Three tools for seizing control of your business and personal life

In Western culture, the word “control” has an undeserved bad rap. It conjures up the image of a type-A personality gone wild with power, who, headed down the road of personal self-destruction, cuts wide swaths of anxiety among all those encountered. “Control freak” is a term that often surfaces. But if hyper-control is a bad thing, do we want the opposite, to be out of control? As we search for a middle ground, let’s not forget the brutal reality: Each of us will someday lose control of all that we have. Life is ephemeral and “survival is temporary.” We will die someday. Still, while we “go with the flow,” this doesn’t mean we should navigate without reason, care, or attention to detail. On the contrary, control’s four horsemen of self-discipline, planning, efficiency, and consistency go a long way toward securing a sense of longevity and calm.

Most people don’t spend enough time focusing on the methodology of control. There is a science and an art to it. And yes, like everything else, moderation is the key.

In your business and your personal life, are you ready to devote some energy and time to seizing control of your day and your destiny? Then let’s get technical and talk about hard details. Center your efforts around three primary tools: a digital voice recorder, Microsoft Outlook, and your cellular phone. None of these tools are new and they stand on their own in their usefulness. However, it’s when one combines them that a new and powerful sense of control is found. These tools are about the following:

1)      Having a goal-oriented, consistent strategy. You already know that we must have clear goals with specific strategies to reach them.

2)      Having efficient systems to accomplish all necessary tasks, and completing them promptly. “Most recurring processes can be automated or delegated.”

3)      Not suffering the effects of errors of omission — ineffectiveness due to actions not taken. Remember that most of our failures lie in what falls through the cracks, not in overt mistakes.

These tools are about capturing thoughts as they pass through the mind. They are about event control. Think of the mind as an endless film strip spewing out a stream of thoughts rushing downhill with no rhyme or reason. Good and bad thoughts, pointless thoughts, historical anecdotes dredged up from the past, future events in vivid Technicolor arriving before their time, hazy wistfulness and beautiful, brilliant insights when least expected. Coming hard and fast, thoughts pass through consciousness in relentless sequential order.

How to trap the good ideas and at the same time slow down the incessant mind-noise? Very simple: Start by carrying a digital voice recorder (be sure it’s a digital recorder, not a tape recorder which is cumbersome and imprecise). When an idea worth remembering appears, pull out the recorder, press the record button, and record the thought. Then put it away, forget the thought and move on, leaving your mind with one less bit of clutter

For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m driving, walking, working, sitting in the theater, having lunch with a friend, waking in the middle of the night, reading a book, skiing, cycling, or climbing a mountain. I capture the thought, and my mind is free to move on. There is nothing more to ponder in the moment and nothing to remember later.

Daily, I review the recordings of the past 24-hours, transcribing them into the appropriate Microsoft Outlook task, calendar, or contact list. Once transcribed, the thought has permanence and action will be taken.

Microsoft Outlook, my second efficiency tool, has enormous time-savings advantages over the classic paper-based day planner that I lugged around for so many years. Synchronizing Outlook with my PDA once every day, all information is at my fingertips no matter where I am. As a manager, the most vital feature is the task list. (Hint, if you have managers, designate each manager as a “category,” thus centralizing each manager’s various tasks, the better to engender concise and quick “sit-downs” to review progress on various tasks.”) Outlook’s/ appointment calendar and contact information features are also vital.

One mandatory habit that remains from my former paper-based Franklin-Covey planner routine is my morning “planning and solitude session.” In the quiet early morning, it’s time to download the voice recorder information into Outlook and then review the tasks for the day. This session is the day’s most significant act of personal control.

The third efficiency component is the cell phone. My telephone number doesn’t represent a place, it represents me. After all, people aren’t looking for the place where Sam is located; they’re looking for Sam. They don’t care where I am physically.

Remember the cell phone’s best feature is its on-off switch. The always-on cell phone can annoy not just those in close proximity, but the user too. The primary purpose of my cell phone is to make calls, not to receive them and so the phone spends part of the day turned off as I divert incoming calls to voice mail. This way, I can focus on immediate tasks without interruption. I’ll call people back later when I am in the call-back mode.

That’s it! Three integrated communication tools to help you solidly grasp control of the day. If you can muster up the necessary self-discipline, and have the patience to work out the details of how the tools interface with each other to suit your own style, I promise you will experience significantly more control and peace in your day.

 Afterthought: As I update this, the original three tools have been combined into a single combination tool. Is this device preferable to the three independent tools? It depends on a number of factors but I prefer using the separate tools for a simple reason: Should the single device disappear or become non-functional, it would create havoc in my day. I can better survive the individual loss of Outlook, voice recorder, or cell phone. It’s not likely that all three would disappear or become dysfunctional at the same time. Having said that, as of this writing we are yet again considering Blackberries…

Sam Carpenter, author and speaker, is president and CEO of Centratel (, one of the nation’s few elite telephone answering services, and author of the new book, Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More. Visit to purchase your copy of the book and to pre-register for the two-and-a-half day Work the System “Boot Camp” to be held in Bend, Ore. this October. A free download of “Six Steps to Working Less and Making More” is also available on the site.

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