morning afternoon and i’m sitting here sipping my first coffee of the day and – after the week i’ve just had – feeling somewhat.. dazed?
I’ll openly admit I could use a little help when it comes to time management; however this working week has seen me pulled in all directions at once, attacking a big scary mountain of tasks, leaving my poor grey cells more than a little frazzled. I survived, but barely.
I gave myself a reality check on Wednesday night: there must be a way to get a handle on everything. How can I get past the brain freeze when I look at everything I need to do? How can I prioritise when everything is urgent? How can I do it all, on time, and to the best of my ability?
I always make to-do lists, of course. But they quickly become lists of lists of lists.. they creep across the pages of my notebook – and not in any order. Some of them escape onto Post-It notes and have a jolly old time seeing how far away they can get from my attention.
To put things right, i’ve started reading as many different articles as I can on productivity and time management. I’ve started using Pocket, thanks to Lizzie’s recommendation, which has been a godsend on the daily commute. I’m forever dumping things in my Safari Reading List only to forget about them. Pocket is super fast and I love being able to tag everything.
I know there isn’t one size fits all, but there must be some golden nuggets out there. I know I can be productive, but without changing my ways i’ll continue to veer haphazardly between the lanes of logic and chaos (luckily, I can’t drive)
I found this fantastic article listing many of the most popular productivity techniques we’ve all heard of: Getting Things Done, Timeboxing, S.M.A.R.T. etc. Heard of, but never actually got around to learning. What’s good about this article though is they’ve categorised the different techniques by the time commitment required to implement them. Good for me at a time when I literally don’t have the time to spare.
It also breaks them down further by learning/work style: visual, tactile, abstract. I’m very visual. I like doodles, flow charts and mind maps. I like lists but I have to make them pretty with symbols and colours. There’s also an element of the tactile in there too: I like to organise things – and see that organisation with boxes, piles, categories. I love Pinterest. Abstract is not really for me. I learn things by getting them out of my head and on to the paper – even better if there are graphics to go with it.
I looked at the techniques that were visual and tactile, but low to medium investment to get me off the ground quickly with my looming deadlines. I’ve started using three – Timeboxing, Eat Live Frogs, and Must, Should, Want – with some initial success.
Timeboxing is all about blocking out time slots to focus on a particular activity. For the most part it worked and I made progress on a project that was going nowhere. On Thursday I blocked out time for three different activities with breaks/inbox reviews in between. I did overrun on time in the last block because I didn’t ‘stop’ when the timer said so, but I did manage to avoid distractions which for me is a real achievement.
Eat Live Frogs, aka do the worst thing first, is so simple it barely needs explaining, but it really works. I had a difficult call to make that i’d been putting off. Often i’ll think, ‘i’m not mentally prepared enough to have that conversation yet’ and i’ll keep procrastinating. But I made that call first thing in the morning and it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as expected.
Must Should Want, it’s big brother being Must Should Want Could (or MoSCoW), is all about deciding what absolutely has to be done now, what should be done but can be put off if needs be, and what would be nice to do at some point in future.
In my version I ended up with Must Should Could and it’s been such a simple but effective way of breaking down my massive lists of to-dos. I still need to learn to reign in my Musts (still too many under that heading) but i’ve already seen progress. Of a list of 30 tasks yesterday, I chalked off 18 of them. I’ve added more for Monday morning but at least I have a plan now.
Of course, whatever system I use, I still need to write it down. I’m using Outlook calendar for Timeboxing. I’d like a nicer option but most of my working activity is generated by requests and appointments in Outlook so it makes sense to keep it together.
Having found the above article, I found Todoist: a cross-platform task manager. I’m wary of spending more time playing with a nice user interface than actually working, but hey, I like looking at pretty things! It’s gorgeous, super simple to use, and I can have it on my phone, desktop or web (apparently Outlook too but I haven’t tried that yet).
You create projects (and sub-projects), and assign tasks (and sub-tasks) to them. You enter tasks using natural language like “Call Dave on Friday” and Todoist recognises the temporal noun (is that a thing? i’m calling it that) and automatically sets the date. It works for times too so you can type 3pm or 15:00 and it picks it up. You can also set priorities and recurring tasks, and assign tasks to team members.
It’s completely free, but if you decide to pay for the premium version (monthly or annually) you get additional features such as custom labels, filters and project templates. With labels you can tag your tasks: simply type @meeting or similar when creating a task and an @meeting label is created, allowing you to see all of your meetings at once. Filters allow you to view your tasks in such ways as “assigned to me” and “due in the next 4 days” etc. Project Templates are something I haven’t attempted but allow you to easily create projects with repetitive tasks using a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file rather than having to manually enter them.
It’s early days but it’s working well so far. I’ve set it up with Must, Should, Could as projects and using @labels to categorise my tasks. I still scribble on my notepad at work because nothing beats the low entry level of pen and paper, but I can leave Todoist open in my web-browser for a quick, visual overview, and ticking off tasks throughout the day is very satisfying.
How are your time management skills? Do you have a recommended technique?