I’d been talking about it for weeks but had yet to walk up to a complete stranger to ask if they’d like to be interviewed for my Notebook People series. I was afraid that people would find it off-putting to be approached about something as random as their notebook or planner. But in May of this year, it finally happened.
To escape the isolation that always comes with my end-of-the-semester grading marathon, I’d made my way to the Starbucks in my town. I settled into a seat at a long table that gave me plenty of space to spread out comfortably. Using their free wifi, I signed into my class management system while sipping my hot grande oat milk latte and tried to focus on the task at hand. Across the room, a mother and her adult son were having an interesting conversation about the adult son’s son. I tried not to eavesdrop, but the distraction was a welcomed one. I would rather do just about anything in this world other than grading papers. And, that’s when Paul Ward’s Franklin Planner caught my eye.
I didn’t know who Paul Ward was yet, but I knew a Franklin Planner when I saw one because back in the late 90s, I’d worked at one of their retail stores, Franklin Quest, when it was in The Mall at Short Hills. That was a long time ago, and it had been years since I’d seen anyone with one of their planners. I stared. Paul was organizing notes or receipts and jotting things down in his planner. It was a black Classic size binder filled with the original green two-page per day planner pages. I hadn’t forgotten their layouts or sizes. I was fascinated, and I was staring.
When Paul looked up and caught me ogling his planner, I tried to gesture to him what my interest was, but that’s really hard to communicate from across the room. So, suffice it to say that my first encounter with Paul was a tad awkward. I had to walk over and explain my fascination, but thankfully Paul took it all in stride. He was friendly, personable, and agreed to give me his email address, so we could continue talking about his Franklin Planner planning system.
Paul’s commitment to planning and staying organized began when he was a kid. He told me the story of his large family always struggling financially and always being a bit disorganized, mostly because of its size. It was impossible for them to, for instance, get to church on time. He remembers the embarrassment he would feel, when all thirteen of them would pour into church eleven minutes late because they just couldn’t get it together on time. Sometimes, these kinds of struggles and challenges shape us as individuals, not so that we grow up to live our lives in the same ways, but rather, they serve as lessons, inspiring us to try to do things differently, perhaps better and more effectively. In Paul’s case, this resulted in a strong work ethic and a fierce determination to be organized (and always on time). This came up several times in the course of our three meetings, and Paul repeated his mantra, “What gets written down, gets done!” multiple times. I would learn that throughout his life, he had definitely managed to get a lot done.
I could probably write a book, or at least a series of articles, about Paul Ward. His life has been a rich and colorful one, starting when he was child, one of eleven, who worked his way through college, and worked his way up to an impressive public relations career, in which he climbed to the ranks of EVP at Nickelodeon and is now President and EVP at Grom Social Enterprises. He also raised three successful sons, who are now young adults. In addition to those achievements, Paul also created and continues to play an active role in the CHAMP mentoring program at his alma mater, Seton Hall University. All of this has been made possible, in part, by his commitment to remaining focused and organized.
The Franklin Planner planning system has been a mainstay in his life for three decades now. Yes, you read that correctly. THIRTY years. After graduating from Seton Hall, he went to work for a PR firm in New York, before, as he says, “my good fortune took me to Nickelodeon. The year was 1990. And then, a few years later, either HR or Learning and Development organized a workshop in which you got a Franklin Covey planner,” and while he can’t say he’s used it every single day since that day, he can say he used it for the entire time he was at Nickelodeon. The binder that he has now was purchased in 1996, three years after he took that class.
Paul has had an amazing career filled with wonderful experiences and encounters. When he looks through his archived refills, he said it’s a great stroll down memory lane. He’ll find things like “call Carol Burnett. Don’t forget to meet with Dick.” That’s Dick, as in Dick Van Dyke. He has, in recent years, downsized them, culling out things he no longer needs, and he has no regrets. He has kept the stuff that he “thought was kind of fun and germane.”
Paul doesn’t only have a Franklin Planner. Though he rarely buys a notebook, he does get notebooks from corporate functions and might have one by the door to jot down things that he needs from the supermarket. But for planning and staying on task, the Franklin Planner is still at the core of his system, and he very much embodied what I remembered about the philosophies of Franklin Covey, from the time I worked for the company in the late 90s. The focus was on setting goals, breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks, and prioritizing them. The Franklin Planner was developed around Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. We knew those seven habits like the back of our hands.
- Habit 1: "Be proactive"
- Habit 2: "Begin with the end in mind"
- Habit 3: "Put first things first"
- Habit 4: "Think win–win"
- Habit 5: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood"
- Habit 6: "Synergize"
- Habit 7: "Sharpen the saw"
If I were to add an eighth habit, it would be something that came up in each of my interviews with Paul and in the questionnaire he completed.
- Habit 8: "What gets written down, gets done.” (Paul Ward)
What I loved most about talking to Paul about his planner/notebook and process was that it brought me back in time and back to basics, back to the things that I’d learned long before the Internet and all of the noise that came along with it.
We talked a bit about how things had changed, and how Paul believes that life has gotten far busier than it used to be years ago, and he attributes it, at least in part, to technology. I’d agree. He talked about the research they used to do when he worked for Nickelodeon and how all forms of family togetherness were continually declining. It made him think of the “mad dash that my mother or father would make to try to get to the bank by either 5:00 on Friday or like noon on Saturday.” I could easily relate to those days because during my freshman year of college, I’d worked as a bank teller at the Howard Savings Bank.
He went on to point out that, ”...once you got to the bank and then you got home on Friday night, guess what? My father didn’t have a boss that was emailing him or calling him and nobody was expecting him to do a Zoom call with the Philippines on Saturday afternoon…It was pure downtime.” Part of Paul’s commitment to staying organized always had to do with protecting his downtime, and he’s been doing that for his entire career, dating back to when he was a young father. He would plan to do everything that he needed to do, including exercising and going to the barber, so that he could spend quality time with his family. As Paul explained, “I’m very precious about my downtime.
Paul protects his downtime by making good use of the time that is not downtime. To that end, he doesn’t waste a lot of time; but rather uses his time wisely. He told me about a system that he uses to make sure that his time is well-spent. I told him I was going to call it “The Paul Ward Method of Time Management,” and I’m keeping my word. “The Paul Ward Method of Time Management” involves the keeping of three lists of tasks:
- The 5-Minute List - Tasks that can be completed in five minutes.
- The 15-Minute List - Tasks that can be completed in fifteen minutes.
- The 30 Plus-Minutes Lists - Tasks that will take thirty minutes or more to complete.
Whenever Paul finds himself with unexpected free time, like in between appointments, or even waiting on hold during a phone call, he will refer to these lists, complete a task, and check it off. Like many people, he loves the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing off a completed task. For example, he might be able to pay a bill, while waiting for a Zoom call to begin or make a phone call, while waiting to board a plane to go on a business trip. While most of us are using that time to check social media, Paul is working away at his list of things that need to be done, so that his downtime is truly downtime and he accomplishes the things he wants to accomplish. As Paul points out, the “whole idea of my Franklin Planner and a notebook is really just about maximizing my time and then making sure things go as right as they can.”
Paul uses the Franklin Planner for both work and personal time management and planning. When it comes to pens, he’s partial to buying Pilot Precise V5 pens by the box, always in black ink. He also keeps a notebook by the door and a smaller ring notebook in the car to check off errands.
I am so very grateful to Paul for allowing me to interrupt his planning session in Starbucks back in May. Getting to know him has been an absolute pleasure and joy. After chatting with him, I reached out to my former store manager, who went on to work as a district manager for Franklin Covey. She’s now living in Georgia and working for another company. We’ve made plans to try to get together in 2024, when she has to come to their headquarters for a meeting. She no longer uses a Franklin Planner, though she still uses their principles in her current notebook.
As for time management, while I haven’t gone back to using a Franklin Planner, I did go onto their website to watch videos that refreshed my knowledge of their time management philosophies; and, to Paul’s credit, I have adopted “The Paul Ward Method of Time Management” and now have a 5-Minute List, a 15-Minute List, and a 30 Plus-Minute List.