I’ve been trying to improve my time management techniques perpetually. This post is a small compilation of notes, tips and tools I came up with. This is an on-going process and I will keep updating these. I strongly recommend reading Getting Results the Agile Way and visiting the sites in the resources section. I learned most of the stuff below from that book. And there is plenty of more good advice in there. So here is my list:
01. Be realistic!
I think this is the most important thing I have learned so far. Yes, we all want to do more tasks and write more code, develop the killer apps we were thinking of but the reality is we have a limited time we can spare. This is not about aiming low but just don’t start everything at the same time because you are too excited about them at the time. It’s very likely that you will end up with a bunch of unfinished projects. Over time they will keep haunting you. First you will never feel the sense of accomplishment even though you spent a ton of time and effort. Also they will remain somewhere in your to-do list only making everything worse.
02. Rule of 3 rocks!
I think if there is one thing to take away from the book Getting Results the Agile Way, it is the Rule of 3. It is a very simple and effective idea. Don’t put too many things on your plate. Every month pick 3 major tasks to accomplish. Then divide them into smaller weekly tasks and even smaller daily tasks. If you only aim to complete 3 tasks every day you can steadily move toward accomplishing the greater goals at the end of the month.
For me, it’s not always to plan things so clearly. Generally monthly and weekly tasks are left unfulfilled. But it is easy and very achievable to plan the next day every night and pick only 3 things. At least that one works pretty well.
03. Determine your categories (hot spots)
I have to admit I tweaked rule of 3 a little bit! I wanted to have a more balanced plan so I determined main categories in my life like health, work, career, chores etc. I’m picking 1 task per category each day. This way I believe I can make progress in every aspect of life.
04. Keep it simple
Simplify your process as much as possible. When I first started keeping lists of outcomes I created templates so detailed that it took half an hour to fill out completely. Instead of overly complicating things and spending too much time on managing just try to get rid of as much as possible. In the end the ultimate goal is to use time for things that matter. Even a blank note with 3 items written on it can be a very good way to plan the day. Just do the 3 things on the list, don’t think about anything else.
05. Keep your backlog clean and short
Learn how to let things go. This is another crucial thing. Let’s be honest we will never be realistic and we will put a ton of items to our to-do list turning it into a bottomless pit. There were times I found items in my list that didn’t even mean anything anymore. Or so outdated that it had no value anymore. The result is you keep those in your list all that time, they keep taking your time to manage also they weigh on your shoulders as they pile up. And you end up not doing them anyway. Essentially you stall and stall then delete them once they make no sense anymore. The golden rule to keep in mind is that if it’s important it will surface again! So don’t worry about forgetting a very important task. You will be reminded it in one way or another.
06. Pen & paper with colour coding helps
Keeping notes on Evernote is great but sometimes the ease of use makes it also easier to neglect or forget tasks. After all they become invisible once you minimize the window. I recently started using coloured post-its.They are coded in their order of importance. So for example I cannot do green tasks before the purple ones are completed. Also it is annoying to have a bunch of notes sticking around so trying to get rid of them is an extra motivation!
07. Use Pomodoro on small tasks
I love this technique since the day I heard about it. It’s quite simple: Just divide tasks small unbreakable units of time. The default is 25 minute work and 5 minute rest. I use Focus Booster on my desktop computer
On iPad I use an app which doesn’t have a specific name and I cannot find it in the app store anymore. It looks like this:
It works fine and looks stylish so I’m not planning to find another one. There are a ton of similar apps in the app store though.
I cannot use this method for large tasks. Also I cannot work non-stop with 25-5 periods. I get distracted by something else eventually. So I just use this for short 2-4 pomodoro-long tasks. For example spending 2 pomodoros a day for reading is a great way to spare time to read.