If you are looking for a better way of managing your time, colleagues, friends with a background in the business world, and Google will suggest several techniques such as: Getting Things Done. The Pomodoro Technique. Time boxing. Stephen Covey’s urgent/important matrix.
But which ones are best for cutting through the overwhelm and really managing your to-do list? Well, like most things, which system or technique works best is mostly a matter of personal choice. However, there are some things you should know about each one that might make choosing easier.
Getting Things Done
Developed by David Allen, Getting Things Done, or GTD, is a system designed to help you know at a glance exactly what you should be doing right now. The idea is simple: For every item that lands in your “inbox” (which might be email, a phone call, a letter, or just a passing comment from a spouse) you make an immediate decision to either do it, delegate it, file it, defer it, or trash it.
Once you’ve made your decision (based on the task itself and the time it will take to complete) you either do the thing or note it in your “trusted system” for retrieval – and completion – later. Devotees of GTD spend hours developing their own trusted systems, which can consist of paper planners, expensive software, or just a few note cards and a pen. In GTD, the tools are entirely up to you, it’s the methodology that matters.
The Pomodoro Technique
This method is a boon to those who find themselves easily distracted. The principle is simple: Set a timer, and get to work. Typically, proponents of the Pomodoro Techniqe use a simple kitchen timer (often shaped like a tomato – or pomodoro, in Italian) set for 25 minutes. During that time, they focus only on the task at hand. When the timer goes off, they take a 5 minute break, then set the timer for another 25 minutes.
Each 25-minute set is called a pomodoro. Once you’ve completed four pomodoros, you take a 20 minute break, before beginning the cycle again.
Time boxing is a simple technique that is often used in project management and software development for tracking progress. It can easily be adapted to a small business or to personal use. Time boxing is about fixing the time we have available to work on a task and then doing the best we can within that time frame. This method can help you avoid procrastination, circumvent perfectionism, boost creativity, and better utilize gaps in your day.
Since we often procrastinate when we have small tedious tasks to do or uninteresting projects to accomplish. So set a specific amount of time and Time box all the tasks to get them done within that time period. If your tendency is perfectionism, then setting a specific amount of time and making a decision not to exceed that amount of time means you do the best job you can do in that time period.
On the other hand, if you have a project to do complete, but you don’t know where to start or how much time it will take and maybe you are overwhelmed, give yourself a time period of 30 – 120 minutes (or a time range that works for you) and commit to working on it for that entire time period. This commitment is to work on the project, not to complete it or reach any milestones. In this case if you become focused on the task, are making progress, and have the time, feel free to exceed the time range you originally intended. Often we have gaps in our day between appointments and other commitments. Use these gaps as time boxes to do tasks that realistically fit the allotted time.
Stephen Covey’s brainchild provides an easy way to prioritize your work. Begin by dividing a piece of paper into four sections (two rows by two columns) and assigning a level of urgency/importance to each quadrant. The upper left is important but not urgent, the upper right is urgent and important, the lower left is neither urgent nor important, and the lower right is urgent but not important.
Now take your to-do list and assign each item to a quadrant. For example, grocery shopping might be important but it’s probably not urgent. Fixing your client’s broken website is both important and urgent. Answering the phone when your mother calls for the fourth time is urgent, but not important.
By dividing up your task list according to these priorities, you can easily see what you need to be working on next, and what can wait until the urgent and important items are cleared from your schedule.
Entrepreneurs who use these techniques or other available strategies to manage their time get more work done than many others do. Of course, these methods can and should be tweaked to fit your own needs and lifestyle. The bottom line is this: you have to find a system that works for you, and that is compatible with your style. An incompatible technique will become another distraction that will cause you to lose focus rather than become the productive business owner you know you can be.