Finding What Works


Time management is a crucial skill that we all need to master to be successful in our personal and professional lives. With so many things to do and so little time, it can be overwhelming to keep track of everything. As discussed in previous posts, I have been experimenting with my time at work and home to understand the best strategies for me.

I started some time ago with note-taking. I filled a book with notes that appeared necessary at the moment. This technique helped me better remember important information, ideas, and tasks discussed. I could quickly look back to jog my memory if more clarity were needed. The notebook went with me everywhere I thought I would need it.

The note-taking method did not solve the problem of what do I need to do sometime today. I found that over time, I would take fewer and fewer notes. I attribute this to using multiple time management techniques to manage the day.

Another effective time management technique I have used is to create a prioritized task list. A task list is a simple tool that can help you stay on track and focused on your goals. I have experimented with many digital and analog tools to manage this prioritized list.

A flavor of this that had the most success was a timeboxed prioritized list. Using this method, I would have a list of all the work that needed to be completed that day, with an assigned amount of time to complete the job. I have used this for quite some time. It was knowing that the timebox would be flawed some of the time. This method worked best when everything was computer work. I could set up the software to track activities, each having an alarm when the time was exhausted. The drawback of implementing this technique is that the list continued to grow. There needed to be a reflection period on what could be dropped or delegated. The other main drawback is only some things are computer work, and it wasn't easy to travel with this solution. Lastly, the software I used could not attach notes to an activity. This lack of functionality required two systems to manage a day.

The question is, what does work? Smashing the best parts of both techniques together is working great. Today you will often see me walking around the office with a half-page notebook. I have a page for each day titled with the date in that notebook. On that page, one will see two things, a square box on the left side with some text or just text. The square box indicates an activity that requires action. The text without the square box is a note related to something important or one of the day's tasks.

As the day starts, I reflect on the previous day. I take a few moments to identify the incomplete tasks that need to move to the new day, prioritizing each. Any related notes accompany the task on the new day's page. Then take any other items that do not move to determine their fate. After planning the day, work begins on the tasks in priority order. New information and requests come in. This incoming data gets recorded in the notebook. When capturing the data, I will indicate with a square box if the execution is required today. Everything else becomes a note, some of which will become tasks later. As I complete tasks, I scan through all the remaining open activities. I choose an activity that fits the time I have available for work or the highest priority task.

This series of experiments has changed my perspective of work. The growing list of work led to feeling overwhelmed with little progress on the goals. This method keeps the feeling of progress by seeing all the filled square boxes through the days and tying the notes to a task together. This mixed approach has made each day feel more dynamic and less rigid.

I plan to continue this method for managing time, adjusting, and tweaking as the exceptions appear. For now, this has been doing the trick.