Time management tip: Capture fleeting thoughts, then act

stopwatch and to-do listFor busy executives, managing time means capturing to-do items and then prioritizing what matters most. Harried people often fail to list a fleeting thought (“I need to follow up with Chris”) and, as a result, forget it.

After you list to-do items, choose one or two central places where you’ll store these reminders. Don’t scatter your notes to the wind. And don’t rely solely on electronic devices, warns David Allen, a productivity guru.

“Nothing beats paper and pen,” Allen says. “The batteries never run out.”

After you file all your notes in a well-established place, such as a file folder, devote a few minutes every day or two to review all your to-do reminders. Scrutinize each item and ask, “What do I need to do?”

Cleanse your email inbox periodically so that messages don’t pile up. Delete what’s least important and pounce on high-priority requests.

Update your project lists by acting on incoming messages as fast as possible. Allen’s rule of thumb: If you can address an inquiry within two minutes, do so immediately.

He says that the best leaders possess two traits:

  1.  Ability to step back and organize how they think.
  2.  Courage to make tough decisions without all the data they’d like and without gathering input from others.

— Adapted from “How to clear your inbox, make decisions and generally get things done,” Tom Fox, WashingtonPost.com.