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My Workable Combination of Tools to Strategically Plan and Manage My Tasks

| October 7, 2014

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading is a reflection written for his cohort by James Lewis, Academic Technology Support Infrastructure Manager, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas, Austin and a recent IT Leaders Program alum.

 While preparing to write this leadership reflection, I initially thought I would focus on the challenges of creating networks for those of us who are introverts. I had previously taken one of the online personality tests (see for those of you whom are interested), and came up as type INTJ in the Myers-Briggs type indicator. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, or read the detailed profile of that personality type, and just saw that I was ‘introverted’ and didn’t pursue it much beyond that point. 

This last week I finally got around to reading the profile for this personality type, and much in the way fortune cookies, palm reading and the zodiac seem to reveal magical truths for some people, lo and behold, it described me exactly!

One of the things I’ve always had a problem with is deciding upon a selection of tools—task lists, mail, calendars, notes, etc.—that are both functional and usable. To most people, this wouldn’t seem like much of a challenge, but one of the key traits of the INTJ personality type is summed up in this sentence:

“At times it will seem that INTJs are bent on deconstructing and rebuilding every idea and system they come into contact with, employing a sense of perfectionism and even morality to this work.”

Over the years I have implemented various systems in multiple combinations, spending countless hours testing out new task list software, buying new notebooks (grid or lined?), customizing preferences in mail, only to use them for a month or two and then throw them out with the bath water, and start the search for a better system yet again…

So what does this have to do with leadership? Well, I’ve finally come up with a workable combination of tools that I’ve been using for over 6 months now (a lifetime!), which I use on a daily basis to both strategically plan and manage tasks. Not to plug any particular products, but what has been effective for me is this combination:

1) I do my weekly strategic planning using Evernote. One of my IT Leadership goals was to read and implement 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, and I have implemented the practice of evaluating my priorities based on my various roles: Personal Development, Professional Development, Husband/Father, Staff Manager, Network Manager, etc., which I then use as a framing tool to focus on the 2-3 items that return the most value and have the highest priority in each role.

2) I then strategically block time on my Outlook 2011 calendar to ensure I have time to work on these various projects and high priority items. I often have to bump or extend this reserved slot, but it’s been relatively successful in allowing me to ensure I have the time I need for my priorities.

3) Lastly, I handle all my day-to-day tasks using a Getting Things Done (GTD)-based task manager: Omnifocus. I use it to break things down on an urgent vs. important matrix (using due dates for urgent tasks and ‘flags’ for important tasks). This is my main tool for keeping track of ‘what’s next?’ for all my projects, as well as allowing me a single place to dump any ‘To Do’ items, be they personal or job-related.

These three tools (with the addition of email, of course) allow me to organize my week strategically, while allowing me to keep track of where I am with the day-to-day tasks. The real breakthrough is due to advances in technology: all of these applications are cloud-based, have mobile clients, have upstream sync capability, and can interact with each other via email gateways.

All of the nuts-and-bolts of this system are really moot in the end. I’m sure different tools work better for different people and different personalities. The real value is that at the end of the day, this system works for me. It allows me the freedom to spend more time up on the balcony, to more time effectively delegate tasks, and allows me to spend more time being an effective leader.

The key to what James says is that this system works for him and that you need to find a system that works for you and then stick with it to make your work more efficient and effective.  If you haven’t found yours, then spend some time this week in the search.


Best.  .  .     jim