How to live on what you earn – Time Management style.

Following the Police Federation Conference there was a lot of media interest in the colleague who stated that her accountant had suggested she quit, work 22 hours a week and claim benefits because she couldn’t live on £40,000 a year. Of course, I don’t know her personal circumstances, but my first thought was – what the h377 is she spending her money on? I never earned that much and was the sole earner for a household of six, but I never (a) screamed poverty (even though I frequently screamed ‘skint’), and (b) could never have afforded an accountant. As I said, though, I do not know her circumstances and as such my knee-jerk response was a bit focused on my experience and not those of serving colleagues.


While the cost of living has certainly rocketed of late, I’m not sure the Retail Price Index takes into account the Starbucks that people take for a drive/walk on the way to and from work, the factoring-in of the price of the less-than-five-year-old cars I see as normal in a police car park, nor the cost of an armful of tattoos – which my brief research suggests is easily £1,000 an armful (£700 for an 8×8 pic).

All of this research and personal experience underlined the fact(?) that people are not taught, in school, how to manage their income. This was a point also raised and mis-reported by MP Lee Anderson recently, where he suggested people were not taught that, nor how to cook. I know I never was, and nor were my children. Life lessons? In school? Heaven forfend, they need to know Welsh and Spanish!

So here is my advice, which I never took because I, too, liked ‘things’ unless and until I couldn’t afford them. But I learned this ugly truth.

There is a time management tool called the Time Matrix. It is divided into four quadrants, where how your time is used is identified by two criteria, Importance and Urgency. It looks like this.

I’ll not insult you by explaining it, although that can be done by reading my book Police Time Management, but as you can see, tasks in each quadrant are identified as (for example) Urgent AND Important, Urgent NOT Important, Important NOT Urgent, and neither.

Now consider your spending habits. What have you bought, recently? Where did that purchase sit? I recognise there are some value judgements to be made, here, but I would respectfully argue that some of the aforementioned purchases (e.g. a new or leased car as opposed to cheaper, paid for older model; tattoos; the latest iPhone; Starbucks other-expensive-luxury-coffee-brands-are-available drinks; nights on the lash) RARELY EVER hit the top half of the Matrix.

If you are struggling, you really have to decide for yourself where economies can be made – and your ego and feeling that self-worth is dictated by what other people think of your car/address/body art/coffee choice should be utterly ignored when making those decisions. Leasing a new car is great, except at the end of the lease period you don’t own a car that is an asset you can sell. Duh!

Until I retired and got my lump sum the average age of my car, by choice AND imposition, was 10-15 years. I got bank loans to pay for a 2k and (even) an £800 purchase of cars, when one car was all we could afford. When we needed two, they were also old. Even now, my mum’s estate paid for my (then) 5-year-old sports estate which I will run until it dies. (Which may be a while as it’s still only done 60,000 miles.) Of course, if I win a lottery, I may go nuts. But not until then. And I never left the UK between 1985 and 2015.

How about a mortgage? If you’re renting, find a house that the same monthly amount will buy (but wait until interest rates shrink). Read and listen to Martin Lewis stuff. But above all, don’t moan about the cost of living when you’re sitting on something that really was purchased from Quadrant D.

I’m sorry if these suggestions hurt your feelings. You earn money to spend it as you want, in a perfect world. But the facts don’t care about your feelings, and you know in your heart that blunt as I am, what I’ve suggested is common sense.

Think hard. It may not solve your problems in a week, but a new approach to spending will make life a little bit easier over time.

Don’t Pull Your Own Trigger

(Bit of an add-on to my last blog, but important, anyway.)

It’s the week after Mental Health Awareness Week, which is the UK’s week-long answer to the American Mental Health Awareness Month – maybe a reflection of our shorter attention span or their inability to understand things quickly, who knows?

 During this period I have been inundated with posts on various social media where people have disclosed their struggles with mental health, and I have to admit to being torn. On the one hand, they are struggling. On the other hand, they seem to be saying ‘Look at me, I’ve got it bad’, as if having mental health (stress) challenges is a competitive sport and they’re winning, or at the very least they have got your attention for a minute or more.

Yes, I KNOW that seems unfeeling. But here’s the thing.

If you are genuinely suffering TALK TO SOMEONE. But Twitter isn’t someone. Twitter is a place to get attention.

(Incidentally, if a Twitter ‘friend’ discloses mental pressures, perhaps you should make sure that they WANT you to retweet to complete strangers. Moving on.)

Then I read a tweet from someone who disclosed that a third party had ‘triggered’ her, knowing that he was ‘triggering’ her, and there was, naturally, some sympathy expressed for her situation.

But I have read the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and here’s Stephen Covey’s take on ‘being triggered’:

“It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us. Of course, things can hurt us physically or economically and can cause sorrow. But our character, our basic identity, does not have to be hurt at all. In fact, our most difficult experiences become the crucibles that forge our character and develop the internal powers, the freedom to handle difficult circumstances in the future and to inspire others to do so as well.”

Covey, Stephen R.. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (p. 95). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.”

I cannot know the poster’s situation. And I did not comment on the tweet, nor would I expect such counsel as this to be welcome. And I certainly don’t find it easy to act upon it, myself. But my own awareness of the idea that I can CHOOSE not to be ‘triggered’ does, occasionally, result in a better response than choosing to be miserable. And this is the advice I would like to offer to the offended (and to the easily offended, but that’s an argument you can’t win with those who are too busy being offended on behalf of those who aren’t offended by what SJWs are offended by).

  1. Choose not to be offended.
  2. Challenge those who are trying to offend you.
  3. Give them one chance to apologise.
  4. If they don’t, escalate it to someone, because these days there is someone to whom it can be escalated.

BUT FIRST, give them the chance to apologise because believe it or not, some people don’t realise they’re being offensive, in part because the rules on being offended have changed since COVID.

I gave a speech a while ago, and I bemoaned the fact that modern police organisations spend more time on diversity training than on criminal investigation training. Two people in the audience took offence. One, a diversity trainer, decided I was attacking diversity – I wasn’t, I was attacking my perception of an over-focus on it – and was really (excuse me) triggered. Her argument was made quite aggressively. She chose to be angry.

The other, a trans woman, was measured, and listened to what I was saying (which included an apology if my words hadn’t accurately expressed my intended meaning). I suggested that most people are good people and didn’t need extensive ‘be nice’ training. She was patient and just said, “Some people need to be taught how to be nice.”

And THAT was the more powerful argument. Made politely, gently, and all in one extremely profound sentence.

Two people, same trigger. Two different responses. And the patient, considered response won my heart.

So don’t ‘be triggered’. Choose your response and feel better for it.

And no, I don’t need to read about it on Twitter.

For more on ‘policing your own stress’ through better self-management, read ‘Police Time Management’ by David Palmer, Retired Fraud Squad and Divisional CID Detective, available HERE on Amazon.

Question Your Attitude Towards ‘Time Management’.

Attitudes to Time Management vary.

When I use this title, I am not referring to how people ‘see’ time management as a method, or technique, or as a great big pile of ‘new stuff to learn’.

No, what I intend to address here is more about people’s attitude towards whether or not they actually want to manage their time. I am going to analyse why it is people either don’t think they need to manage their time, or why they think that their time can’t be managed. The truth is, everyone needs to manage their time better, but many just don’t want to be told that. The suggestion that they need instruction in time management openly implies that they possess an inability to do what in their minds ‘should come naturally’ and they don’t like that. They are happy to be trained in their job, how to cook, or how to drive a car, but to many people time management is seen as an innate skill, even an instinct, and “I won’t / don’t need to be told how to do that!”

Your ability – or inability – to manage your time is affected by a plethora of circumstances, but if we were to identify specific situations where people find time management challenging, we would discover that they all come under one or more of five headings.

  1. Some situations are outside your control and you accept that, but in that acceptance they accidentally conclude that the inability to control some some circumstances goes on to apply to every circumstance;
  2. Some are controllable, but you simply won’t try because you think they can’t be controlled – in parallel with 1 above;
  3. Some aren’t controllable, but you mistakenly try, anyway, leading you to conclude that nothing can be controlled;
  4. Some are within your ability to control them, and you know it, but nevertheless you don’t even try;
  5. But most of all you love the ones you think you can control, and you are controlling them – but it doesn’t occur to you to control the things you don’t like.

Heavy, I know.

The objective of my book ‘Police Time Management’ is to increase the number you can and do control (bring 2 and 4 under 5); to manage your attitude and response to the ones you can’t (improve your understanding of 1 and 3); and to stop wasting your time trying to control the impossible.


All of the advice in that book applies just as much to your personal life as it does your working life.

I encourage you to think about that, deeply. I firmly believe what you would learn by reading that book to everything in your life. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, we don’t live compartmental lives any more thanks to the smartphone, but we nevertheless still insist on thinking that we do. But the main reason I think it applies across the work/personal divide is because of the choices we make.

We choose our work – we apply for a job, fill out the form, complete silly answers to odd questions, maybe do a presentation, certainly undergo the ordeal of an interview, and then we get it. And then the job changes, things happen we didn’t expect, systems change, people change, laws change, the work gets harder and more prolific, we aren’t retrained and we get fed up with what we used to love.

But we also choose our lives, to an extent. Our ‘old’ family is set for us, but our friends, life-partners and our social lives are essentially a matter of choice (or not choosing but just accepting). Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) hit the nail on the head when he suggested that life isn’t about ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ – it is about relationships. Or to put it my way, everything we do – and I mean everything – we do for someone, with someone or through someone.  A lot of the time, we do all three things – we do something for, with and through other people all at the same time.

Everything in our lives – what we do, how we get what we have, how we behave – can have time management principles applied to it if we want to be at our most effective. And as personal time management can be affected by many criteria, it means our whole lives are affected by the same criteria.

What are those criteria, then?

  • Expectation – we have duties but we also make personal commitments which give rise to expectations in others, just as we expect others to do what we require of them.
  • Communication and miscommunication – how and what we communicate affects our ability to perform, just as it affects others’ ability to perform for us.
  • Interruptions (phone people) – the immediacy of the mobile phone has inadvertently enabled people to think it’s okay to interrupt other peoples’ conversations.
  • Priorities – we have priorities, those around us have priorities, and no-one thinks that everything being a priority means that nothing is a priority.
  • New systems, protocols and procedures – when you change a system, the training and changes to the old system have a time impact that is rarely taken into account.
  • Expanding responsibilities – the more you take on, imposed or elective, requires improved ability to manage everything.
  • Lack of practical training – a lot of what people need to know is now just ‘expected’. For example, is your ability use a computer now just assumed?
  • Lack of meaningful support – other peoples’ busy-ness means that they aren’t available to help as much as they used to be.
  • Values misalignment – what you think is important and requires passion, may not be approached in the same way by someone whose interests and focus lie elsewhere.
  • Unexpected responsibilities – surprise, you have a new role (no training, support, extra time or money available, sorry).

The challenge is not that these things shouldn’t happen. It is that they are facts of life. A lot of what we think is an annoying obstacle to our lovely and peaceful existence is, in fact, perfectly normal, and it is our response to it rather than the event itself that causes our stress. We think we can’t manage things, but the truth is, as indicated in the first paragraphs of this section, we choose not to manage things when we could, or we fail to learn how to manage things because we don’t want to or don’t know how to.

Proactivity and Time Management Methods are the answer. Or an effective part of it, anyway.

Find a good book about it, and apply what it suggests.

Stress Annoyance Month

Apparently, it’s Stress Awareness Month – which seems to last twelve. It’s an opportunity for people to pontificate about how wonderful they are at understanding stress when, in reality, they couldn’t give a hoot about that message in marketing and on social media posts when it isn’t that Month. And I have my own take on stress, born of my reading of some excellent works, and it is this.

Stress is self-inflicted.

Okay, that’s a blanket statement and there are a few qualifiers, but in this Twitter-led world of black-and-white, no-one’s interested in those qualifiers.

Stress is a mental and physical response to stimuli, and we have the ability to choose our response because we are intellectual beings with the ability to think about what we think about, so we can decide to think “Wow that bus nearly hit me! I could be DEAD!” or “Wow, that bus missed me! How lucky am I?” Most otherwise healthy people opt for the first response and start a downward spiral that would stop – if they just chose to take control.

Which is the primary benefit of the art that is called Time Management. Yes, managing the way you utilise your time has a great productivity benefit, but there is huge scientific opinion that being in control is the greatest vaccination against stress there could be. Of course, you can’t prevent nasty things happening, and no-one is pretending that making a positive choice is easy – but if you are clever enough to read, you’re clever enough to pause, consider, mull, and then decide that what happened or is happening will not control you – YOU will control your response to the event.

How do I know this is true? I know because not every war veteran gets PTSD, not every depressive commits suicide, some people thrive on being busy, and people can forgive some serious wrongs committed against them. The difference is not the event, it is the ability of the individual to deal, and they deal by taking charge. Some people’s ability to deal may well be compromised by any one of a number of good reasons, and they deserve sympathy, help, treatment where appropriate.

But if a man like Viktor Frankl can survive a concentration camp, and the experience of seeing his family killed by Nazis, you can cope with an excessive workload. And in that poor analogy, you cope by taking charge of the workload, by staring at it and thinking, “Poor Me.” That approach makes the problem bigger because inaction breeds work. The pile gets bigger if you leave it, not smaller.

(Although in my book Police Time Management I do mention an arguably unethical way I did reduce my workloads by inaction. Not sure I could do that, today. But it’s an interesting thought, surely?)

You want to suffer less stress?

Take charge.

End of.

How To Complete EVERYTHING in Two Minutes

Admit it. There are occasions when you have a task to do, and you spend more time and effort in avoiding it than you would have done in doing it. Everybody I know does it, even the most productive people of all. But those last examples don’t do it anywhere near as often as most of us.

Of course, you ‘ve all heard of procrastination, so I won’t insult you by defining it. That would waste time. (LOL) You already know the meaning of something you routinely do.

The most effective answer is to apply a rule outlined by Getting Things Done author and productivity expert, David Allen. His rule is – if it will only take 2 minutes, just do it now. One caveat – if you have a 5-minute task, then do that if you have five minutes. Basically, the time span of the rule is dictated by your personal circumstances.

“But the things I do will take longer than two minutes!” I hear you cry. I know you thought that because I thought it, too. But here, as Shakespeare would say, is the Rub.

Starting anything always takes less than two minutes. The decision to stop procrastinating and to start taking action is instantaneous. Let me illustrate by example.

If you’re like me, you have a hatred of taking routine statements from witnesses – particularly the routine drivel that the CPS memo has demanded from you. The one that’ll take an hour but has no evidential, procedural or practical value whatsoever, but because the lawyer has stretched a reason for wanting it, you’re stuck with having to take it. You procrastinate. You find excuses to put it off because of more urgent tasks. Then there are night shifts, court commitments, training days and other reasons, and before long that one hour statement has taken two weeks and you haven’t even put pen to paper.

But then you decide to apply the two-minute rule. First moment – decide to do it. Next – find the contact number and call the witness to arrange a time. That’s the job progressed a short way, and you haven’t even left your chair. You have also created an appointment, thus managing that period of time. You are now in control of the job. That is enough to make you feel better about what you have to do. When the time comes for the statement to be made, you assemble the necessary documentation (if you haven’t already organised your ‘stuff’ so there’s always a S9 form to hand), travel and start, and it’s done.

I’ve written before about how small, unfinished joblets like this mount up, and that is one cause of stress. But “I’m too busy” is a poor justification for procrastinating, if procrastination is the reason you’re busy. Work doesn’t go away: left undone, it builds up.

You want to be known as a productivity wizard? Apply the 2-Minute Rule to get progress on all of your tasks and the rest happens almost by magic. (Metaphor stretched, sorry.)

In my book, Police Time Management, I tell of how CID colleagues made a critical mistake in terms of putting work off because more important work came up, thus creating unnecessary personal stress. I always organised my time so that my own work never got put aside for something bigger. I just organised myself so that I could do both. And it wasn’t tiring or tiresome. In fact, it was easy.

It only took two minutes to plan.

Effective Memo Management

You’d be amazed how badly people deal with incoming mail. Not e-mail – that’s an essay in and of itself, but paperwork, including documentation received through electronic case management systems as well as internal memoranda and general mail. The main problem is a reluctance to deal with it, and that reluctance comes from the fact that you just know that opening it will lead to more work, and you have enough of that already.

This paralysing reluctance to dealing with mail is easily cured. You just need to create and apply a systematic process for dealing with this incoming ‘stuff’. Here are a few hints.

  1. If the memo/letter can be answered in a sentence, write that sentence on the original and send it back. But be polite. I once had a loooonnnngggg memo from a file vettor. I answered each point at the end of each point with comments like ‘attached’, ‘yes’, ‘no,’, and ‘not necessary’. He went ballistic.
  2. If it can be answered with a short e-mail, do that. Better still, if the circumstances permit, use the phone.
  3. If there are multiple tasks associated with the document, treat it as a To Do List of many separate items. This may seem odd, but that approach takes a huge mass of undoability and turns it into a list of completable tasks. The huge ‘build a car’ level memo turns into a ‘buy a tyre’ level of required effort.
  4. If it is a big list, get a manila folder, put the master document into it, and then do the work while inserting the completed work in the same folder, if appropriate. Keep it all together and watch your completion take place before your very eyes.
  5. If any item on the list is itself a big task, break that down into its own To Do List and start working through that.

Above all, do NOT fall into the trap of doing nothing, or managing what you ARE doing so badly that the resultant pile of paper becomes even more psychologically problematical that the original memo justified. Don’t let it fester while more memoranda come in to add to your stress. That, more than anything else, is the biggest time management trap into which so many of my colleagues fell. They thought that putting it off lessened the stress, but that method always creates more stress because our work is always replaced by new work, so incomplete work just builds up unless and until some action is taken.

In my book Police Time Management I go into copious detail about the creation, management and execution of To Do Lists, much more detail than I have put into this article. In fact, 16 pages on lists alone. That sounds complicated, but it really isn’t. What that chapter provides is enough information for you to develop your own approach to managing your workload and your productivity.

In fact, it becomes so easy if you apply it that you’ll wonder why you ever felt stressed about memos. Apart from the sheer stupidity of some of the requests from the CPS that you can’t believe came out of the mind of a qualified lawyer. Sorry, I can’t do anything about those.

Except suggest trying the ‘not doing that’ response I put on that vettor’s memo. Probably why he went bananas…..

Cheaper than a Jack Reacher novel, and a lot more useful to YOU.

I believe there are a couple of challenges when it comes to convincing people they need ‘time management’ training. First of all, front line officers and staff see the word ‘management’ and think it isn’t for them because it has ‘management’ in the title. They don’t see themselves as managers and think it is a management task, therefore not for them. Secondly, the whole world is now focused on the buzzword ‘leadership’, which implies a hierarchical focus and one that is executed ‘from above’. Neither statement is true.

Tied in with both these misunderstandings is the fact that, as a rule and in my own experience, time management training is usually provided ONLY to higher level supervisors – who can delegate all their tasks (if not their decisions) down the proverbial pecking order. In other words, to the people who AREN’T provided with time management input. Who therefore assume that time management isn’t for them because only bosses get told how it’s done.

Let me change all that.

First of all, you are all leaders, because leadership is a choice, not a position. (S Covey) You can self-lead as much as you can be led by others of higher rank. You can influence, should you take the time to learn how. That is the main purpose of leadership, and many great initiatives have come from the shop floor.

And just as you can lead yourself and decide where you are going, you have to – have to – manage yourself in order to get there.

Which leads me to a third challenge with the term ‘time management’, and that is that you aren’t ‘managing time’, because you can’t. it’s impossible. You can’t take 3pm – 4pm and execute it at 7pm. It’s too late, it’s already happened three hours ago.

So don’t think ‘time management’. Instead, as Charles R. Hobbs and Hyrum W. Smith opined, use the expression ‘Event Control’. And in using that replacement terminology, recognise that it is all about taking what happens to you and choosing how and when you will deal with it.

Of course, some of the ‘event control’ will be dictated by the event itself, and some more will be dictated by systems and protocols and resource availability.

But how you deal with it in terms of your attitude, and where you can mould the way you deal with the current event in terms of all your other priorities, are found in the study of (back to the old term) time management.

My book, Police Time Management, is a 300+, A4 sized, compendium of mindsets, skill sets and toolsets about how to prioritise and execute your massive workload in such a way as to reduce stress, but it also covers self-leadership – about deciding where you want to go and how to go about getting there. It covers your working and personal lives. It’s cheaper than a (non-discounted) Jack Reacher novel and the benefits last much, much longer.

When I was in the job, ‘time management’ made a HUGE difference to my stress levels and to my productivity. I took on projects that weren’t strictly ‘mine’ because I found that I could learn, manage and execute better, all because I had developed a system for doing what had to be done, in the way it had to be done, at the best time for it to be done, without ‘it’ taking control of my ability to do it. (And later made money as a result. 😊 )

And at the same time, I watched other people take ‘emergency leave’ because their heads were about to explode, all because they hadn’t discovered or been taught the benefits of event control training. Which is why I took it upon myself to provide time/event management/control input to my former colleagues by putting all that I had learned into the policing context, and into print.

Because your organisations won’t. But I’m willing to help them if they change their minds……

DC W.S. Churchill, 2005. How Auto-University Solved a Murder.

I’m not sure if it’s my age, my musical taste or any other issue but it drives me nuts when I am passed by a yoof in a car and all I can discern from the ‘music’ being played inside it is a rhythmic thudding, which is assaulting the occupant’s ears far more aggressively than Napoleon’s Austerlitz cannonades assailed the ears of the Austrian and Russian Armies. These drivers and their passengers WILL suffer poor hearing later, but their inability to actually hear the melody itself is painful now. (Or ‘Right Now’, which is American and Scottish for ‘now’.)

But that isn’t the only sadness that is evident in these circumstances, and the sadness I am about to impart may be one to which you, too, subject yourself, albeit with perhaps a little less gusto.

Music is something to be enjoyed, but there is an alternative sound that I would encourage you to listen to. Words.

I am student of personal development and I have CDs up the wazoo (a word Microsoft Office recognised) about self-improvement (which some may say was wasted money), and productivity. Hence my authoritative tone on those subjects. But when I travel anywhere, they are my go-to source of entertainment, or even infotainment. I regularly drive long distances accompanied by the great thinkers in these fields, where I will listen to whole training programmes. I even possess things called ‘cassette tapes’. Some of you may remember those.

As a result, what I hear through repeated playing gains a secure foothold in my psyche. I can produce some practical quotes, I can summon up speeches on the subjects at the drop of a hat, but above all I am learning.

I once had a DS who used Auto-University as a means to study material for his promotion exams. I anticipate you can get audio training for those exams, but you can always supplement anything purchased by creating your own audio using a book and a smartphone. (And if you can sing the definition of Theft to a well-known ditty, you can “Sing your way to Superintendent.” © )

And why stop at ‘organised’ education through your car’s audio-system? With the way mobile telephones are funded these days most of us can afford to access podcasts on any subject under the sun, and I listen to subjects and opinions that just aren’t getting any play through the main media routes. I fancy it makes for a slightly more objective and informed outlook on life.

And who knows – something you hear may well impact your work. Indeed, one such CD gave me a quote that I read to a murder suspect’s wife as she gave him an alibi. No lie. I had listened to her providing the killer’s alibi with some doubts as to its authenticity, when I used Churchill’s own words. I said, “The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

She paused, thought for a moment and said, “Will I get in trouble if I tell the truth?” Following which she said he’d come home on the relevant night and said he’d need an alibi, and his clothes washed. I tried not to dance around the room.

Of course you should listen to music in your car. It reduces stress and, if you’re like me, you love to belt out a ditty with the greats. I also do karaoke and am available for parties.

But might I make a suggestion? Listen to podcasts and audiobooks on a variety of subjects on your ride into work, and music on the way home. The one will get you ready for a serious approach to your work, the other will take your mind off it.

And as for the way police officers are being portrayed in the left-wing press these days? Ignore it, and as Churchill also said, “Keep Buggering On.”

For more on Police Time Management, please read my book, available HERE.

Use a personal diary for your policing planning? Then read this – it’s important.

Please note that while the following has been drafted following consultation with the Information Commissioners Office, it is to be taken as the opinion of the author alone.

I have always promoted using one planning system for everyhing – work and personal, and when I was in the job I did exactly that. (Before you panic, my method is explained later and was fine.) Then I was walking my dog one morning, mulling a debate I’d started about time management and peoples’ silly habits and it occurred to me that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might influence what we are, what we could be, what we can’t be and what we should be, doing – or at least considering – when using a personal diary for both personal and work planning. Turned out to be an interesting question.

When David Allen wrote ‘Getting Things Done’, and when Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill and Barbara Merrill wrote ‘First Things First’, things were different. Hardly anyone had a home PC. Mobile telephony consisted of call, texts and that snake game. Data Protection (in Europe) existed but didn’t apply to paper. And regardless of the legal requirements, 99% of the World wouldn’t have understood the applicable data rules in any case.

This situation had two effects. Firstly, no one thought that keeping work stuff and personal stuff separate was necessary, so the aforementioned authors’ suggestion that you possess ONE system for everything in your life wasn’t a problem. But secondly and in contrast, there was a distinct divide between work and home, so if you worked regular hours and had a separate work diary, it wasn’t that much of an issue. Back in 1999/2000 you walked out of one world and entered the other as directed. The boundaries were clear, and so the distinct activities could safely go into one system or two systems (provided you carried them both).

But it’s 2022, now, and you are routinely available 24/7 to work or family regardless of where you actually are and what you are actually doing. So the argument now must be that the most effective self-planning method IS to have one planning system. That way, double-booking yourself is avoidable, and having one or two To Do Lists covering everything was better than having half a dozen, surely?

But along comes GDPR – never mentioned in time management/productivity tomes – and suddenly one system containing everything has the potential to become a legal problem. If I keep work-related personal data in a personal system, would I breach the law? And if I keep personal stuff on a work computer, would I be laying my employer open to a fine for inappropriate retention of data they should never hold, and which they didn’t even know they were holding?

(Experts on GDPR – I know there are exemptions and defences, but I’m being general, here.)

Before I continue, please note that GDPR only relates to personal data – basically, data from which an individual can be identified. Your own data? Well, you can consent to putting it wherever you like. Data that doesn’t or couldn’t identify someone also can be placed, stored and fiddled with anywhere. But if you put work-related appointments into your diary and name the person with whom you have that appointment (and personal onto work systems) – well, where do you stand?

(The next couple of paragraphs are a bit deep, but stick with it. Or jump straight to the numbered paragraphs for the recommended practice without the legalese.)

I made an enquiry with the Information Commissioner’s Office to find out. I asked:

  1. What, if any, are the rules/guidance regarding use of a personal system (predominantly paper but stretching to personal mobile devices) for work related planning?
  2. I believe there was a time when paper-based systems were exempt from DP rules. I also believe that changed in/after 1998 but wonder if you could confirm the specifics applicable at this time.

Basically, I was concerned that (for example) putting an appointment in a personal planning system (digital or paper) with an ‘identified party’ might be a breach of GDPR. I wasn’t concerned about other documentation – that would already be covered by GDPR and could be added and removed from a paper system as required. (As opposed to me printing a file and keeping it for ever, for example. Not recommended or allowed.)

The ICO responded that “GDPR covers the processing (obtaining, holding, using or dissemination) of personal data in two ways:

  • Personal data processed wholly or partly by automated means (that is in electronic form); and
  • personal data processed in a non-automated manner, which forms part of or is intended to form part of a ‘filing system (that is, manual information in a filing system)’ (but see Public authorities, post)

My initial interpretation of this paragraph was that

  • A digital planning system, is always covered by GDPR. So using a personal digital system e.g. mobile device, for recording personal data that was obtained for work purposes may be inadvisable, even potentially in breach of DP laws – though not automatically. It depends on whether there are suitable controls – see post.If it’s a device provided by your workplace, it’s already covered by your employer’s GDPR responsibilities.
  • But your personal paper planning system, as it is NOT intended to be part of a filing system, is arguably exempt from GDPR.

However, I still had one concern, so I called the local ICO office and queried whether a personal planning system of the FranklinCovey/Daytimer/Filofax et al type would be a filing systems since it is searchable by dates, indexes, etc. That resulted in a “I’ll need to do further research” and a further telephone conference.

The conversation was very interesting, helpful and informative. The following advice is the result of that call. It pertains, in the main, to a paper-planner user, but is equally applicable for all you young digi-lovers.

The ICO did suggest that if you used your personal planner (paper) for work planning, then it could come under the ‘filing system’  definition under very unspecific, case-by-case circumstances, and it will always come under GDPR if you work for a public authority, whether it’s organised or not. But only in respect of personal data, not everything!

They also stated that one test for establishing whether your paper personal planner should be GDPR compliant is called the Temp Test. The question is: If you disappeared, could a temporary employee easily find personal information in your planner without having to read it all the way through? They stated that a purely chronological diary would probably escape GDPR scrutiny because the information is only organised chronologically. Which meant that…

A planner of the FranklinCovey/Daytimer/Filofax etc type, with the facility to index conversations and effectively create a ‘master retrieval’ system (if you wanted it to) would need to be GDPR compliant if used for planning work, if that planning included the recording of personal data. If you had a training course and planned that, no problem. If you had a meeting with James Bland, tel 01234 56789 in his home at 123 High Street, Sleaford – then you are now recording personal data, for work, in a personal planner.

In essence their advice would be to treat any personal data as though it was covered. (This is the case when any planner is being used for work purposes, regardless of whether it’s covered. If its use is purely domestic, it won’t be in scope of DP laws.)

They also stated that “the UK GDPR does NOT necessarily prohibit using a personal planning system for this (work-related planning) but it is important there are controls and policies in place to govern this.” Those controls include having a policy in the workplace for using a personal planner for work purposes, so that the employee can use their personal planner in accordance with that policy.

(This creates a personal privacy, ‘who owns the planner?’ question that is too big for this article.)

Finally, the Information Commissioner’s Office felt that there was also a common sense approach to the situation, and following that discussion this is my advice, and it is a practice I used when I was policing and using a personal paper planning system (and which therefore should have been subject to a data policy!).

  1. Use a loose-leaf system so relevant paper can be added and removed, so that it can be removed and filed where it is legal and appropriate to file it, once it is finished with. Don’t keep it in your personal system longer than needed. Your possession of it in your capacity as an employee is obviously permitted, but if it’s in your personal planner, remove it once it is no longer necessary to hold onto it.
  2. Refer to individuals by initials or, perhaps better but more fiddly, a code name. That way their data is technically either untraceable, or just plain impossible to compromise.
  3. List appointments in pencil so you know they are coming, but erase them once they’ve taken place, after which what you did is entered into your ‘work’ system anyway. For example, I would make an appointment with a witness ‘FB’ at whatever address and telephone number, and enter it into my planner in pencil. Once I’d taken their statement, I’d erase that entry and the relevant paperwork would go into the GDPR-registered and compliant systems at work. The ICO considered this a sensible and, more importantly, practical approach. I would add that the temporary nature of such an entry is prima facie evidence it was never intended to be a permanent record for filing or retrieval.
  4. Avoid detailing what the appointment is about. It really isn’t necessary to note that in a personal planner.
  5. Don’t use your personal mobile phone for work planning if that planning includes retention of personal data, unless your employer authorises and is aware of the practice.
  6. Paper or digital, make sure your employer knows you’re using your personal system in this fashion so that they can create a policy around it.

Of course, all of this means that you now have to return to the question of  whether you need  separate planning systems for work planning and for personal planning, but my reading of the rules, following consultation, seems to suggest you won’t need two systems if you go paper and follow the six suggestions, above. But if you work in a public capacity, your paper planning system is always covered by information rights laws.

Of course, Someone else might take a different view – let’s hear it, but with authoritative references, please.

And I would also be very interested in hearing about your thoughts on what, if anything, this means for paper planning in the 21st century.

The ICO advice on ‘filing systems’ can be found at

Push Their Stuff Away With Your Stuff -When You Can.

One of the key psychological barriers to stress-free living is the internal conflict that arises between what others require us to do and what we want to do. Most of the time and for most people, we choose our professions and we love to do what our professions require of us. Unfortunately, what we perceived our professions would require of us are rose-tinted. That is because while the operational element of our professional expectations usually meet our expectations, the administrative, legal and procedural realities don’t.

For example, as a copper I was fully prepared to catch the bad guys and send them forthwith to ‘Er Majesty’s ‘Otel. I probably realised that there would be some paperwork involved – I’d seen the files on Jack Regan’s desk in The Sweeney. But between 1986 when one piece of paper was occasionally all that was required for a pre-CPS guilty plea to a public order offence, to 2019 when I had to write War and Peace every time I spoke to a member of the public, the non-operational burdens soured my early professional expectations. And fun.

There are numerous reasons why all this happened, but one thing remains certain – a lot of the bars to enjoyment of our work result from new expectations laid upon us that are outside of our control.

And this was something I realised this week when I was feeling miserable. I was writing some journal notes, and found myself asking wondering why I wasn’t getting some of the results I wanted. I found that my thinking processes were jumbled, frantic, messy and disorganised. And that’s when it hit me.

I’m so busy thinking about other people’s stuff that they aren’t being displaced enough by MY stuff.

My focus on problems outside of my control was preventing me giving due consideration to the things I CAN do something about – but the changing of focus from THEM to ME is constantly thwarted by the attention seeking demands placed upon me by others. Even when I am finally giving myself the attention I deserve (and tell me this doesn’t happen to you) someone or something interrupts that train of thought and my brain moves its focus there, instead.

And what about when that interruption is ‘someone’? They come into the room and start explaining their discovery, demand, dilemma or whatever, without even a ‘have you got a minute?’. This is, I find, particularly routine withing familial relationships. Don’t you just feel obliged to grin and move your attention to them, just to be polite?

I guess the answers are to know what is important to you as an individual, and to be willing, when necessary, to state clearly that you’re busy and not willing to be interrupted, thank you. The exact words may be softer depending on the situation or relationship, but a verbal ‘Keep Out’ is the best way to retain a sense of mental control and focus on what you need to be doing now. Assuming that what you are focusing on is something that warrants that attention because it is truly important and (in the moment) requires your attention more than the relationship might.

And if the situation allows, a closed door is the softest way to say Keep Out. It’s funny, but if a door is closed, it rarely gets knocked or opened unless the interruption is truly important.

It’s a minefield, I know.

But if you want to give important things the mental attention they need, you have to prioritise them over other things that are less deserving. You have to put you first, whenever you can.

Getting other people’s stuff done first is nice, but if you never get your own needs met ….. Mental Health Awareness Week (month, year) is your only refuge.

For more on the subject, visit .