be completed in the next few days, add it to the master list. Each week, look at the master list to see which tasks you want to “feed into” to-do your lists for this week.

You will not forget any of the tasks, because they have “trapped” on paper. You are also free from having to decide on what day you will accomplish each task. Because you look at the entire master list each week, you are giving it the kind of regular review which will keep tasks from slipping through the cracks.

Go ahead and block out an hour or two in your planner when you can really concentrate on composing this master list. Maybe Saturday morning is a good time for you. Maybe a weekday evening is best. Your first master list is an opportunity to “download” everything that your brain has been trying to keep up with—the plans for your vacation, the Christmas gift ideas you are coming up with for your relatives, ideas for your Professional Development Plan. Let your pen flow as you empty those thoughts on your master list.

In the end, it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference. It’s the center fielder’s extra two steps to the left, the salesman’s memory for names, the lover’s phone call, the soldier’s clean weapon. It’s the thing that separates the winners from the losers, the men from the boys, and very often, the living from the dead. Professional success depends on it, regardless of the field.
-David Noonan

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Repeating Task List (Paper Planner)

With the start of school drawing ever closer, we are all planning for the coming year. Some of those plans involve new projects and new ideas we will be trying. Other plans we will make involve thinking some of the same thoughts we thought through last year. What tasks do we need to perform to be “ready” when students walk through the door? What materials will we need? Do we have a good idea for the bulletin board? Will we write a “welcome to my class” letter to parents?

As we think through the year, what field trips or other special projects will take place for your class? What plans need to be made? Do you need to reserve busses? What information will you prepare and send to parents? What purchase orders will you need to secure?

Monday, June 20, 2005

JSU Inservice Center Workshop

If you attended "It's About Time" at JSU, welcome and thanks for visiting this blog. Also, if you went to one of my workshops at AETC last week, I am glad that you are visiting. We covered a great deal of ground today.

The best place to begin is to invite you to read the articles I have already posted starting with "Choosing a Capture Tool." Please feel free to add comments, let me know in what areas you would like me to go into more depth, etc. Again, the idea is to make today so much more than a "one-shot workshop."

The master thinker knows that ideas are elusive and often quickly forgotten, so he traps them with notebook and pencil. He heeds the Chinese proverb: “The strongest mind is weaker than the palest ink.”
--Wilferd A. Peterson in The Art of Living

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Goals (Palm)

Tracking goals is one of the big advantages the Palm has over a paper planner. While I have outlined a good system for how to track goals on paper, the process is quicker (and more fun) on the Palm.

When something comes my way that I realize is a goal, I phrase the goal as a statement that is either TRUE or FALSE. I am answering the question, “I can check this goal off as done when what is true?” For example, let’s say I notice the piano is out of tune. (It I had the tools at hand and the expertise to do the job myself, it would be one action, and be entered on my Home list as "Tune the piano." Since I don’t have the tools nor the expertise, and getting this piano tuned is going to involve determining who to hire to do it, arranging a time, etc., I am going to create a new task (In the "None" category in Outlook or the "Unfiled" category on my Palm) and enter this:

+Piano has been tuned

Notice the “+” sign. That is my signal that what follows it is a goal. Any time I see a task which begins with a “+” I know I have a goal that has no action step associated with it. On Outlook, any item such as that is going to sort to the top of the list of whatever category it's in.

The next step towards accomplishing that goal is going to go in front of the +. In this example, the next step is to go to the yellow pages and contact some piano tuners. My task now looks like this:

Look up piano tuners in yellow pages+Piano has been tuned

Other action steps may come to mind. I am thinking of questions to ask during the phone call. I will need a place to wrote information I gather during the conversation. I will use a note attached to this task to house all of this type of thing. I will assign this task to the “Home” category since I am going to be consulting the yellow pages while at home.

Let’s say found three people in the yellow pages. It's 10:00 PM, so calling them right now is not a good idea. I jot down their names and numbers in the note section of the task. I don’t check off the task.
Instead, I change the task line to read:

Call piano tuners+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091
Joe Smith-555-1999
Jim Adams-555-8111

Ask during call:
When are you available?

(Since the next step is to place the calls, I change the category to Calls.)

I have talked to 2 piano tuners and left a message for a 3rd to call me. I am waiting on his call before I make up my mind who to hire. My task would look something like this (the first line is what would be in the task line. The rest is the attached note):

Jim Adams+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091-Charges $100 for the job. Is booked up until June 15.
Joe Smith-555-1999-Charges $75 per hour. Can come any Saturday.
Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00

Ask during call:
When are you available?

(Since the status of this goal is that I am waiting on a call from Jim, I change the category to “Delegated.”

Jim Adams calls back and says he is returning my call. I know to go to the Delegated category, and there is all of the info so far. Jim has the lowest price, so we go ahead and schedule a day and time to come. Now I have:

Jim Adams-Tuned piano+Piano has been tuned
Sam Jones-555-8091-Charges $100 for the job. Is booked up until June 15.
Joe Smith-555-1999-Charges $75 per hour. Can come any Saturday.
Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00.

Ask during call:
When are you available?

At this point, I will do a couple of things. I will copy this info:

Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00.

I will leave the category as Delegated (since the next step--showing up to tune the piano--is in someone else's court), and enter this appointment on my calendar. I will attach a note and paste:

Jim Adams-555-8111-LM 5/24 9:00. Charges $80 for the job and should take 3 hours. He will come Saturday at 9:00

Saturday afternoon as I review the Delegated list, I see the entry: "Jim Adams-Tune piano+Piano has been tuned." That original statement--"+Piano has been tuned" is now true, so I check it off the task. The goal has been completed!

Let's say Jim did not show up at the appointed time. His contact info is in the note attached to the appointment, so it's easy enough to pick up the phone and call him. I find he has decided not to do the job. The contact info for the other piano tuners in that one task. I would probably remember to look for it in the Delegated list. If not, I enter this in a search:


Since I won't have many goals that begin with the word "piano," Iwill hit on the correct item quickly. I can now call one of the other tuners.

In summary:

1. Each goal is tracked in a single task.

2. The task line includes the next step to be taken, a “+” sign, and the goal. Everything else goes in a note attached to the task.

3. As each step is completed, nothing is checked-off. Instead the completed task is replaced by the next one.

4. When the goal has been achieved, the task is checked off.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

AETC Palm Workshops

I had a terrific in today's two sessions. If you attended the "PDA Productivity" and did not get the handout beamed to you, I am posting it here.

The next post I do will be a more on handling multiple projects using your Palm, so please check back.

PDA Productivity: Getting More Done and Making It Look Easy

Dr. Frank Buck

***This outline is presented as very simple text—no bullets, italics, bold faced-print, etc. The intention is that as you view this online, you will simply “select all” and electronically copy this entire outline. Then go to your Palm desktop or Outlook (whichever you use), create a new task (called something like “Set up my Palm”) and paste this outline into the note section of that task. Feel free to e-mail or beam this outline to a friend who has a Palm but isn’t quite sure how to use it as the productivity tool it could be.

-Frank Buck

Dr. Frank Buck, Principal

Graham Elementary School

403 Cedar Street

Talladega, AL 35160

(256) 315-5777

Categories for Task List:







Unfiled (Syncs to “None” on Outlook)



I have achieved my goal when WHAT is true?

What’s the next step


Next step+Goal statement

Other steps and information related to the project are the in the note section.


Backing-Up Outlook

Your data is kept in a “.pst” file

Backing up on Outlook 97:

Right-click on “Outlook Today”

Choose “properties”

Click “Advanced”

You will see the path to your data

Close Outlook

Copy that .pst file and save it as your backup

Backing up on Outlook 2003

In Outlook, under the File menu, select “Backup”

Click on Options and make you selections

Browse for a pathname and choose “My Documents” as the place where you want the backup to go

Maintain the data by running scanpst every month


What place does paper have? (3 phases of workflow)

Collect-May be best to do on paper until you get really good with the Palm

Process and organize-Do on the Palm

Do the work

Collecting on the Palm (Meeting notes)

Press task button

Enter name of meeting and due date

Create a note

Turn off

During meeting, turn on & off with power button


Palm To-Do Preferences

Sort by Category, Due Date

Uncheck “Show Completed Items” (As you check off things, they disappear.)

Check “Show Due Dates”

Check “Record Completion Date” (Gives you a record of when you really completed things)

Uncheck “Show Priorities”

Check “Show Categories”


Outlook-Getting categories to synch that first time:

Launch “Chapura Settings.”

Click the “Settings” button.

Double-Click “Outlook Calendar” (for example).

In the Chapura dialog box that pops up, click “Categories/Folders.”

Select “Handheld category = Outlook’s ‘Categories’ field.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

AETC (Alabama Educational Technology Conference)

Thanks to the 168 people who came to this morning’s workshop! It was a wonderful experience for me to see so many who are interested in what I have to say. I hope you took from the workshop ideas you can use immediately, whether it be organizing your files, backing-up your computer, or expanding the ways you are using Google.

I want today’s experience to more than a “one-shot workshop” for you, and my thinking is that this blog is going to be the best way keep the material fresh and be able to go into more detail than the one hour this morning allowed.

If visiting this blog is your introduction to blogging, welcome to what has become a very popular (and easy) way for people to communicate their thoughts with the “world out there.”

Please take a few moments to read through the few entries I have posted to this point and feel free to make comments. Over the coming days and weeks, I will be taking some of the topics we talked about today and expanding on them, not to mention giving you some random thoughts on personal productivity. Please check back often!