A life changing method to manage your time
I’ve been an awful time manager my whole life. Forgetting tasks, death lines, appointments. Sometimes I tried to use a paper agenda, but either end up loosing it or just forget to write down the things I needed to remember. Does it sound familiar to you? Then keep reading because this might change your life as it changed mine. Even if you are a meticulous perfectionist, the technique that I’m going to talk about could be helpful for you too.
This method is based on Getting Things Done, a book that I strongly recommend you, and kanban techniques. If you have no clue about what Kanban is, don’t worry, knowing that kanban is based on panels and cards would be enough for now. (I leave you a link here, just in case you want to know a bit more about it)
The general idea of this time management method is decomposing the process of doing things in many parts depending on the stage. Each stage is represented by a panel. The optimum number of panels will depend on the project, and I strongly recommend doing some experiments once you are familiar with the system. For beginners, I think this structure works quite well for personal time management.
- Inbox: New stuff
- Freezer: Things that I will have to do in the future
- Waiting Response: Things which I can’t do on my own
- To-Do: Things I can do now
Tip. You can implement this system physically or in any kind of software. My favorite is trello, but there are a lot of programs in which you could fit this system like MS To-Do, Evernote, or even iOS reminders.
You are working on a great project, focused, efficient, ruthless. Then someone comes, perhaps in person, perhaps by email. He/she is telling you something very important, you mustn’t forget it. Instead of loosing focus just mechanically stick it on your inbox, you will review it later. Nothing to worry, keep your focus on your great project.
The key here is to build a habit to mechanically send these distractions to your inbox. Even if it’s a great idea that just came to your mind, if it’s not what you are doing right now then send it to your inbox.
The main benefits of working this way are:
- Keep your mind clean. Our capabilities are limited, if you are working on something and thinking in something else then it’s very likely that you don’t achieve your greatest potential. Doing two things at the same time is the faster way to fail at both.
- Ensure you don’t miss anything important. When a new input arrive you don’t decide if it’s important or not, if it’s worth putting it on your inbox or not. No, it doesn’t work this way. You put everything in your inbox, if it’s more or less relevant you will decide it later.
It could be tempting to have several inboxes: mail inbox, paper note, a personal productivity app etc. Don’t do it, choose only one inbox and put everything in there.
Don’t waste your focus on coming task or information, just send it to your inbox, you will decide what to do later on.
Processing your inbox
Ok, you have been adding stuff to your inbox and now it looks like a junk drawer. What’s next?
Processing the inbox periodically is the engine of the whole system, I recommend you do it by asking some questions to each item.
1. Does it really have to be done?
Your inbox is for everything, so sometimes the task is not a task but just a piece of information to store in your personal database, or an idea that you don’t want to explore right now but you might like to think through in the future.
If it is not a task then store it somewhere else, this is a place for tasks only.
2. Can you do it in a couple of minutes?
This is the famous 2 minutes rule. Don’t take it literal, you don’t need a stopwatch. If it’s something easy to do and fast just do it and forget about it.
3. Are you the right person to do it?
We could talk extensively about how to delegate, why is it so important and a lot more, but for the sake of simplicity if you see the task and you can think about a person who can do it then get this person to do it.
In a nutshell, to get someone to do something you will need 3 things.
- Provide context and purpose.
- Explain exactly what need to be done, the output.
- Establish a death line.
Hi Rose, you have to find a hotel for the whole sales team.
When Rose gets the message she will have plenty of doubts. And if you are not her boss then she might even forget about it.
we are going to have a sales convention soon.
Commercial strategy will be established there so it is very important for us all.
I need you to find a hotel for the whole sales team.
To be on schedule it should be booked before 3rd January.
Please let me know if you need any extra information.
Thank you in advance.
Much better, don’t you think? It might seem longer to write, but there will be less confusion, less information gaps and more engagement.
But you aren’t finish yet. After asking, you will have to follow up. So put this task in Waiting Response panel and set a due date.
4. Is it a task or a project?
If the task is divided in many subtasks that can be done in parallel then it is a project. There is a lot of literature about how to handle projects, but if you are not familiar with project management let’s take it easy for now.
When you are facing a project follow these steps:
- Give it a name.
- Split it into smaller individual task.
- Create a follow-up task to track the project as a whole.
- Label all these tasks with the project name.
- Put all of them in the inbox to process individually
5. What if it is not a project but just a series of subtasks?
If you can split it into an arbitrary number of subtasks to perform one after another then you can just focus on the next step and treat it as a single task.
6. Is it the right moment/place to do it?
If the answer is yes, then put it on TO-DO. If it is not the right time, place or any other restriction then define a trigger and put the task on Freezer. A trigger is a label that tells you when is the right time/place to perform this task.
Here you have a flow chart summarizing the described process:
Now that you know how to process your inbox let’s move to the other panels.
This is the list of things you wasn’t able to do in the past. You should check it periodically. I do it weekly, but the frequency will depend on your times. If you work in very big long term projects may be a monthly check is enough. If you are on a customer service department maybe you have to check it several times a day.
Checking the freezer means checking its labels. Do you remember the triggers that I was talking about a moment ago? Triggers will tell you which tasks go to TO-DO and which of them remain in the freezer.
Note: freezer is just a funny name I gave it, is not the name what matters but the function, and so does for the others panels.
This list is for keeping track of the things people owe you. It’s more powerful than it looks, as it enables you to anticipate crisis and make sure that everybody is doing their part.
This list is very similar to the Freezer, but when a task is on dude date the action is to:
- Check if you got answer
- Insist if you don’t
When insisting, try to change the channel. For instance, if they hadn’t respond to your email, chances are they won’t respond a second email either so it would be better to make a phone call. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same over and over and expect a different result.”
We Could talk about prioritization, about procrastination, about energy… We’ll talk about it another day, but for now let’s just focus on the main idea:
The list is called To-Do, so do it.
If you struggle to begin a task, just focus on the first step. It is like pushing a rock down a hill, the first move can be very hard, but once it gains momentum it just runs by itself.
Phew… that was dense, wasn’t it? I tried to keep it as simple as possible, but personal productivity is such a wide issue. There are literally tons of books about it! I’m planning to get deeper into these issues in future publications, but I think it is enough for today.
Please don’t be shy and leave your comments below, I’ll be very grateful if you do so.
Thank you very much for reading and have a nice day.