Samuel Smiles wrote what is usually considered to be the first self-help book, simply called Self Help thus blazing the trail for those that followed. Also, when I was a child, my Dad had a whole set of booklets on Pelmanism. I used to peek into these and I'm sure it was from there that I became convinced that self-improvement can only come from within. (To my surprise, the Pelman Institute is still running and still offering self-improvement courses and materials!) Anyway, my latest find is Getting Things Done by David Allen.
Time management has always been my bugbear. Thing management was transformed for me by Julie Morgenstern's Organising fom the Inside Out. I liked her practical approach and her insistence that being organised was a learnable skill, not an innate ability. Until then I'd thought that I'd just missed out on the organising gene and there was no hope for me. However, I really didn't get very much from her companion book on time management. I did all the exercises, worked out my goals and priorities, did the time mapping and things improved briefly -- but only until the novelty wore off and I found myself working under real pressure again.
Some people swear by Eat That Frog!. Again a modified version of this worked for me for a little while, but I never managed to get into doing the master list, the monthly list and the daily list. Constantly writing and re-writing lists soon grew stale. Also the idea of setting goals and judging daily tasks by whether they furthered these goals just set up resentment about all the tasks that I end up doing just because I have to.
It's early days yet with the Getting Things Done book (I haven't even finished the first read through), but I have hopes that this system might work. When I read Organising from the Inside Out, I realised that the parts of my "system" that worked followed Morgenstern's basic principles. I'd just never thought to apply what worked in one area to another, different area. This encouraged me to trust her methods. Likewise, the bits of my task managements system that work closely resemble David Allen system.
My reasons for not doing stuff are mostly psychological rather than practical, but one reason I'll sit all day reading LJ, Usenet, lolcats and goodness knows what instead of sorting out the vital thing I should be doing is that I always end up with piles of "stuff" on and around my desk and, because I can't remember everything that's in the piles, my mind conjures up all kinds of horrors that might be lurking in there. (See icon!)
It's no good telling myself that if there is anything horrible in there, I ought to deal with it; fear of the Unknown keeps me fiddling around with trivia until a looming deadline forces me to dig down and unearth something that has suddenly become desperately urgent, if not overdue.
The GTD method insists on regular reviews of everything outstanding, but doesn't try to make you Do It Now! (My resistance to looking in the piles is because I quickly become overwhelmed by a feeling of, "Help! I should be doing something with this! Oh, and there's this to do... and this... and this... Eeek! I can't cope!") GTD simply says look at it and decide what the next step is. Because you're sorting out what has to be done now and separating it from what might be nice to do, but doesn't have to be done right away, the whole thing (in theory!) becomes manageable. Add to that a system for tracking all the "projects", and you should be able to cope with everything that's thrown at you.
Already I've had a moment of enlightenment. Time management is impossible. You can't manage time, you can only manage your actions.
All these years I've been looking at things the wrong way round. Sigh...