As I’ve progressed through my career, time management was something that I attended courses on in my first couple of years after graduation, never to be seen again once I’d got the basics in place and I never again saw the diagrams of rocks, sand, and water or a matrix differentiating urgent from important.
And yet, in coaching sessions with clients, time management is something that I often touch on; Our dreams, our passions, and our goals are hindered if we don’t do the right things to make them happen, in the same way that corporate strategy is a waste of time without execution. The multitude of simple decisions each day (what to do with that email, what do do next, what to say yes to and what to say no to) are what makes things happen and if our time management is not as good as it needs to be, it is like investing in a Ferrari and then running it on flat tyres! I was fascinated by how Jack Dorsey (co-founder of Twitter and Square) describes his CEO role as an Editor, making sure that a small number of things (the right things) are done really well.
I really like David Allen’s books – Getting Things Done and Making it all work – as they provide a great approach to time management which can be adapted to suit your style. I’m not going to summarise the whole approach, but here are the parts of Allen’s approach that have made the biggest impact on me and that I’ve seen work for others.
Collect Stuff in the right places: David Allen argues that we need a trusted system so that every commitment we have is noted somewhere that we trust, so that it is brought to our attention at the right time. He suggests that every commitment that isn’t somewhere we trust simply creates an open loop that our brain will remind us about, normally several times and when we’re not in a position to do anything about it. This resonates with me from times when I’ve had something important with a deadline sat idling somewhere in my in-tray, or the times when I’ve written actions from meetings in the back of one of many notebooks and kept remembering it whilst I was driving. I totally agree with Allen’s view that constantly thinking about actions at the wrong time just wastes time and energy. My implementation of this is simple: I have one in-tray and I have all of my actions in one place; I do this with an application called Things, but it doesn’t matter whether you use a software solution or pen and paper. It just needs to work and you need to trust it.
Do a weekly review to clear your brain, get back on track if you need to, and review your commitments. Allen describes that feeling that we can have in the week before a holiday: We’ve cleaned everything up, closed all loose ends, got crystal clear about what must be done and renegotiated everything else. This is the feeling that you get after a weekly review and it is really helpful to do it more than annually! For me, one of the most powerful aspects of the weekly review is making decisions about what not to work on that week so that I can really focus on a smaller number of things. If you’re not already in the habit of taking time out to reflect on how things are going, this can be a great time to do that as well.
There is so much more to GTD than these two points but they are a good place to get started and David Allen’s books are very practical. If there is demand, I will write a brief series of blog posts to go into this in a bit more detail.
What has made the biggest (positive) impact on your productivity?