Time management is more than a passion to me. It’s a necessity. Being – more or less – a control freak (at work), I need to manage my time if I want to prevent myself from going insane within a few days. I need time management so I can stop focussing on trying to remember what I should do and start actually doing things. I could write a few books on why I feel time management is important, but I won’t go further into that subject right now. Instead of focussing on the why, I want to show you my personal system.
The system is based on GTD (Getting Things Done) by David Allen, Inbox Zero by Merlin Mann, a training I got from Priority Makers and insights gathered through a multitude of other books (e.g. Rework and 4 Hour Work Week).
You’ll notice it is a very simple system, although is not easy to use. It requires rigorous self discipline, a bit of geekiness and some more discipline.
To collect all my tasks I use my inbox. Easy. I don’t have subfolders in my inbox. Just one “archive” folder. I try to check my mailbox only 4 times per day. Every time I go into my inbox I try to empty it. At the end of the day, my inbox is empty 2 days out of 3.
I use Remember The Milk. I have two main categories: DO and FOLLOW. In “Do” I put all the actions I have to do. I try to describe the task and the desired output as good as possible. I make the task as small as possible.
In “Follow” I put all actions from others I’m waiting for. Those are the only two categories. Every task is given a priority (1, 2 or 3) and a due date. If the task refers to an e-mail, I add a link to the message.
In RTM I have 4 custom lists. Two for the two main categories, and two for the main categories which show only those tasks that are due today (“Do_Today” and “Follow_Today”). I use the two “today” lists as my actual work dashboard. This way I only focus on things I have to do today.
(The Inbox and Sent are default RTM lists. The Read list is something I tried a few months as a read later tool.)
- I don’t waste time on multiple subfolders in my mailbox. There are only 2 folders: Inbox and Archive. This seems hard, but you should give it a try. It saves a lot of time when you don’t have to classify every single email.
- I try to check my email only once every 2 hours. Die-hard time-management guru’s would even advice you to do it only once or twice a day. I’ve noticed that in my kind of job I need to check-in at least every few hours.
- The best functionality in my email program is the “Offline” mode. It allows you to work in your Inbox, without being distracted by incoming email.
- Only use one collecting place (Inbox) and one list (RTM). When you start having multiple to do-lists, you’re lost.
- Always try to specify your tasks as good as possible. Focus on the actual task, in the smallest possible way. Make multiple subtasks with multiple due dates if necessary.
Important: each person is different, and so is every time management system. Don’t see this as the ultimate system. It’s just a system that works for me.
P.S.: There are a multitude of good tools available next to RTM, e.g. Wunderlist, Google Tasks, Outlook (one of the most flexible task systems!), … I like RTM because it has good keyboard shortcuts, and is supported on multiple platforms.
P.P.S.: RTM doesn’t have a native Mac OSX application, but you can easily simulate this with Fluid.