For those of you who have been following my musings on time management systems .
Whether it's about writing, time management, riding horse or caring for cats, if I get just one good new idea from a How To book then I feel it was money well spent and both Getting Things Done and Do It Tomorrow had more than enough helpful concepts to justify the expense of the books.
My system now owes things to both, plus probably a few ideas of my own and stuff that I've found over the years that works.
First a quick run down of a couple of books that weren't particularly helpful:
Eat That Frog (Brian Tracy)
Many people swear by this but it's very top-down, set your goals, ruthlessly prioritise and cut out anything that doesn't further those goals. This it might work for some, but not for me. My view is that if you're a very driven person who has a lot of autonomy in the work you do, it will be helpful. Also I found the prioritising system with a hierarchy of lists by monthly lists, weekly lists and daily lists very cumbersome. There's no help at all on how to stop procrastinating, other than a chapter that essentially say, "Buck up! Think positive and all will be well!"
Even so there were a couple of good points made in the book, such as making a habit of identifying key skills that you lack and that will be useful to you, then applying yourself to acquiring them. It also has a good attitude to learning through life. He encourages you to avoid the pitfall of thinking that if you don't already have the skills, it's too late.
Time Management from the Outside In (Julie Morgenstern)
Julie Morgenstern's book on Organising from the Outside In literally transformed my Thing organising skills. Just a couple of simple concepts (that most people probably acquired without realising it at infant school!) made a huge difference to getting the house in order. I'm no longer perpetually tidying any of the areas that have been Morgensterned (as I think of it). However, her Time management book, sadly, didn't really work at all for me. Despite being someone who works and thus has some rigidity to the week, I found her timetabling system far too rigid. I suspect it's ideal for a working mother with kids at school who has lots of fixed time slots anyway, eg taking kids to school, picking them up, taking them to swimming lessons or music classes etc, and who needs help with identifying the free bits of time lurking in between all the fixtures. But for someone who wants to be a bit more free and easy about when things get done (just wants to ensure that they do get done some time that day), then deciding that housework always happens between 10:00 - 11:30 and writing is always from 2:00 - 3:00 isn't very helpful. I know that you don't want to go to the other extreme and say you'll only write or do housework when the spirit moves you, but especially with British weather to take into account, being able to decide on the spur of the moment whether you do outdoor work or exercise in the morning or the afternoon is vital.
Good points in the book include the questionnaires to determine why one is always in a muddle over getting stuff done, also the way she urges you to decide what you want to do, ie how many commitments you can cope with and then saying a firm no to other things.
And so to my system. I now have a 3 tier system:
Top level (planning projects) -- this is done using a really handy little To Do List program that is free, simple to use and far less cumbersome than Outlook's task management options. Each project, such as the house, garden, writing, learning Welsh and ongoing projects at work has its own tab. I use this to break a project down into smaller steps and hence determine the Next Action. Also if something won't fit into any of the projects, it tells me that I shouldn't be doing it or else I need to rethink my priorities and drop something I'm already doing to make way for it.
Next Action Sheets (what to do next) -- this is done on paper sheets because I find them handy, quick to access and they don't break irrevocably like my Psion 5M did once. :) But if you're a palmtop computer fan, then you could do this electronically. Next Action Sheets are a perpetual list. Things are crossed off, things are added. When the sheet starts to look scruffy (usually once a week) I transfer any outstanding tasks to new sheets. The key difference between Next Action Sheets and a normal To Do list is that the paper is divided into sections and so tasks of similar type are grouped together, eg all work phone calls are in one section, stuff that has to be done in the office in another, all housework tasks are in another, things to do in the garden in another, etc.
The above is based very much on Getting Things Done principles. But I found it slightly lacking in some respects. It doesn't work too well with long term projects that involve a lot of repetitive actions, such as, for instance, writing the first draft of a novel. For ages the Next Action is just "Write some more words". Ditto things like exercise or learning Welsh. Putting, "Go for a walk" on the list would mean that the moment you came back you could cross out, "Go for a walk," but then the next action on the project to get fit and lose weight is ... "Go for a walk" so it has to go straight back on again! This is just silly! And yet if you don't record these things in some way, you're slipping back to the old way of keeping stuff in your head, which is what the system is designed to avoid.
So enter the Daily Will Do list...
This is from Do It Tomorrow. I use a single sheet of paper cunningly folded to make a tiny 4 page booklet. This gives me a cover and 7 pages, one for each day of the week. Because it's tiny it minimises my tendency to put too much down on any one day. Each day I commit to doing a few items off the Next Action List and I can also put down repeated stuff such as exercise or Welsh practice, which can go on a list and then be crossed off when done. Crossing items off lists is soooo satisfying. :)
I still haven't got to the stage where I do everything on the Will Do list, but I do have a good working system which helps ensure that I don't forget to do stuff and helps me make sure that nothing gets neglected for too long.
Oh, the bit at the start about the phone...
I use my diary purely for appointments, meetings, noting when holidays are etc. Tasks don't get put in there at all. But I now also use my mobile phone's scheduler for reminding me about things like birthdays, making another doctor's appointment for a routine checkup in 6 months time etc. I have trained myself to look in the phone each morning to see if a) it needs charging and b) if there's anything I should be doing that particular day.
So, if anyone's still reading, I finally have a workable method that takes me from top level planning right down to doing the task and, as is always the case, it's far easy to implement than to describe. Barring minor tweaks i don't plan to make any changes. All I need to work on now is how to improve my completion rate of things that need doing.
For everyone else, I'm sure there'll be a more interesting post coming along right after mine. :)