Forget time management, the key skill is managing your work. Impact’s Grahame Broadbelt shares some thoughts and some tools he uses every day.
At this time of year we are assaulted by material that aims to tell us how we can use our time more effectively. It’s almost like we all feel, deep down, that everyone else must be amazing at managing time and that if only we knew how they did it and copied that we would be amazing too.
In my experience the continued quest for the secret to awesome self-management only leads to disappointment as we move from one fad, one tool, one ‘fresh-start’ to another.
Self-management starts from the inside.
Other things that work, for me at least, include:
Getting and staying focused
The people I find genuinely amazing are those people who seem to get the right things done more or less at the right time. When I dig a little deeper into what they are doing differently from the less-amazing rest of us, it is that they are simply super clear on their focus. I don’t know why some people are able to focus in a laser-like way while the rest of us are easily distracted (‘Oh, look an email from Amazon, wow!!’) but discipline works. Get some targets to hit and keep going at them relentlessly.
Getting a system and sticking to it
Part of not being focused is to constantly tinker with new apps, toys, tools that might hold the secret to awesomeness. I know a friend of mine who has read all the latest books on time management, being successful, etc. The key thing he is good at is reading those books and talking about them; he’s always telling me about the new app he is using or the new method for collecting all his to-do lists together. He hasn’t got a system, he is constantly transitioning to a new one. Forget that. Just get a system that works and stick to it.
Woody Harrelson is a great actor. In the movie Friends with Benefits he plays the editor of GQ magazine and has some great lines. He has, for example, a ‘Guidebook to Life’. He says everyone is looking for a shortcut, but his guidebook is simple: “if you want to make money’ he says, “work your ass off, lazy” and ‘if you want to be happy, find someone to love and keep them close”. Hard work usually pays off.
My system for managing work is imperfect and idiosyncratic and not to be recommended. But since you are reading this and therefore might be interested then this is what I use:
Evernote. This is the tool I use to capture everything: emails, web pages, meeting notes, receipts, letters from everyone/everywhere, my son’s homework schedule, photos. Everything. I've been using it for over a year now. I no longer spend whole days looking for something that I once had but now can’t find. I got so enthusiastic about Evernote that I bought a Scansnap scanner which sits on my desk at home and scans every bit of paper that comes into my life at super speed and fires it into Evernote never to be lost again. It works for me.
Workflowy. Super simple on-line outliner. If you don’t know what an outliner is then go and find out. I use it to plan, to think, to create to-do lists, to capture and build on ideas. It synchronises across my Android phone, my macbook and my ipad which is cool and helps me add, read and edit my lists on the go.
Toggl. We should all know how we are spending our time so we can judge whether it was in the way we intended or not. Toggl is a super simple but really powerful tool for tracking how you are spending your time. I use it to motivate, to review and to help me understand how long things actually take. (e.g. 23 minutes to write this piece).
Manage work, not time. Simple. Not.