You only have to search the internet to discover a plethora of time management techniques all stating that they’re right for you, and all varying in their complexity from the very simple to the down right complex project management software, which invarably takes you more time to learn than it saves you in time!! Whichever choice you make, it should be carefully considered if you want to choose the right method for your unique situation.
As a word of warning, it may be easy to adopt what appear to be a simple time management techniques however, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that demonstrates that simplicity in design does not always translate in to successful application.
Below you will find a selection of time management techniques that may or may not be helpful to your situation, but will give you food for thought.
Having trouble making a decision on what tasks deserve your attention? This method is for you – and it allows you differentiate what is important from what is urgent. The Eisenhower method doesn’t necessarily have to be used in isolation, and can be very effective in creating your to-do list the right way (above).
Begin by creating four boxes (quadrants). On the vertical axis, label the boxes “Important” and “Not Important” and on the horizontal axis, label them “Urgent” and “Not Urgent.”
You should now have four boxes in which to sort your task list:
- Important but Not Urgent: Networking
- Not Important but Urgent: Emails and phone calls
- Important and Urgent: Meeting deadlines and troubleshooting
- Not Important and Not Urgent: stuff that just keeps you busy, or Facebook!
As you can see, it’s easy to sort your tasks in order of urgency, and eliminate some tasks altogether. At the heart of this system is the 80/20 principle: that 20% of our activities make up 80% of our outcomes, and the other 80% make up the remaining – meaning we should focus on the least amount of work with the greatest outcome.
The To-Do List
This method seems to be the easiest of all time management techniques to use when it comes to managing your priority list, and that’s why so many people use it. Unfortunately, without understanding how to use a to-do list, it’s the one of those time management techniques that’s bound to mire you in distraction and overwhelm.
If you ever used a to-do list, you will recognize this scenario: you add 10 items to your list that urgently need to be completed as soon as possible. With such a list where everything screams “important” at once, where do you start?
Let’s say you do get started, here’s what generally happens: you decide that the easiest thing to do on the list is the sensible one to start with, so that’s what you do – ignoring the most vital task, which is always the most difficult or time consuming. You rationalize that decision by thinking you are picking off the lowest hanging fruit. Then another task gets added to your list, and the next time you start ticking off items, you pick the lowest hanging fruit again (lowest hanging fruit is corporate lingo for the smallest, easiest to complete tasks). And so on, and so on.
If I were to gamble, I’d bet you never get to the most important tasks, because it’s too easy to continuously delay them in favour of smaller, simpler tasks. We all tend to do it – moving items up and down the list as we go on, but never completing tasks that make a difference.
There is a way out of To-Do List Prison, and that’s to decide on minimizing your daily tasks to include only those that have a significant influence on results, then creating a small list of 3-6 items to check as you complete them. List them in order and check them off as you go, from top to bottom – only adding new tasks to the bottom of the list when one has been completed.
In this way, overwhelm is kept to a minimum and priority tasks receive the attention they deserve.
David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is one of the more popular time management techniques. The basics of the system are that you move ideas and tasks from your mind out onto an idea capture mechanism. This frees your mind from preoccupation and allows it some freedom to concentrate fully on the task at hand. It also means you are not in danger of forgetting good ideas.
By then establishing a workflow it is possible to make sure each idea gets the appropriate response. This involves clarifying what each captured idea is about, organizing it according to project, deciding on its value and then taking action on it.
Methods of idea capture will vary from person to person, but popular methods are:
- Mind mapping software such as XMind
- Your smart phone’s voice recorder
Invented in Italy in 1980s by an Italian man by the name of Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique is particularly useful for those whose minds tend to wander. If a lack of discipline is preventing you from successfully managing your time, this may be the technique for you.
The technique involves the use of a timer (a Pomodoro timer is a tomato shaped kitchen timer) which is set typically for 25 minutes during which work is done. Each 25 minute period is followed by a 5 minute rest period, and after every 3 or 4 sessions, a longer break is taken.
By breaking up the work period into smaller periods of time, we can concentrate fully for that short time before taking a break. This method is also called time boxing – the idea being that we are more focused when we set our minds to a specific task for a specific time period.
There are many different Pomodoro applications available, from an actual tomato shaped kitchen timer to a browser extension called Strict Workflow – available for Chrome browser users. SWF is particularly useful for those who work online, as it limits access to social media sites during the work period, forcing the user to work.
Pomodoro technique can successfully be combined with a basic to-do list.
There are other time management techniques available, but most are a spin off from one of the techniques mentioned above. It is often possible to combine methods, but deciding on which of these principle time management techniques you will use as your default strategy will often yield the best results.
By putting these time management techniques and productivity tips into place you can easily organize both your personal and business lives. The tips you use will often spill over into both areas making you more organized than before.
Which time management techniques work best for you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
Till next time
Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor