Don’t mistake activity for results; just because you’re doing something doesn’t mean you’re being productive. What makes a day productive isn't just crossing things off your to-do list; it’s working on the really important things in your business. In order to be productive, you need to manage your time and your workload. That means planning. And that means faithfully using a planner/calendar.

Use a planner/calendar

The single most effective action you can take to become more productive is to use a planner/calendar. I use both terms, “planner” and “calendar”, because planning and scheduling are actually two different functions that you should incorporate into the same device. You should enter all time-specific commitments, both business and personal (the calendar function), then plug tasks from your to-do list into the times that are left (the planner function.) If you have not been using a planner/calendar consistently you will be amazed at how much simpler and more productive your life can be.

Once you start using your planner, you’re rarely faced with a blank page when you turn the page to a new day. You’ll have already entered time-specific to-dos, follow-ups, project pieces, meetings, errands and phone calls on the days you need to address these tasks. When you can see the day is about to overflow, you can start re-prioritizing, rearranging and rescheduling if necessary to avoid creating a schedule that you cannot possibly execute.

Keep only one

Schedules are much too busy these days to rely on memory alone. You need one single place to keep track of all meetings, tasks, projects, and follow-ups. Keep all time commitments, whether professional, personal, or family in a single calendar. Otherwise, sooner or later you will forget something or double-book yourself. One important note, enter both work and family/personal commitments into your calendar.

You may currently be using several calendars: one on your phone, another on your computer, a third in a little notebook you keep in a purse or pocket, and perhaps a family calendar hanging on the wall. As long as your information is scattered in lots of different places, you’ll find it difficult to be truly organized and productive. You need one single calendar that you trust because you know it has all the information in it you need to be where you’re supposed to be, and what you’re supposed to be doing at any given time.

Keep it with you

The best planner/calendar is one that can capture thoughts and to-dos wherever you happen to be so you will use it consistently. Therefore, you should choose something, whether paper or electronic, that’s small enough to have with you all the time.

You might find the best way to go is with some combination of paper and electronic. Some people keep their calendars in Outlook or Google Calendar, and then print it out for a longer range view.

Keep everything in it

Your planner needs to be the one-stop-shop for everything you have ever promised anybody, including yourself, that you would do. It needs to be a trusted system that contains your meeting schedule, projects, task lists, status notes, follow-ups, and cross-index to your tickler file. If you’re conscientious about keeping your planner up to date, you can completely relax and know you won’t overlook anything.

Keep lists

Using lists effectively is the secret to success. Important thoughts occur to us spontaneously throughout the day—things to do, to follow up on, to buy, to talk with someone about. If you don’t capture them immediately, they’ll be gone. Keep your lists in one place and keep that one place with you all the time so you can enter things you want to do before you forget them. Don’t let yourself develop the habit of jotting things down on multiple pads of paper.

I’ve seen too many people frustrated by notepads all over their office, each one with the top half-dozen sheets of paper covered with lists of various sorts. The result is they don’t know where to look next. What has already been done and what has been overlooked are lost in the visual clutter of half-completed, partially crossed-off lists.
You may decide to separate your list into tasks of different categories, but at least if everything is in one place you’ll know exactly where to look when you are at the store, on your way to a meeting, ready to return phone calls, or when you find yourself with a few extra moments to get something done. To make things easy, that one place with all your lists should be in your planner/calendar! That way, you can quickly transfer a task from one of your lists right into your calendar if you see you have an open slot in your schedule.

While I’m in favor of lists in general, I do make a distinction between “someday” lists that capture every task, hope, dream, and intention that ever crossed your mind and real “right now” to-do lists—tasks you actually schedule into your planner to do on a specific day. Everyone has lists filled with things that will probably never get done—they’re either not essential, or require some resource that isn’t available, or the time isn’t right, or for some other reason. Some items on your “someday” list may eventually become “right now” items for a real to-do list, but continually reviewing lengthy lists and feeling inadequate because you can’t fit everything into your current schedule is self-defeating.

Author's Bio: 

Internationally known organizing and time management expert Elaine Quinn has worked with hundreds of small business owners and work-from-home solopreneurs for more than 10 years. She helps them organize their offices, desks and files; set goals and priorities; and increase their overall productivity.

A work-from-home professional herself, Elaine knows just what it takes to help you get better organized, stay energized and motivated, and get things done in your workspace. If you love working from home, and want more information on topics that will help you, get your FREE copy of her e-book, "15 Ways to Save Time and Trouble for You and Your Business" at her website,