##The 101##

Time Management is the act or process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.

Everyone who cares about their time should be familiar with this concept and knows its goal - to increase effectiveness. The Wiki site covers different aspects of it.

Here I would like to share my understandings and what my choices are to make good use of my time.

  1. Planning & Prioritizing
  2. Protecting thy time
  3. Identifying waste

##Planning & Prioritizing##
Planning & Prioritizing is a must. It helps us not losing any task we have to do but also makes sure we do the most urgent & important ones first. Getting Things Done is a great methodology. However, DON’T SPEND TOO MUCH TIME ON THE LIST. You cannot prioritize or categorize your tasks if the list fills with tons of items especially if you have some level of Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I have the same issue stated in My 15 Minute Rule to Productivity:

I’ll delay doing something that I know is important until the last moment that it needs to be done.

Hence, my rule on making a list is: Make a task list only for the tasks I need to do TODAY and come up an estimated time on how long to take it. How if I have something important to do in the future? Put it to calendar/reminder and also include an estimated time so that this task will go into my future TODAY task list.

And then the rule of picking the task from a list is: Scan the tasks and their estimated time; Pick the one I MUST start it. This action is to take out the most IMPORTANT and URGENT task which is actually prioritizing. The estimated time made in the first step helps me know when it is the right time to pick which task.

##Protecting thy time##
What does this mean? It means avoid distraction. Distraction is the major time killer which makes us ineffective. Pomodoro Technique is the one I like. It imposes an external mechanism (a timer here) to keep us focus on work for a short period (generally 25 mins) and also have some rest inbetween. The rest in between the working period can be used to reply your email, IM or actually relaxing your mind. Its working style is like marathon which needs constant pacing.

However, this mechanism might have an issue to some knowledge worker. Here is the view in one of Joel Spolsky’ article with which I totally agree:

We all know that knowledge workers work best by getting into “flow”, also known as being “in the zone”, where they are fully concentrated on their work and fully tuned out of their environment. They lose track of time and produce great stuff through absolute concentration.

The trouble is, getting into “the zone” is not easy. When you try to measure it, it looks like it takes an average of 15 minutes to start working at maximum productivity. Sometimes, if you’re tired or have already done a lot of creative work that day, you just can’t get into the zone and you spend the rest of your work day fiddling around, reading the web, playing Tetris.

Hence, the Pomodoro Technique might knock you out of the zone and you should choose your own timer based on the average time you can maintain your flow state instead of 25 minutes. Or you can just let your flow flows until you think you need to get a break. The point is to try to maintain some continuous period to get uninterrupted.

But generally, Pomodoro is helpful under certain circumstances like management level people who don’t even have continous time more than 25 minutes or some working environment has interruption often or someone whose productive time shorter than 25 minutes and want to extend their flow state.

##Identifying waste##
Planning is the starting process of time management, while identifying the waste is the retrospect process. Sometimes, it’s even more important than the planning. That is because planning is working on something uncertain, while retrospect is based on reality and intended to make improvement. History and fact can tells us more on the our regular time usage pattern.

How to identify waste? Track the time and see where your time spends. Our memory is unreliable to keep track of how long we spend on the things done. We need to actually write it down and write it down when it happens (at the beginning or the end of the task).

By tracking where the time we spend, we can find out where the waste is and try to eliminate it. Also we can consolidate those discretionary time slots to a continuous unit for more effective usage. There is a wonderful chapter “Know Thy Time” in The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker describing how to make good use of time. Highly recommend.