GUTTM: How to Think About Time Management

Clock with no hands
  1. Collecting: The input. Tracking all the possible things to do that you realize you need to do or that get sent to you to do.
  2. Reviewing: Figuring out what needs doing and what can be deferred, delegated or just dropped.
  3. Ranking: Determining the ordering and priority of our to do items.
  4. Doing: Focusing on the particular task at hand once we’ve figured out what to do.
  • Tasks, the things we need to do
  • Projects, collections of related tasks for a common goal
  • Goals, what we’re trying to accomplish with our tasks and projects
  • Lists, how we collect and manage our tasks, projects, and goals
  • Principles, our ethical foundation
  • Values, what’s important to us and what’s interesting or useful to us
  • Capabilities, what are our abilities and what abilities do we need to develop?
  • Environment, what going on around us and with others working with us?

What are we managing?

You can be cooking breakfast and realize you need to get more eggs. This is a simple task, but event simple tasks have background information and context here. Perhaps you like the kind of eggs from a particular store or a particular size of eggs, this is the supporting information for the task. Also you don’t want to get them on the way to work and store them in the office fridge so you’ll get them on the way home. That’s the context for this task.

  • Tasks which can be single or recurring. Each task can have context information about when and where we want to do them, supporting information about what we’re doing in this task, and priority information.
  • Projects which are collections of tasks all to further a particular goal. A goal needs a measurable result and can be open-ended or specific. Specific goals have a deadline. Projects can also have a context, supporting info, and priority, but the tasks in a project can have their separate context, supporting info, and priority. This lets you think about what’s tasks are necessary in overview for a project.
  • Goals are what we’re trying to do. If we do a task or a project we’re trying to accomplish something. This might be trivial (have eggs for breakfast tomorrow) or it might be something more significant. Goals can be open-ended or have a date, a time, or a deadline associated with them. But goals need to be measurable in some way that’s useful to you. Otherwise you don’t know if you’re done. If you have a goal that doesn’t have a measurable aspect, it’s a dream. Dreams can become goals.
  • Lists of projects, tasks and goals to start with. The lists might be organized by context, by priority, or by deadline. One downfall of some organizer apps is the inability to easily change the way your lists of tasks and projects are organized.

How are we managing our to do items?

The last section talked about what we’re managing. But being good at time managment means we’re not just getting things done, we’re getting the things done we want to accomplish. How do we know what goals we want to reach?

A special word on tasks

In the next section I’ll talk about the four parts of a time management system to deal with tasks, projects, etc. But tasks are key items in any time management system. So figuring out how to make a task well is a critical skill.

The four key parts of a time management system

Collecting tasks is an ongoing thing whenever to do items come up. But the Review and Ranking parts aren’t done continuously. Remember that you’re trying to become both more efficient and effective and spending time managing yourself is overhead and not actually getting done what you want to do. You should do review and ranking only periodically. Perhaps in between tasks or at set pause points during the day (after lunch and at the end of the day perhaps?).

Collecting

A key part of the whole point of a system like this is to make sure important things don’t get lost or dropped. So making sure you can collect the items that need doing is important. With an iPhone you can use Siri “Hey Siri, remind me to get eggs” and Siri will put all incoming tasks like this into a default reminder list that you can review and rank later.

Reviewing

This reviewing tasks part might be combined with ranking tasks, and in practice often it is. I’m treating them separately because they’re separate functions and sometimes you want to re-rank.

Ranking

I usually follow review immediately with ranking, or just combine them, it’s a natural fit. But sometimes you want to also rank separately. When something’s changed that affects you, especially environmental things, you’ll want to re-rank your affected projects and tasks. This is also something you should take a little time to review weekly to capture things that might have changed that you didn’t see before.

Doing

You should be spending the large majority of your time here. Which is another way of saying you should be spending most of your time efficiently doing what is effective for your goals.

What tool to use?

I use Reminders on my iPhone. This is not ideal. Reminders is good tool at what it does, but it doesn’t support all that I’d like in terms of list flexibility. It’s not designed for a time managment system. I have to use lists for both context and for projects which can be confusing. I’d like “smart lists” that allow me to filter across all projects by context.

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iOS developer since 2009. Previously UNIX/Linux/Mac networking software. Pro geek, runner, voracious reader.

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Malcolm Teas

Malcolm Teas

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iOS developer since 2009. Previously UNIX/Linux/Mac networking software. Pro geek, runner, voracious reader.