How Can You Stay Organized When You’re On the Road?

A reader asks:

At my new job, I must follow up on items of varying priority through the day. I am on the road, meeting clients in different locations, and frequently leave a meeting with a small to-do list (phone calls, emails, document edits, material preparation). The items have varying timelines, and some require additional follow-up steps. Some items are urgent, while others can wait for weeks. I’ve tried several systems to keep track of these “action items,” to no avail: brightly colored notecards, handwritten and virtual To Do lists, post-it notes on my desktop background, writing notes in my calendar, etc. 

My schedule frequently changes (for example, this week I worked only in the afternoons/evenings – next week I have two crack of dawn appointments). Because my schedule is constantly shifting, I can’t set aside a routine time for follow up. I am increasingly frustrated that I don’t have a reliable system to manage this minor job duty efficiently.

There’s no question that it’s harder to stay organized and juggle lots of details when you’re on the road: you might be working out of hotel rooms, hallways, or a rental car, you might not have all your files easily accessible, and if your organizational systems are anything other than virtual, you might be lost after a few days without them.

Here are three key ways to stay organized on the road.

1. Do prep work in advance. Before you head out on travel, it’s worth it to spend some time getting yourself organized. Sync your calendars across all your devices, organize all the materials you’ll need to use into one place, and make sure that you have well-organized systems to capture the information that comes up on your trip.

2. Build a period for follow-up work into each day. Get in the habit of taking a few minutes to jot down any follow-up items after each meeting. And at the end of each day, allot some time to look back on your day and capture any action items that arose (as well as taking care of any quick ones on the spot). How much time you’ll need will depend on the nature of your work, but don’t shortchange yourself here by allowing 15 minutes if experience tells you that you’ll need an hour. (And if your schedule changes too much to reliably do this at the end of the day, schedule it wherever it will fit – but consider it a must-do to fit it in somewhere on your calendar each day, or at least every other day.)

3. Take advantage of technology to make your life easier. Leverage the cloud by using Google Docs to store key presentations, documents, and other tools so that they’re accessible from any device with Internet, and so that you can collaborate on them with others. Also make sure that you have a solid CRM that lets you operate virtually. (Of course, you could get all of this and more if your team was using Intuit QuickBase!) Consider using an app like Evernote for taking notes, and tracking and editing documents that you use frequently from the road. And don’t forget to travel with extra battery packs and a service like MiFi so that you have power and Internet wherever you are!

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  • Great tips, Alison.

    My best time management tips, which works regardless if you are on the road or at a fixed location, are:

    1. An easy temporarily to do list
    When I am in a hurry, I write notes on my phone, and I transfer those notes to my master to do list at the end of the day.

    2. A master to do list
    I use a excel spread sheet (which is my master to do list) – saved in dropbox (so I can access it from anywhere).

    I Prioritize the tasks using the ABCDE method:

    A :Tasks I must do – serious consequences if it doesn`t get done
    B: Tasks I should do – mild consequences if it doesn`t get done
    C: Tasks I could do – no consequences if it doesn`t get done
    D: Tasks I delegate
    E: Tasks I never do

    Here is the kicker: you never do a B task before you have done alle the A tasks, and you never do a C task before you have done all the B tasks, etc.

    Apply the 80/20 rule: you need to identify each day, which 20% of the tasks on your to do list will give you 80 % of the results.

    My mantra is to help people work smarter, not harder – so they can achieve more by doing less.

    Tor Refsland

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