Roll your own time management system!

You can read the all the self help and time management blogs you like, but in the end you will need to find something that works for you, personally. In this blog I am going to tell you about the system that I have stumbled on through a pretty anarchic process of trial and error. But please, the point is not for you to adopt it, but rather to illustrate how you should cobble together your own system with whatever pieces work for you.

My time management history

I have tried various time management systems. As a teenager I loved Ed Bliss's Getting things done (yes, he used the title before David Allen) - Bliss taught me how to plan and prioritize. Later I was inspired by Tim Ferris's exposition of Parkinson's law which teaches that we work much faster if we set ourselves deadlines. I was also energized by Leo Babauta's work on Focus - we do better work if we single task and work on one thing until it is done. When I read Churchill's biography I was struck by his insight that our minds need variety, not rest. As a result old Winston put together beautiful days filled with writing, painting, contemplation, family etc. Far be it from me to criticize any of these heroes of mine. They gave me the surprising building blocks to put together my own system. But in the end I had to move beyond them.

So here it is, this is how I run my days:

5am to 9am: Novels, Research and more Novels

I wake up at 5am. Then, like Leo Babauta, I start my day by spending an hour or so each on three things that are close to my heart: I read a novel for an hour. I have just finished Crime and Punishment and I've now start The Bourne Identity. Then I work on my own novel for an hour. Next I work on my most important work related research for an hour. With breakfast and parenting tasks thrown in, that leaves me at about 9am.

9am to 1pm: Putting our fires at work

From 9am I spend 3 hours on other important and/or urgent work projects. That takes me at noon. Then I do an email sprint of an hour. I apply Parkinson's law to empty my inbox in 60 minutes or less. Most of my work is international, so I get a LOT of email - in case you are wondering

So by 1pm I have normally worked myself to a place where I have spent time with most of my passions and with most of my priority and urgent work projects. I make a point of celebrating this fact. A bit of focus has made this a good day; a day that I won't regret on my death bed.

1pm to about 6pm onwards

Then the fun starts. For the rest of the day I try to spend 30-60mins on a range things that I am passionate about. This is also when I do calls and teleconferences:

- Writing the work blog and the Twitter feed that goes with it.

- Doing some work related reading - normally heavy public finance stuff.

- Writing my personal blog, of course

- Sharpening my French

- Some combination of cycling, practicing karate and strength exercises

- Stretching

Does it work?

I don't always do all the things in this list. On many days I run out of time or chunks of the day get taken up by meetings or something else. But through this system I seem to get to the most important things. More importantly, I look forward to each day enormously. I know that if I keep focus, there will be time for most of the things that I love.

So what? 

Maybe my system is inspiring to you. Maybe you think its stupid. The only reason I told it to you was to show you how I have quilted together disparate pieces to make a system that works for me. So by all means keep reading time management and self help blogs and get inspired when Tim or Leo or someone else write a cool post. But keep your eyes open. In the end you will have to put together a system that fits your life and your needs. Only then will you stick to it and stop drifting from system to system.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Thanks for sharing your time management strategy with us Albert. I also believe that not all time management tips are effective for us to use. We just need to discover what tips fit on our needs in order to manage time effectively. I also read some productivity blogs like Brian Tracy’s Eat that Frog. This is how I stay manage time at work. Before I start I list my entire tasks and organize it depends on priority level. I actually automate it with the help of a tool that tracks time accurately, which I use to set an estimated amount of time when working on each task. I even set regular breaks on it so that I can relax a bit and try to refresh sanity that keeps me stay focus on tasks in as long run. The key that I can effectively follow scheduled tasks and finish it on time is with self discipline. At the end of the day I feel the fulfillment at work that I finished tasks on time and limit wasted time. Take a look at this productivity review of a tool that I also used personally at work. I hope this can also help others on how they can manage time.