When your job is to keep things from falling through the cracks, a good time management system can serve as a tightly woven net. But which time management method works best? The one that works for you.
Sue Shellenbarger, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, recently took the most widely used systems for a test drive, trying each one for a week. Here’s what she learned:
1. Getting Things Done (davidco.com): “GTD” aims to corral all the projects and tasks floating around in your head into an organizing system that you update weekly. The system (in theory) enables you to quickly identify the next step to keep all your projects moving
How to start: Do a weekly “mind sweep” by writing down everything you should be doing, want to do or dream of doing.
Next, create new files, action lists, calendar items or reminders based on next steps. Your daily calendar is reserved for the most urgent items. Everything else is displayed on a “workflow map.”
Benefits: It clumps together your tasks by context, making it easy to, say, tackle phone calls all at once. Shellenbarger says that GTD also forced her to better manage paper flow.
Downside: The system requires time to master.
2. The Pomodoro Technique (pomodorotechnique.com): You tackle tasks in 25- minute increments, with the help of a kitchen
How to start: Begin each day with a log of things to do, then tackle each one in 25- minute intervals called “Pomodoros.” When a Pomodoro is over, mark an X on the log next to the item, and then take a three- to five-minute break. If you feel tempted to break a Pomodoro, put an apostrophe over the X on the log.
Benefits: Shellenbarger became more aware of how often she interrupted herself, and the regular breaks improved her mental agility.
Downside: The system demands interruption-free time blocks, which may prove difficult for many.
3. FranklinCovey’s Focus (franklincovey.com): Focus aims to break users’ “urgency addiction,” the habit of going from one unimportant-but-pressing task to the
How to start: Spend a half-hour each week thinking through your values, identifying goals and blocking out time to pursue them.
Enter daily tasks on your calendar, prioritizing them based on urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, or not urgent or important.
Benefits: Shellenbarger says she felt calmer by week’s end and more comfortable with letting small stuff slide.
Downside: Like GTD, Focus requires an up-front investment of mental effort.
Lesson: Try different approaches to wrangling your time, and adopt the practices and rituals you can stick with. And realize that, ultimately, the key to getting more important stuff done is to do less of everything else.