Which to-dos should you be working on?

A frequently asked question.

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The paralegal’s to-do list is endless (as is the to-do list of a solicitor or trainee). A frequently asked question is “what should I be working on?”. Not just for me, but for all my colleagues.

Scottish guy took me through a to-do method that he was taught on an “organisation training day” he attended with work last week and it looked something like what is pictured above. I have seen similar methods, involving the use of post its to prioritise but this was the first time I had tried it.

Basically there are 4 categories of to-dos:
– important/urgent
– not important/urgent
– important/not urgent
– not important/not urgent.

Ideally, you should always be working in the important/not urgent category.

How did I get on?

I tried this for the first time today – I kept on top of my inbox (most new emails and jobs went straight into the “important/not urgent” category) and dealt with all my “important/urgent” jobs and got through a lot of the “important/not urgent” ones. I was surprised at how much time I actually spend on not important jobs when I have important ones on my desk.

So far so good. Will review the method again in a week.

Want to give it a go? Here’s what to do:

1. Think of all the things you need to do over a two week period.
2. Write them down on post-its.
3. Stick them in the relevant categories. (This is the important bit.)
4. Start working on them. No more procrastination.
5. Delegate the not important/not urgent jobs.
6. Update and review – move the post-its around.

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How to Keep Track of Job Applications

I always get asked how do you keep track of your job applications. There are several methods that I use:

  1. On Paper: The progress journal – which I have mentioned in passing to a few friends and regular readers. (Which is an updated version of this method)
  2. On the Computer: Superstars and inbox organisation
  3. On the Go: Iphone App – My Jobs: Job Search Organiser.

Today I am looking at this third option.

Image: My Job App

My Job App is an application available for the iphone/ipod touch. There is both a free version and a pro version for £1.19.

The start page is the dashboard shown in the screenshot above. It shows the summary of your jobs, broken up as follows:

  • active jobs – all the jobs you have entered will remain on this list until you close them.
  • closing jobs – if you have put in the deadline for the job. They will appear on this list when the deadline is approaching.
  • Jobs to follow up – Again you can put in a follow up date. For example if they say if you have not heard from us my X date, you have not been successful. Or if they suggest that you will hear back from them by a certain date you can stick it in here. I use two follow up dates – the date for hearing if I have an interview and one for hearing back about the interview.
  • Jobs with interviews – these will be the jobs you’ve been successful with for interview. You can insert the interview date, time and location

For each job you have the ability to keep a lot of information in the same place: The job name, the employer and any agent (although I use this for the employer if applying direct as you can add contact details). Then of course there are the key dates – the closing date, the follow up dates and the interview date and the start date for the job. There is room for you to enter your own notes about the job – this helps you remember the key points of the job, why you want to apply. Later you can use it to store info on interviewer etc. Another button is the progress one which allows you to select the status of the application. Options include: applied, filled internally, follow-up sent, interview, interview unsuccessful etc. I personally didn’t find this particularly helpful, other than applied – so I could remember which I had actually sent off the application for as I usually inputted jobs I was interested in, or was in the process of applying.

Another handy thing is that if you are unsuccessful you can close the job, but it keeps a list of not active jobs. It helps you know who you have applied for before and maintain a list of contacts etc for future reference. Particularly if you narrowly missed out – this information is good to have.

The rest of the lists: employers, agencies and agents, I’ve not found particularly useful – but if overlooked this because I do like the way the job section of the app works. Besides it complicates things.

When I want to keep track of job applications I need to know the following key things:

  1. The deadline for applying? Am I going to miss it?
  2. Have I applied? / How many open jobs do I have?
  3. When should I hear about an Interview? (follow up)
  4. When is the interview?
  5. Post Interview – When should I hear if I got the job? (follow up)
  6. Close the job / clear it off the list.

This app can do all of this.The app is good, but I prefer to integrate all 3 methods – my progress journal as I can tie my job hunt in with my goals (besides I love paper), the gmail method keeps track of the actual emails which send the job application and the actual responses from the Firm I apply for as most are done electronically and it is important that you maintain organisation in your inbox and finally the iphone app, is a handy little extra dedicated to this purpose. Everything in one place and you won’t forget any information that you *should* note down because it asks you. A simple way for those of us who don’t always keep on top of our organisation.

Restyled: Disposable To-Do List

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As many of my regular readers  may remember, last year (and up to recently) I have been using my so called disposable to-do list. However, I have taken a new approach to this in recent weeks using my Emma Bridgewater Notebook. The notebook is a nice pocket sized notebook suitable for carrying round everywhere, but prettier than the previous reporter’s notebooks.

What I do:

Each double page (ie opened pages) is a “category” of To-dos. Rather than simply list everything on the one page, I’ve split them up into categories, although we still just use a running list to record the information. This means if you want to tackle a particular type of to-do it is easy to find.  At the moment I have 2 sets of categories, the first includes things like:

  • job applications
  • general online
  • blog
  • get in contact with
  • money
  • sign language
  • work

All of which are particular types of tasks as they relate to or are for a specific purpose. However, the second set of categories is for if I know when I want to do something. For example I have an “on the train” list for things I know I can do while passing time on the train. Another example would be if it is a big task and I can’t fit it in on a working day it gets put on my “for the weekend” list for example my current entries are:

  • get my tyres checked
  • fill up with petrol (post payday); and
  • Paint something.

Why is this better?

This is better than the disposable to do list where you have to hunt through the list for something you can do at that moment in time. This list method allows you to select things depending on where you are or what sort of a mood you are in, without imposing any deadline restrictions as the principles of free form, striking things out and the fact you can do any thing anytime taken from the disposable to-dos still applies.

Everyone makes to-dos so complicated, over-complicated when in reality all you need to do is jot it down, this method keeps this – you are simply jotting it down, but you simply flick over the page and jot it down, starting a new category if there are no similar categories in your notebook.

Design Your Own Textbook

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During the run up the to exams I was blogging about the lack of a good textbook when it came to a couple of subjects and how this meant we had numerous resources to refer to in an open book exam. I questioned whether self made notes could replace the textbook and toyed with the idea of designing my own textbook, but was initially worried I wouldn’t have the time so late in the game.

Challenged by the idea of completing such a task I wrote my own text book for both my Commercial Law and Commercial Property Law which I felt were the 2 subjects with the weaker notes. If I was doing the LPC over again I would probably try and do this for all the subjects since I obtained over 80% for both these subjects.

How to get started?

Firstly you need a large CHUNKY notebook (do note that for the compulsory exams the amount of material required would probably require more than 1 notebook). I used Ryman’s case bound memo book for this purpose:

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The notebook itself was a great choice although the downside that some people may find with it is that because it is case bound it is not easy to remove pages and may prefer a perforated book. However as a person who would yank out a page at the smallest mistake and start again, this notebook was good training for me – both to plan and be more careful, and also to make do and realise the book is for my private use and a simple crossing out won’t matter too much.

Why Bother?

Once you’ve made a decision on the notebook to use, next it is important to decide what to use it for and what you want to get out of the book and plan how you are going to achieve these aims.

For example for commercial law – I wanted the notebook to replace the rest of my materials. In fact for the exam, almost everything I wrote came from this book and I only looked else where for a couple of things. This was important for several reasons:

  1. It cleared space on my desk and saved the time that I would have spent flicking through various resources – i.e. more writing time.
  2. By writing all the information in the book and organising it myself I KNEW the information much better and was more confident about the material. In addition I also had a much better idea of where to find it in the book.
  3. I moulded the book into a combination of the textbook notes, my notes and research and the tips and information given by the tutor. Therefore it was a much higher standard of information.

The contents

Using my commercial law notebook as an example I will show you how I put my book together. What will be best for each subject / individual will vary and I do suggest that you use whatever is most suitable – but hopefully this will give you some inspiration.

On the Electives course, most of the material is taught in it’s own distinct workshop. So I kept the “workshop” format which essentially became the 10 chapters of the book. The information was than broken down into a mixture of key information / bullet points, statutes and case law to back up the information and extra information to enable me to show a greater understanding and flesh out any exam answers.

Another key thing to put in is the things that will help you in the exam: ways to structure your answers, things you always forget/get wrong, mistakes friends made in case you make them too and finally any other advice the tutor gives you.

And finally try it out. Use the book to complete prep, tackle your mock exam etc – this helps you realise what extra things you need. I used my notebook in my mock exam and as a result I decided to number the contents page with page number and not just the title. It was great to spot things you might have previously overlooked.

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The Organisation

As well as having all the information combined into the notebook, it is also important that the notebook is organised. I did this in a number of ways:

  1. The contents are colour coded. I used different colours to distinguish the information. This can either be to make the information easily to understand, make the pages more atheistically pleasing or simply to aid a visual learner.
  2. The pages have two numbers: the first is the workshop / chapter number and then the second is the page number of that chapter. (nb. the contents page and index will list these numbers for easy reference).
  3. Tabbing. Tabbing doesn’t work for everyone. But the way I did this book was the same as I would have done any of my LPC textbooks. Different colours for different topics, in a running sequence. And then different style tabs to represent the key topics and exam hints.

Verdict?

What you get out of your notebook, depends entirely what you put into it. It is an impressive learning tool and study aid as well as a resource. It helps your understanding of the subject matter to coherently put it down on paper without just copying from another textbook. If you are a visual or kinetic learner – this will be an excellent method to add to your revision techniques, only difference is it starts a little earlier than the usual revision.

disposable to – dos: Using the list method to GTD

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As I have blogged before I have been using a desk diary to keep track of my to do list and deadlines. A few months on (I started this in June) I decided changes needed to be made. The diary is great when I have deadlines or need to do a particular task on a particular day (and I continue to use it for that) however I have found it to be not so great when it comes to general to dos which have no particular deadline.

With the diary method I would just pick a day to do the task. Frequently I would not actually get it done or find that I couldn’t do it on that particular day. For example I wrote – order my graduation gown and then in the process of doing this realised I need to measure my head circumference. As I don’t own a tape measure and couldn’t seem to find any string, I had to put this to do on hold until I could acquire the string (I still have not acquired such string). Of course using the diary method I would cross it out and write it in the next day or on a day I knew I would have found some string by. However with this task and certain other tasks they can move for several days before I would get them done and this can end up looking quite messy. However, I can’t just leave it on the original date and not tick it off as it is likely to get lost in the see of information and never get done.

The Solution

So the past week or so I’ve been trying out the list method using a 50p notebook from Tescos.

Basically what you are aiming to do is write down a list on the page of all the things you need to do, this works best using only items that down have a deadline as it doesn’t really matter when you do them. I also keep this notebook in work as I’ve a habit of remembering things that need doing while I’m in work and can quickly note them down. With the list down on paper I can check what I need to do, and add things as they come into my head.

I simply work from that list doing whatever I can during that day or sometimes even just parts of to-do items and then cross off/strike out what I have down.

Then either at the end of the day or first thing on the train to work I rewrite the list using only the things that I have yet to do, ready to have a crack at them the next time I have a chance. Of course you don’t have to write it up each day if your list isn’t that crowded – the point that you should rewrite is basically when you are finding it difficult to pick out what has not been done yet, and this point varies for everyone.

This is an easy simplistic method of sitting down and working your way through your to do list, while allowing you to assess it on the move. I frequently will deal with a lot of my to-dos on the train and it is nice and handy to have them all set out in the notebook so I can do as much or as little as I wish to do that day.

Keeping Track

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Life has gotten busier since leaving university and more complicated – simply because I don’t have the same rigid timetable. Unfortunately my page-a-week moleskine diary which was perfect for my studies is feeling the strain.

The solution: Purchasing a page a day desk diary (2009 ones are going cheap at the moment). I have chosen one that just says the date at the top, no times/schedule along the side – just a page for you to get creative.

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Here is an example of a page:

I’ve split it into categories:

Jobs, to do list, plans for dinner, and blog.

(yes, little time & sunshine = pigging out)

Following a simple but rigid pattern to keep track of my to-dos and my job applications (will also note deadlines, when I should get a response by, and brief details of the job – there is a point where there are so many on the go it is just confusing).

In addition I’ve been noting my expenses, and notes on things I want to blog about etc (although I do a fair bit of the blog notes online).

My second example is slightly different – has the same overall structure, but I’ve allowed more free flowing thoughts:

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Here I’ve had a lot more to-dos and of course packing to go on holiday – so the orange writing is my packing list.

I’ve found this idea really helps because recently I’ve been writing everything down on scraps of paper such as job application info and flat hunting info – I have so many pieces of paper with a phone number on it and no name – it was just getting ridiculous – this method allows me to pull everything together in one place with plenty of space.

I’m sure everyone has a diary method that works for them, so this is just a snap shot of my current method to share some ideas.

p.s. the interview went okay today, I hope I impressed. Should hear soon as the start date is pretty close.