Mentorship 7: Time Management: RAIL

When I started the series of mentorship blog posts, I never expected to find such a personal passion for planning and prioritizing. It was quite strange to realize that over the years I have developed a layered approach to keeping myself on task and track. I also look back and see all the tools, tricks, and mistakes that I made in trying to keep myself organized. What I thought would be only part of one blog posting is now evolving into so much more.

Being a mentor is about helping teach and coach skills that would benefit someone through the rest of their career. The ability to prioritize all the work that we do is critical to success. The beginning of good organization for me was my digital bullet journal. When I take notes throughout the day and during meetings, I am capturing all of the items that will need to be completed, followed up, researched, planned, or remembered at some unspecified date.

A RAIL is a “rolling action item list”. I have a reference page dedicated to actions that need longer than one business day to complete. This is where technology has been amazing, With the click of a bookmark, I can review and update my list. Hopefully, the actions that have been created in my journal are ones that I can complete before I complete my workday. Oftentimes, there are tasks that I am not able to finish or know will need more time. My RAIL is dedicated to those actions that will need more time. During the first part of the day, I will review the day before and find the actions that I was not able to complete. Those actions are now added to my RAIL.

These separate page(s) in my bullet journal are dedicated to following through on items that I need to complete. I want to be completely transparent in my process and also to show that I am far from perfect in my methods. Sadly, I have found this specific method can have benefits. I call it the 48-hour rule. I also must admit that a wonderful mentor of mine taught me this technique. The premise is that some tasks will resolve themselves in 48-hours.

It is important to distinguish the tasks that have to be done by a certain date and those that can “hang out” for that 48-hour period or even longer. Maybe the project never gets off the ground. Maybe the priorities shift. Maybe the person finds a different path. It is amazing how some tasks simply go away after someone has had a couple of nights’ sleep. The human mind never ceases to amaze me. There are times where something that seems vitally important one day, seems trivial after something as simple as sleeping. That is part of the beauty of a RAIL. I have not lost the item. I still plan to do the item. But I am letting a little bit of time help dictate which tasks take priority.

I have found many benefits to keeping a dedicated RAIL. I do not have to go back through pages and pages of notes to find my running to-do list. I do not have to look through scraps of paper or post-it notes to find the task I am looking for. If someone asks me about a task, I can quickly look for its status. If I am asked what I am working on, there is a quick reference to talk about. If I find a bunch of themed items in my RAIL, I can use those to see if that program should be of escalated importance. I can also find if there are significant time wasters or non-value-added items that I am supposed to do. All this is data that keeps me working forward and helps relate to the organization the safety priorities.

Published by Dr. Mark A. French

Husband, Father, Safety Professional, I/O Psychologist, Golfer, and Geek. BS from Murray State University (Chemistry and Occupational Safety). MBA from Bethel University. PhD in I/O Psychology from Capella University.

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