time management

Tool Time: The Four Time Management Tools You Need to Manage a Busy Schedule

April 15, 2024

Reading Time: 18 minutes

How to set boundaries

Tool Time: The Four Time Management Tools You Need to Manage a Busy Schedule

Ever feel like you’re working hard to have it all together, but you’re still left overwhelmed and frustrated? You need the right tools to manage your time – and through trial and error, I’ve figured out the best four time management tools for business owners and busy professionals.


Recently my five year old Camilla was playing in our backyard on a warm spring day, and she decided that she wanted to plant a fairy garden. She’d gotten some seeds in a birthday party favor bag, which is an adorable idea by the way – I’m definitely saving that one for the future. 

Anyway, in her determination to plant a fairy garden, she walked around the backyard to find the perfect spot – a patch of dirt next to her playhouse. After finding her perfect spot, she trudged into the house, totally frustrated and deflated. So of course, I asked her – What’s wrong Mil? And she said that she couldn’t dig a hole to plant the seeds. That she was raking the dirt as hard as she could but it wasn’t making a hole. 

Of course, I stopped her and said… Wait – did you say you’re raking the dirt? And she nodded, slumped down in the chair. I took her hand and said – my girl, we’ve gotta get you the right tools! A rake won’t cut it for digging holes! You’ve gotta have the right tools for the job. So I dug around in the garage and found her a little garden shovel, and grabbed some little pink garden gloves. With her gloves on and shovel in hand, she had exactly what she needed to make little holes for her flower seeds. She just needed the right tools for the job. 

Best Time Management Tools for a Busy Schedule

Today, I’m answering one of the most common questions I get from busy professionals and business owners who have full schedules and maybe a dash of overwhelm. 

And that question is – What are the best TOOLS to manage my busy schedule? 

And it’s a great question to ask, especially because the way technology is changing so quickly with AI, integrations, augmented and virtual reality. Not to mention the paper planner industry is a nearly $400 million dollar industry on its own. There’s always some new tool, – whether it’s digital or paper – to test drive or try, and see if it works for you. 

But… and there’s always a but. The hunt for the perfect time management tools can feel like a never ending maze. The options are endless and overwhelming, and trial and error takes time. Plus – we’re constantly adapting the way we manage our time as our lives change… which means we need tools that are nimble enough to change with us. 

Sometimes that search for the perfect tool can leave us feeling frustrated and like we’ll never figure this out. It might even feel like using a rake to dig a hole. Sure you’re working hard, but you’re not getting anywhere. 

I know exactly what that feels like because when I set out to figure out how to make time management work for me I didn’t magically stumble upon the right collection of tools on the very first try.

So in this episode, I’m hoping to save you some time by sharing: 

  • The four types of time management tools everyone needs to manage a busy schedule
  • How to choose a collection of time management tools that fit your life
  • The most important decision you need to make when it comes to your time management tools
  • Where to start if you’re building or refining your time management toolbox 

Time Management Doesn’t Start in Your Planner

So you might have tuned into the episode expecting me to talk about the best digital calendars, or the best paper planners or apps. And we’ll get to that, but first, I want to make sure it’s clear that there’s more to time management tools than just calendars. 

You’ve heard me say before – time management doesn’t start on the pages of our planners, it starts by getting to the heart of what matters most. 

So let’s keep in mind that time management isn’t just about adding dates to your calendar, it’s about efficiently managing our most precious resource – time – and ensuring we’re focusing on the right things at the right time.

Think about it. Your day involves various tasks and responsibilities, each with different needs. You’ve got meetings to schedule, ideas to capture, conversations to have, and projects to collaborate on. A single tool can’t efficiently handle all these diverse requirements. That’s why having a collection of time management tools is not just helpful; it’s vital.

Four Time Management Tools for a Busy Schedule

That’s why when thinking about time management tools, there are four different categories you need to consider:

You need Calendar Tools, Capture Tools, Communication Tools and Collaboration Tools. 
So, why a collection of time management tools? Because life isn’t one-dimensional. Each tool serves a purpose, filling a gap the others can’t.  And this isn’t meant to overwhelm you – instead, it’s like having a shed full of tools so you can grab a rake when you need to rake leaves, and a shovel when you need to dig a hole.

Calendar Tools

Let’s start with the most obvious time management tool –  our Calendar. Let’s dive into why we need a calendar as a time management tool, explore different options, and cover how to choose the one that fits your life the best.

Think of your calendar as a personal assistant, and its main job is to remember for you where you need to be, when you need to be there, and what you need to do to be prepared. Oh yes – if your calendar is being a good assistant – and you’re being a good boss and setting it up for success, your calendar can do all of those things for you. 

When you start to think of your calendar as more than a place for birthdays and appointments, you’ll really begin to see its true power. It’s a tool for visualizing how you spend your time, understanding the balance (or lack of balance) in your life, and planning ahead to align your days with your goals and your values. A calendar provides structure in a world full of distractions, helping you focus on what’s truly important. 

So what are our options when it comes to calendars: 

For some, it’s the classic paper planner. It’s tactile, no batteries required, and there’s a simplicity in flipping through pages. 

For others, it’s a digital calendar. Apps like Google Calendar or Outlook offer flexibility – they’re easily accessible, shareable, and editable. 

Then there’s the hybrid approach, using a digital calendar for dates and details, and using a paper planner to plan your day. 

But how do you pick the right one? Start by considering your lifestyle and work habits. Are you constantly on the move? A digital calendar might be your best bet. Do you cherish the act of writing things down? A paper planner could be more up your alley. Think about how you’ll maintain it too. Will you have time for a weekly review? Do you need to share it with others? Choose a tool that complements, not complicates, your life.

Here’s my take – If you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably because you’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re probably working and raising a family, or you have a full social calendar. Either way – you’ve got a lot going on. When it comes to keeping up with the speed of life, it takes a LOT of work and discipline to keep a paper planner up to date.

When you’ve got to move an appointment – you’ve got to white out, scratch out or scribble – which you might be totally okay with. The messiness of a scratched out planner tends to make me feel overwhelmed. Plus, you can’t share calendar appointments with your partner, your coworkers, so you miss out on being able to use your calendar to easily communicate things for you. And you can’t easily add things to your calendar without stopping to write it down. Plus, there usually isn’t enough room to use your calendar like a personal assistant – with all of the details you need to be prepared for your day. You can’t hyperlink a paper planner with a Zoom link, or a link to a Google Doc with notes. 

Earlier in my career, in Congress and in State government roles, I used Outlook because that’s what was provided by my employer. And there are tons of amazing time saving tools inside of Outlook that I loved, especially quick parts. As a congressional schedule, Quick parts in Outlook saved me TONS of time creating appointments for my boss. I’ve used Apple’s iCal, and didn’t love the experience. Now, I’m Google Calendar all the way. I love that I can create multiple calendars within Google Calendar for specific purposes, and I can toggle them on and off based on what I need to look at at the moment. That helps me combat mental clutter and focus on just what I need to see. 

I feel so strongly about having a solid calendar system that this was actually the topic of one of my very first episodes, Episode 3.

And what about my beloved paper planners? Look – I will be an Emily Ley Simplified planner fan forever. I love her products. I love watching her launches. I love her books and learning from her, but my Carolina Gingham planner was mostly unused. Instead, I keep a notebook on my desk next to my laptop in the spot where my paper planner used to live. 

So you might be wondering: What if I choose the wrong calendar? What if my needs change? Remember my friend, no choice is set in stone. The beauty of time management tools is their adaptability. Start with one, and if it doesn’t work, try another one. Your needs might evolve – and that’s okay. The goal is to find a calendar that goes with you, grows with you and helps you feel like you’ve got your very own personal assistant watching out for you. 

Capture Tools

Moving on in our toolkit, let’s shift our focus to a tool that I’ll bet you already have without even realizing it. In fact… you might have MORE of these tools than you can keep track of! 

I’m talking to-do lists, post-it notes, tasks in a task management app,  notebooks, the notes app in your phone… screenshots in your camera roll.  That pile of mail on your kitchen island? 

Oh yes – all of those things are called Capture Tools. 

These are the tools, notebooks, notepads and apps that help us grab hold of ideas and tasks before we forget about them. I mean, if I don’t write something down I’m pretty much guaranteed to forget it instantly. So let’s talk about why you need a solid set of Capture tools, what those tools should look like, and how to choose yours. 

Picture this: Imagine your mind is a busy airport, with thoughts and tasks and things to do as planes landing and taking off in all different directions.

Without an air traffic control tower to manage this traffic, things get chaotic. Capture tools are kind of like that control tower. They give us a place to jot down ideas, tasks, and responsibilities – things we want to remember –  as soon as we think of them, to keep important things from slipping through the cracks. Capture Tools  direct all of these ‘planes’ to the right destination safely so we can deal with them at the right time.

I recommend that everyone have at least three different types of capture tools. A high tech option, a low tech option, and a physical inbox. 

A high tech option is like a task management app, or the notes app on your phone. Basically it’s digital, it lives in the cloud, it’s searchable,  easy to share info with others, and you can access it in multiple places – like on your desktop, a tablet or your smartphone. Having a high tech option is super helpful with you’re on the go and need to remember something but you’re not able to drop everything and write it down, or when you want to capture something that may need to be shared later. 

Evernote, for instance, is perfect for capturing a mix of typed notes, voice memos, and pictures. Then there are tools like Asana or Trello that help capture tasks in a more structured, project-oriented way. The beauty of capture tools lies in their diversity – there’s something for everyone.

A low tech option is a notebook, or a notepad. And a paper planner could even qualify as a low-tech capture tool depending on how you use it. I mean, there’s just something so satisfying about writing something down… and crossing it off. Am I right?

Finally – a physical inbox. A place to corral paper or physical stuff until you can go through it and do whatever with it that needs to be done. When you have a physical inbox, it makes that pile of stuff on your kitchen island seem a lot more intentional. And it actually is! A physical inbox gives you one spot to put anything that you need to deal with later… but you actually have to have a system for dealing with it later… 

Selecting the right capture tools depends on your personal and professional needs. Do you need something that’s always at hand? Your smartphone with a note-taking app might be the answer. Prefer the hands-on feel of writing? A small notebook that fits in your bag could be ideal. Consider the ease of organizing and retrieving information from your chosen tool – after all, capturing information is only useful if you can find it when you need it.

You might be wondering, what if I try a capture tool and it doesn’t work out? What if my needs change? Is it possible to have too many capture tools?  The world of capture tools is flexible. Don’t be afraid to experiment and switch things up if a particular tool isn’t meshing well with your workflow. The right tool should feel like an extension of your thought process, seamlessly integrating into your daily routine.

Now here’s the big pitfall that most people fall into when it comes to choosing capture tools. We want to choose TOO MANY. We think oh! The  more the merrier! I’ll have a specific notebook for everything, or let me put that on a post it note, or I’ll use a different app for this thing, and this other app for that thing… and what happens? We get overwhelmed trying to figure out where we wrote down that one thing? And we realize that in our best efforts to get organized, we’ve just created a big mess of ourselves. 

So, what’s the key takeaway here? It’s simple. Having a dedicated system for capturing tasks and ideas – whether they’re digital, written, or physical – is crucial. It’s not about having the fanciest tools, or having a bunch of them, it’s making  the commitment to use what you choose consistently.

That’s what turns chaos into order. Commitment to consistency turns chaos into order. 

And if you’re curious, here’s what’s in my capture tool collection.

I use Asana, my task management system, as my high tech capture tool. If I think of a task or a to-do, it goes into Asana. If I think of an idea that I might want to implement in my business one day, it goes into Asana. The door code to my parents house? Our health insurance coverage information? My business’s EIN and instructions for how to pay quarterly taxes? All of that lives in Asana. 

My low-tech capture tool is a notebook. But yall, it’s not just any notebook. It’s this sugar paper notebook from Target. It’s got a gray and white striped cover, gold coil binding, the paper thickness is perfection and every time I see them in the office supplies section at Target, I buy every single one of them. Seriously, there are literally 7 in my office supply closet. If I think of something while I`m working, it goes in the notebook. My to-do list for the day goes in the notebook. Handwritten notes on a call. In the notebook. I’m going to be so sad if or when this notebook is discontinued, which is why I shamelessly hoard them. My mom even showed up at my house with no less than 5 of these notebooks last time she came to visit because she came across them at her local Target. I am THAT dedicated.

And I have two physical inboxes. In my office, I have a white tray where pieces of mail, resources from events, stuff like that goes. And in our back hallway, we have a wall pocket in our command center area for magazines and catalogs. That’s about it. I try really hard to use the Touch it Once philosophy and most of our mail goes straight from the mailbox into the recycling bin. 

Communication Tools

Alright – moving on to the next type of tool in our toolbox: Communications Tools. Again – you are probably using a whole bunch of these right now without realizing the impact they have on your time management – but all of that is about to change. 

Communication tools are the tools that help us connect, collaborate, and stay in touch. 

In our fast-paced world, the right communication tools help us manage our interactions efficiently. They keep us connected, ensure our messages are delivered and received correctly, and help us navigate the sea of daily communication without getting overwhelmed.

There’s a wide range of tools out there. Email, for instance, is great for formal, detailed communication where you need a record. Instant messaging apps like Slack or WhatsApp are perfect for quick, informal chats. Then there are video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. And I’m going to bed that you’re using a combination of several different tools to get your message across. And chances are – especially when it comes to work – you don’t have a lot of say in the tools you’re using. If your office uses Slack, you can’t just up and decide to start using Microsoft Teams, and vice versa. 

So a lot of managing your communications tools involves working with what you’ve got – but what you can do is set boundaries around the type of communication you do on each tool. 

Here’s what I mean. 

A few years ago, I worked with a client who was Chief Development Officer at an international nonprofit organization. On any given day, she spent a huge amount of her time in A few years ago, I worked with a client who was Chief Development Officer at an international nonprofit organization. On any given day, she spent a huge amount of her time in meetings, and when she wasn’t in meetings she was bouncing from her email inbox, to her Slack messages, to text messages and back around again. At her organization, some people treated email almost like an instant messenger, sending informal communication and expecting a quick response. Then others were treating Slack like email, sending long messages with attachments and asking for decisions. While others were going straight to text messages, asking my client why hadn’t responded to their Slack message or email yet. She was stuck in this constant cycle of checking until she set some boundaries and rules. 

She decided that important, longer communication should be routed to her email. That was important for organizational documentation. Quick, informal communication should be sent to Slack so she could quickly respond between meetings. And texts? Off limits. Text is for personal friends and family only.

Little by little, she started communicating her preferences to her team and her colleagues asking them, “Oh will you please send this over to my email? I don’t want to lose track of it for documentation’s sake.” Or – thank you for this email, how about we shift the conversation over to Slack.” and even replying to texts by saying, “Hi – I’m responding to you over in Slack. I prefer to reserve my text messages for personal messages. Thank you for understanding.” 

What changed the game for this client was giving each of her communication channels a specific purpose. Because it’s not just about having the right tools in your toolbox, you have to set clear rules and boundaries for their use to avoid burnout and confusion. 

So what if a tool isn’t working for you, or what if it’s causing more stress than help? It’s important to regularly assess whether your communication tools are serving their purpose. If not, what can you change. 

If you’re stuck in a never ending cycle of message checking, your communication tools might need a tune-up. And if you find yourself overwhelmed with information overload, it might be time to streamline your tools or redefine how you use them. The goal of your communication tools is to make your interactions as seamless and stress free as possible. NOT add to the clutter.

Collaboration Tools

Alright – lets round out our time management toolbox with the last but not least tool we need to manage our busy schedules: a collaboration tool. 

In a world where teamwork is key, whether in the office or at home, these tools are essential. So let’s explore collaboration tools. What exactly they are, why you need them, what they can look like, and potential pitfalls you might encounter along the way. 

Whether you’re collaborating with colleagues, clients, family or even babysitters, calendars, capture tools and communication tools are pieces of the puzzle, but collaboration tools give you the full picture. The whole kit and kaboodle. 

A collaboration tool helps in organizing projects, delegating tasks, tracking progress and maintaining a clear, shared vision. They bring people together, ensure everyone is on the same page, and they move everyone toward a common goal efficiently. 

So, what exactly do collaboration tools look like? 

Technically, any of the tools we’ve talked about so far could be considered collaboration tools, depending on how you use them. Remember, the power of the time management tool is based on the purpose you give it. Even a binder can be a collaboration tool when it’s used a certain way. 

But let’s start with our digital options: 

For collaborative project management, there’s Asana, Trello, Basecamp, ClickUp Monday.com – there are so many different options that offer visual task tracking and clear task delegation. 

Tools like Slack – also a communication tool –  facilitate instant communication and quick decision-making with shared files and information.  

Then there are comprehensive platforms like Microsoft Teams or Basecamp, which combine communication and project management features. Each of these tools offers unique functionalities for different collaboration needs.

But, you can also go analog or low tech with your collaboration tools. One of my past clients used a giant whiteboard on wheels at his office with a list of all of their current clients and the status of each of their projects. Everyone in the office could see at a glance what their current project load looked like. 

And – remember how I mentioned that a binder can be a collaboration tool? Let me tell you about my Babysitter binder. Back during my book tour, specifically my Baton Rouge launch party, we had a new babysitter come and stay with the girls until we got home that night after their bedtime. 

Now, whenever you have a new babysitter come over, you can try to spit out a ton of information as you’re walking out the door. Bedtimes, snacks they’re allowed to have, TV channels that are off limits, emergency contact info… orrrrr you can collect all of this important info in a binder that you hand over to the babysitter when they arrive.

Not only does this cut down on the stress of trying to remember everything as you’re walking out the door, but it gives the babysitter a stress free reference guide – which cuts back on the non-emergency, emergency calls and texts with random questions. Plus, you can add pages for the babysitter to leave notes about what your kiddos ate, or if there were any behavior issues. 

Why is this considered a collaboration tool? Even though hiring a babysitter might not be what we’d typically think of when we think of a project, you and the babysitter are collaborating on childcare. You’re in charge of the project, and you’re delegating tasks to the babysitter. The binder makes that collaboration simpler and more streamlined! 

So when it comes to choosing a collaboration tool, what should you keep in mind? 

The choice of tool depends on your team’s size, the nature of or the type of work, and your personal preferences. Do you need a tool for complex, multi-layered projects, – something like Asana, perhaps? or something simpler for straightforward tasks – like the babysitter binder I told you about? 

Consider the learning curve of the tool – is it user-friendly enough for everyone in your team? It’s kind of hard to collaborate if the tool is too confusing or complex. Sometimes we can overcomplicate things, or even over-organize things til the law of diminishing returns kicks in. The tool you’re using to organize takes too much to keep up, so it’s not benefiting the team anymore. 

I remember working as a contractor for a PR and Communications firm before I started my business and the company’s owner decided to transition the team from task management in a Google Sheet to Basecamp, a I remember working as a contractor for a PR and Communications firm before I started my business and the company’s owner decided to transition the team from task management in a Google Sheet to Basecamp, a multi-functional tool. Every single member of the team spent more than a week in meetings for this transition. That was a HUGE time investment, and although I didn’t stick around as a contractor long enough to see the outcome of this transition, I truly hope it worked out for them after spending SO much time in training, when they could have been serving their clients. 

And finally, you have to ask yourself – how well does this integrate with other tools you’re using? Do your different tools talk to each other, or are there integrations so you can connect your communication tool to your calendar, and your capture tool to your collaboration tool? Can you use one tool for multiple purposes – the way I use Asana as a capture tool and a collaboration tool.

Yep – my primary collaboration tool for both my business AND my family is Asana. My team and I use Asana to organize our podcasting workflow, our client information, our tasks associated with special projects – like the free video series I’m working on for you right now. My husband and I also use Asana for house projects, like the garage organization we’re tackling this spring, and our financial goals and tasks live in Asana too. We love that we can communicate directly in Asana using comments, so our communication about projects is right there next to the project info and to-do lists. 

We also use Slack for general business communication, and podcast and video production company, Studio Pizza Productions – if you’re a business owner or a marketing professional that uses podcasts or YouTube videos to promote your business, let us take editing off your plate. Anyway, we use Slack as our primary collaboration and communication tool with our Studio Pizza clients. We share draft files, share editing updates and communicate approvals and next steps – all inside Slack. 

Choosing a Time Management Tool for a Busy Schedule

Now, you might be wondering, what if I start using a tool and it isn’t the right fit for my team, or what if our needs change over time? I’ve got good news and bad news for you. 

Here’s the good news first. Collaboration tools are not set in stone. It’s okay to switch if a tool isn’t meeting your expectations. Teams evolve, and so do their needs. Regular check-ins on the tool’s effectiveness and openness to change can keep your team’s workflow smooth and productive.

But here’s the bad news… if a tool isn’t working for you or your team – and this is true for ALL of the tools I’ve mentioned – if a tool isn’t working for you or your team, it might not be the tool’s fault. It might be the way you’re using it. 

The thing is, there is no perfect tool that can do every single thing we want it to. And if you’ve found that tool, please reach out and let me know what it is. 

Way too often, I see something I call Tool Switching, or Tool Hopping. You’ll start using one tool, and you’ll get all of your info into it – but then it doesn’t do this one thing you want it to or you don’t feel as organized as you hoped, so you decide to switch to a new tool. Maybe you started with Trello and you decided that Trello isn’t working for you, so you switch to Asana. But then you decide that Asana isn’t working for you either, so you switch to Clickup. And then Clickup doesn’t work the way you hoped either… 

I see the same thing with paper planners. We’ll buy one planner and use it for a while, until we don’t. So we’ll blame the planner and buy another one. And that one eventually collects dust.

Sometimes it’s not the tool, it’s the way you’re using it. 

Sometimes it’s not the tool, it’s the commitment to using it.

Sometimes the answer isn’t switching, it’s picking a tool and committing to sticking with it.

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