Time and Task Management – Part 1

Time and Task Management - Part 1

Last week I spoke on the topic of time and task management, covering both theory and specifics to my system using Google Calendar and documents. I’ve added a couple short video clips from that presentation at the end of this blog entry.

I’m going to cover time and task management. I’m breaking it into 4 parts mostly because I want to give it a fair treatment and…. well… I’m managing my time.

  • Part 1: Time & Task Management – Big Concepts
  • Part 2: Systems That I Found Helpful
  • Part 3: My System and Google Calendar
  • Part 4: Managing Information Overload

The importance of time & task management

We spend a great deal of our time either planning to do things or doing things. Our ability or inability to adequately manage time and our to do list, our ability to focus, and our ability to produce results are directly correlated to the money we earn and our satisfaction with our career and life.

In fact, I would contend that time and task management lends itself to better, more content, recreation time. When we know how to get things done, we can relax with less mental noise.

Let’s lay the groundwork and cover some big concepts or theory that may help you.

“The System” does not exist. “A System” is critical

If you are like me, you’ve tried multiple planners, installed applications on your computer, downloaded apps for your phone, and likely read dozens (or hundreds) of articles and books about time management – all in search of “The System.” We are all searching for the “perfect system,” and there are vendors lining up to sell us their version of that system.

I’m here to tell you that “The System,” that mythical unicorn of perfection, does NOT exist. Time and task management is for the individual. It must work for you.

But, make no mistake about it, you MUST put “A System” into place. “The System” is not the issue when it comes to managing our time and effectiveness. But our diligence in working a system is. Whether a pad of paper and a pen or a completely digital planning system, the failure of any system is personal. You break your system/I break my system, long before the system breaks anything.

Forgetting things is important

Whatever system you use, an important facet of any time and task management system is your ability to forget about things.

What? You might be thinking you already forget about things. That’s the problem.

Okay, let me clarify. You must be able to effectively remove items from your list that do not require your attention today and have a system that reminds you of them at the best time. Sticky notes, multiple pads of paper, etc. are problematic at best.

If you can have at your fingertips the things that are required of you today and know, with some confidence, that you will be reminded of things you need to do in the future when they require your attention, you can focus more fully on the tasks that require your attention today.

Forgetting things is good task management.

Managing Email & Inbox Zero

I’m not going to cover this in great detail here. But, many years ago, Merlin Mann gave a presentation at Google called Inbox Zero. Here is the link.

Suffice to say that if you have hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of messages in your inbox, you need to unsubscribe from a lot of stuff and start deleting things. I don’t get to zero inbox items every day, but I do every week.

I rewatched his presentation yesterday and am convinced I’ve become too complicated in my archival, organization, and retrieval system. It is something I will be looking at this weekend.

Multitasking is a lie from the pit of organizational hell

You can’t multitask. Our brains don’t work that way. Women are not better at it. Men are not better at it. If you believe you can multitask, you are either a) lying to yourself or b) lying to yourself.

Was that stated strongly enough?

You may be good at switching between projects and tasks but study after study shows that concentrated effort results in greater production.

What this means is that you need to schedule large blocks of uninterrupted project time where you don’t check email, don’t check social media, don’t take calls, etc. You focus on one project and set of tasks.

There are those who will argue with me on this point. That’s fine. I’m sure many of them are very productive. It is possible to be productive and wrong on this point, they are simply wrong.

Simple is best

It is very likely you don’t really need a complex system. Okay, not just likely, I’m certain of it!

Simplicity is easier to maintain and requires less work. The biggest challenge facing those seeking a time management system is simply deciding on a system even with its limitations. It is putting the system into play and keeping it in play, that is critical.

Next, (Part 2) I’m going to cover some systems that I’ve found helpful and that have informed my current system.

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If you have any ideas, questions, or comments, please leave them in the comment box below or email me using the contact form.

In the meantime, here are the videos from that presentation.

5 thoughts on “Time and Task Management – Part 1

  1. Hey Matthew, I really enjoyed this article. Time management is somethingn I’ve been working on lately and this article really helps. Thanks!

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed Patrick.

    Part 2 is published – with some systems I’ve used and who I’ve stolen.. er.. borrowed ideas from.

    Over the next several days I’ll post how I work my system using Google Calendar and then some ideas for managing all the information we deal with.

  3. I think having a system in place will help out a lot when your dealing witn time and task management . Sometimes I find it hard to forget about things that are coming up in the future, but I know that the more you think about them the more stressed out you can become.

    I try to empty out my Inbox (especially Junk box) every other week, but I do sometimes get sidetracked and won’t get to them for about 2 weeks or 3 weeks. I also think I can be pretty good at multitasking, which other people have said I am pretty good at (I try to get as much done in one day as possible and it works out 50% of the time. :0) This was very informative thank you…

What do you think?