I’ve been teaching time management for 20 years, I’ve written two books on it and probably read thirty, I’m on Lynda.com talking about it, and I think about it A LOT – but I still wouldn’t claim to have nailed it. Time management is DIFFICULT!
Here are some of the things I’m currently thinking about…
- What should I do first? On my list I have a mixture of big and small jobs, fun and horrible jobs, urgent or not, important or not – but what’s the formula for which one I should do first. In reality I’ll probably choose to do the one that is very urgent, or small and fun, but that just leaves the list getting more and more unpleasant. So what’s the formula?
- Every day you should do some important stuff as well as all the urgent stuff. Of course in the ideal world you would only ever do important stuff, but in reality what’s a good practical ratio to aim for?
- And if it depends on the job you do, what are the ratios for different jobs? What affects the ratio?
- What does ‘important’ even MEAN? I know it DOESN’T mean something you HAVE to do, there are lots of trivial things we have to do like ironing for example, and I know it’s not the same as fun, (some important things aren’t fun) and it’s not the same as the things we wouldn’t delegate, because I know there are things that are important to me but which I would still delegate – like Marketing. We kind of know what important means to us, but when you try to define it clearly it’s surprisingly slippery.
- Then there’s defining Urgency – which is easier, isn’t it? It’s “How long you’ve got until it’s due”. But: fixing my fence is NEVER going to be due! So, buying Christmas presents starts out like my fence, not urgent, and then it gradually gets more urgent as December approaches, …but the urgency of the fence doesn’t seem to increase. Why is that? Is the fence really at zero on the urgency scale. If so, does that mean I shouldn’t ever do it? Even though it’s making me unhappy.
- I have found FIVE ways to get more done – say no, negotiate, delegate, have better systems, and be less fussy. But is there a sixth one? How can I prove there isn’t?
- How much does / should personality affect time management? Should everyone’s time management be the same really, and personality is just connected with our problems and how we get our time management wrong? Should we all be aiming for the same ‘perfect life’ and if not, are there a limited number of types of ‘time management personality’?
- What’s the ideal mix of time spent on Achievement compared to Enjoyment? I’m pretty sure that all Achievement and no Enjoyment is a bad idea, and I suspect that all Enjoyment and no Achievement is not going to be sustainable or satisfying in the long run, but what’s the best ratio? Again there’s maybe a personality element – but should there be? And for me, for example, what ratio should I aim for? How do I work out the best ratio for YOU?
- Where is the borderline between my diary and my jobs to do list? Could I put all of my jobs-to-do into my diary, into the days when I am going to do them? Is there any snag with allocating a date to every job, rather than just having them on a list? If I could indicate which jobs in my diary are fixed appointments and which are moveable within that day, and which are just bunged in there and can be moved to any other date if necessary, would that be a good system? And conversely, could/should my jobs to do list have times or dates added to the tasks on it?
- What categories of task should I have in my diary? As well as ‘fixed time’, ‘do on that day’, and ‘currently in that day but doesn’t have to be then if the day turns out to be busy’, it might be good to have Do Before a particular date (e.g. Christmas presents), or Do After a particular date (e.g. buying carpets any time after you move in to your new house next month), or Do Between two dates (e.g. renew passport after upcoming holiday and before the business trip next Spring). What other categories are there? Are there some I haven’t thought of?
- What would be the best workflow process? With inputs like emails arriving, and outputs like “things you do today”, and during the flow process things like “add to jobs to do list” and “consider saying no to it”, if you try drawing a diagram it gets very tricky. I don’t think anyone has nailed this (even the excellent David Allen of Getting Things Done fame) including me.
I hope you find this list interesting. I think the conclusions are:
- Don’t expect magic answers for time management
- But don’t give up on time management – there are 11 questions unanswered, but there are 100 things that ARE known and ARE great, like ‘write everything down’, ‘have both a master list and a daily list’, and ‘leave gaps in your diary’.
- Thinking about the above difficult questions can still benefit yours and my time management, even if we don’t have perfect answers yet
- I’m not giving up by any means. I HAVE totally nailed Project Management, so it CAN be done!
- If you have any thoughts on the above I’d love to hear from you!
onwards and upwards