Time management is perhaps the most sought after success skill out there. Effective time management involves the use of time management techniques, which we have already discussed and the time management tools we will discuss today. There is an intersection between the tools and techniques, which you will see in this discussion. Here are some of the most effective time management tools available to us.
The humble to-do list is one of the best time management tools. Simple yet effective the to-do list keeps you focused on the most important tasks for the hour, day, week or month. They particularly work best when you use what is called cascading to-do lists. These use various time horizons to produce different to-do lists. They take a big, longer horizon goal and break down the tasks involved to shorter time horizon tasks. For example, a 5-year goal can be broken into annual to-do lists which further break down into month by month, week by week and day by day to-do lists. There’s loads of software that can help you with to-dol lists but all you really need is somewhere you can write down lists and revisit them to check off those tasks which have been achieved.
One of the simple to conceive yet hard to use time management tools is the word no. The law of the excluded alternative states that when we say yes to one task we are effectively saying no to all other tasks that could be performed at the time. That’s the easy part, knowing that what we say no to determines how much time we have for those tasks we have said yes to. The hard part is getting around to saying no to tasks. Something like a to-do list can aid in this, helping us to choose between what moves us closer to our intended goals while resisting the urge to say yes to things that do not move us in the intended direction. Easier said than done of course.
Time tracker (Rescue time)
For many who have been fortunate enough to experience employment in businesses that bill clients on a time basis or work on a time basis time tracking is not a foreign concept. For the uninitiated time tracking simply logs how time is used. This helps the evaluating party to understand how time is expended compared to the planned usage of the time. It’s a little bit of a confronting experience when you first use it but it ultimately gives you an intimate knowledge of how time is used. And here comes the quote you’ve been waiting for if you’re familiar with my writing; if you cannot something you cannot improve it – Peter Drucker. It holds, we all have plans for how we intend to use our time but the reality is usually starkly different from the plan. You can use the humble timesheet which simply notes what you are doing at any point in time by logging the start and finish times of each task. This is good enough. If you work exclusively on a computer or mobile device then consider an app called Rescue time which measures activity across devices and accurately measures where you spend your time. Time tracking is not all negative, you may find it takes you less time to complete some tasks than you have allocated to them.
Another tried and tested tool for time management is time blocking. This practice breaks down the available time to blocks and allocates tasks to blocks. One caveat when thinking about using time blocking is that the tasks must be somewhat similar sized. So if you have tasks of varying complexity it makes it more difficult to employ time blocking difficult but not impossible. With a time blocking system, you can split your day into 15 or 30-minute windows and allocate tasks to each window. The size of the time block is determined by your tasks and you know best how much time each task requires. The rest is simple thereafter, work on each task in its allotted block. However, time blocking introduces a problem where tasks overrun their allocated time and this is where the time tracker is useful. It won’t help you finish the task any faster but it will let you know if you have under or over-estimated any tasks.
These practical time management tools can help you make the most of your time. They fit into the most popular methodologies on time management. You can use them in conjunction with many time management techniques. You can also use all of these tools simultaneously. Ultimately we do not manage time but we manage ourselves and how we use time.