Friday, September 4, 2009

Time Management - My To-Do List System.

Time Management - My To-Do List System. Time Management is a common subject. Many books are written on this subject. Most of them stress more or less the same points. Personally I find that the most important element for successful time management is that you WANT to seriously manage your time. I believe most people who cannot manage their time properly are because of their emotion. Not the know how of how to manage time. People simple get carry away to do things without the concern of time. People simply do not exercise the discipline, pay the effort and commit to manage time because it means a lot of commitment and work.

So ask yourselves frankly. If you manage your time poorly because you just want to do thing by impulse, no system will help you. However, if you are committed, than most systems or many simple ideas will help!

For me, I have a very simple system. This is more like a "work place" system. I don't really apply it to my personal life (after work) cause my life outside of the office is very simple. No need for such complicated system to be used to manage the personal side of my life. Ok, let's focus on the "work place" system I have.

I don't have a formal name for my system but I just name it (as I am writing this blog post) the "Clear Your Tasks Today" system. As the name implies, I try to clear my desk. Whenever I clear my desk, I feel clean, revitalized and feel I have achieved something. And I am ready to move on to something else such as get off work or have a meal or something. It's really a "To Do List" without the form of a "List".

It's very simple. On my desk, the system looks like this:

This is my routine:

First, create a deck of card (can be a Letter / A4 size sheet of paper). One for each project. Tasks to be done for the project is written on the sheet. The tasks are written on the card with the simplest form. Unless you have a really complex engineering project, usually a project 'plan' is just a simple straight list of to-do items. So just write down a list of tasks. When I pick up that piece of card, I usually am able to recall what's the current task out of the list written for that project to be done right away.

Second, setup couple of boxes to sort the cards. I label them "Today", "Tomorrow", "To Read Later", "To File Later".

Third, every morning when I come to the office, I take the deck of cards in the "Tomorrow" box. The "Today" box is supposed to be empty if I have done a proper job "yesterday". Anyway, go through the list of cards, take out those project with the current tasks that need to be done within the day. Sort the cards in the sequent you want to complete within the day if needed. Put them all in the Today box. Please those cards that were NOT selected for today back to the "Tomorrow" box.

Forth, just pick the first card on top of the Today box and start working on the tasks. When the task is done (but the project is not yet completed), put the card back to Tomorrow box. If the task happens to be the last item of the project, put the card to "To File" box.

Your job is to clear the "Today" box as fast as possible. If you happen to finish early, reward yourself with something (a cup of coffee or something). If you have time left, go to the Tomorrow Box again and assign a few tasks to your Today box and get them completed ASAP.

If you have "intrusion" of new tasks such as your boss suddenly come to your office and ask you to do something today, you create a card (or pick the card if the project exists) and put it to the Today box (if it can wait). Or you do it right a way with creating a card. If you have "intrusion" such as a Magazine just got delivered to your office but you really don't have time to read it now, just put the magazine in the "To Read" box. If that "To read" item is too big to fit in the box, make a card. Put the book away to a shelf. Don't let it cluster your desk.

Every week or at a period you believe suitable, clear the "To File" box. You can keep the card or dump it! In most cases, I keep that card and achieve it with your project file.

In this way I don't need to maintain a complex "To-Do" list. There is no need to "group" and "classified" your tasks by projects. I can spend most of my time working on the task and not to "manage" and "priority" the tasks.

It's not a very sophisiticated system. I want it to be simple, VERY simple.

I actually organize my Gmail's inbox this way with Labels (Guess what I have labels: "1 Today", "2 Tomorrow" and "3 To read". There is no need for "4 To file" because on gmail I just "Archive" the message. That's the old system I have with gmail. The new one I have is even more simple (as I only have "today" and "to read" label). I don't need other gmail's label. This is because I use the "Multibox" lab feature to create multiple box in the "Inbox" pages. Guess what, I organize messages to various boxes". I have "Today" box, "Tomorrow" box and "To Read" box.

I'll talk about that in the next post.