As humans, we typically spend our time on different activities: work, religion, friends, social commitments, etc. However, as time passes, opportunities come, networks expand, information influx increases, it becomes challenging to sustain a balanced pace on all aspects. Therefore, plans start to get missed up, the schedule gets disorganized, and we start failing meeting our expectations and surrounding people expectations.
Even worse, this usually results in a feeling of sadness and disappointment which further harms our productivity and mode. Moreover, when one reflects on a long term (say one year) and asks ONE, yet crucial question (WHAT DID I ACHIEVE THIS YEAR?) one could find himself trying to stay away from the answer and just skip the painful truth.
Personally, I tried many techniques to keep my schedule and plans organized: paper notes, word documents, excel files, google keep, Google calendar, Evernote, etc. They helped me partly to fix the problem – at least not to forget things. However, other issues raised such as lack of reminders, integration, and mobility.
When I switched to the consulting industry, where multiple clients must be managed concurrently, meetings to be attended and deliverables to be achieved, the need for time management techniques increased.
What I believe is that time management is tightly related to life planning, by applying proper techniques and tools, we can plan our lives on long term (years), medium term (quarters), short term (weeks and days) and even micro term (hours and minutes!).
Today, I would like to share with you my experience with three, yet powerful tools that personally helped to become better and managing and planning my life. Before doing so, let us quickly discuss some important time management principles.
Time management principles
” Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.”Wikipedia
Therefore, for time management to be successful it has to help us in the following:
- Being effective: Helping us focus on what really matters – doing the right things.
- Being efficient: Helping us to do things optimally – doing things right.
- Being productive: Helping us to do the maximum.
To achieve the previously mentioned qualities, there are four skills we need to develop which are:
- Differentiating urgency and importance: An important thing is entirely different from an urgent thing. For example, going to the gym is important but not urgent, while a phone call can be urgent but not important. Therefore, it is crucial to consider these dimensions when assessing tasks priority. Liz Huber on medium has an excellent article on this topic.
- Concentration: The ability to get focused and spend the time on a task diligently is not an easy to learn skill, there are many techniques and methodologies proposed out there. Personally, I would highly recommend the Pomodoro technique. Héctor Muñoz wrote a nice article on that topic.
- Measurement: Simply, what gets measured gets done. You have to develop a precise estimate of how long each task will take and compare the actual time with estimated time. This allows you to identify possible time wasters and eliminate them in the future.
- Reflection: You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward, reflection gives you a richer experience context and deeper understanding.
Enough theory! Let us now examine how can we implement these principles on our daily lives and change the way we work 😊
Microsoft Outlook is a highly underused tool, and most people use it as an email client only. In best cases, I see Outlook used as a meeting management tool in professional environments.
Amazingly, Outlook has powerful yet straightforward time management features that you do not need to invest a single cent on! Thanks to my mentor in my previous job who showed me that. It is called Outlook Tasks you can find it in the bottom left in Outlook pane.
Outlook will change to Tasks view, which a simplistic view as can be seen in the following screenshot:
Let us explore the sections we have:
My Tasks (On the left): This is a logical grouping of tasks by email account (in case you configured more than one account for Outlook). I find this segregation is quite useful for separating personal and professional life.
Tasks overview (On the right): This is a general sorted overview of all tasks we have for a particular grouping including start and end dates and task status. However, what I find useful is the fact that overdue tasks are highlighted in red which gives a notable visual indication. Moreover, it provides the possibility to categorize tasks in colors (not used in the screenshot). For example, when I work on multiple clients projects, I create a new category for each project (each will have a different color), and I assign the category to the task. Therefore, I can see my workload in each project at a glance.
Tasks management (On the top): This provides you with many useful sorting and manipulations of the views, you can easily explore it on yourself. The only option we will discuss here is (New Task).
Creating New Task
Simply, by clicking in New Task in the top of tasks pane, you will get the following window:
The options you see in the New Task window are self-explanatory, and you can investigate it yourself. However, I would like to highlight some features which I would believe are valuable:
- Recurrence: Allows you to create a repeated task in your preferred fashion. For example, I use it to remind myself of daily time-reporting, code reviews, etc.
- Categorize: Allows you to categorize tasks as we discussed previously.
- Importance: Allows you to assign where a particular task is important or not. A critical dimension to decide when a task should be done as discussed previously.
Also, task percentage of completion, priority, details are available, you can use them if you feel they are relevant for you, I personally prefer filling the minimal amount of information I need so that I do not spend much time on the time management process itself.
Creating New Task from Email
Quite often, creating task manually and filling details by hand is a cumbersome process, especially in the professional environment where you already have the task details in the inbox as an email from your manager or a client. Luckily, Outlook supports this too, just drag and drop the email from the inbox to the tasks icon in the bottom left, and BOOM, create new task window will pop-up with details filled in.
Now when you check Main Outlook window, you will see a nice summarized view for all your upcoming tasks throughout the day and next days, which makes your day focused and organized without worrying about too many juggling around tasks.
In simple words, Outlook makes you effective by differentiating importance and urgency.
A final important point I must mention is that Outlook tasks do not exist in Outlook Mobile (at least for iOS), you need to download a separate app called Microsoft To-Do to integrate with Outlook tasks.
I would merely say Weekplan(referral link) is the most useful tool I have ever used. It is not just a time management tool, it is a life management tool. From my point of view, the tool supersedes Outlook tasks in the sense that it will help you to plan your life on a strategic level rather than the operational level as Outlook tasks do. Let us explore some of the features of the tool so that you understand why I highly praise it 😉
- Life Planning: The tool starts with you on very high-level roles in your life, such as being (Husband, Employee, Blogger, and Friend).
- Quarterly Planning: The tool allows you to define objectives, and KPIs for yourself every quarter and link it to a particular role in your life (e.g., getting PMP certified objective to be connected with your role as an employee).
- Weekly Planning: The tool will show you all your planned tasks throughout the week (from quarterly objectives + planned items). It allows you to assign a particular time estimate for every task, set recurring tasks, etc.
- Pomodoro Timer: Allows you to start a Pomodoro time for each scheduled task and then compare the actual time with the scheduled time
- Reflection: Allows you to reflect off your week and write notes.
- Other features: The tool has a mobile app, calendars integration, Zapier integration, Teams collaboration, and email/SMS notifications.
Weekplan is a paid application but has a trial subscription, it is something definitely worth using if you are looking for more strategic planning of your life.
Marinara: Pomodoro® Assistant!
Finally, Marinara Pomodoro Assistant is my favorite Chrome extension to use the Pomodoro technique, it is more flexible and usable than the Pomodoro timer included in Weekplan.
As I applied those tools and techniques I started to learn some lessons, let me share them:
- Weak ink is better than strong memory: Always write down and schedule any commitments/duties you have.
- You must commit: Sticking to a schedule can be a little bit difficult, make sure to discipline yourself, soon, it will become second nature.Moreover, these tools also have a learning curve at the beginning, and there is a little bit of trial and error before calibrating yourself.
- Document your achievements: Whenever you achieve something, make sure to document it somewhere, it will be a valuable energy source in disappointment moments.
- Learn to say NO: Opportunities/requests flow will never stop, you do not have infinite capacity, learn to say no politely.
- Estimate your capacity: Calculate how many free hours do you have per week? Allocate time for work, transportation, food, etc. Understand roughly how many productivity hours you have per quarter, it will make it more realistic for you to plan quarterly objectives.
- Minimize the number of tools you use: Use only one or two tools, have too many tools is counterproductive.
- Put error margin for surprises: Sickness, sudden duties, unexpected accidents happen. Put a margin for so in your schedule.
- Allocate fun time: DO NOT take life seriously all time. Socialize, play video games and exercise, we are not machines and life-work balance is important: )
That is it for today, please share your experience with time management!