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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Time Management

I have a problem. Whatever I do I always seem to be late. Whether it’s an appointment, deadline, assignment, article, column or thesis. Status: late, delayed or cancelled. A few years ago I couldn’t care less about this issue, but life tends to become slightly more serious and I have to pay bills (yes, those are late too, but I’m not about to change that!).

First of all, RSS feeds and aggregators are evil. They consume so much time. Maybe I should learn speed-reading or something. Today I decided to remove some feeds that either post too much random bullshit or are of limited interest. Aside from these rather small measures I need to really organize my life.

Being a student doesn’t really help matters. Students are so lazy. If an assignment is due by Monday morning 9:00 AM I’ll be working all night to hand it in at 9:01 AM. Though if I’m late I’ll always blame technology (“Uhmm, sorry professor, but the upload function was f*cked.”). I don’t think I’ve ever handed in an assignment or article two days or even one day in advance. Nope that’s just not me, got to rush the job.

Working under pressure is fine, even stimulating. However with clients time management becomes crucial. I can’t tell them to bugger off and wait for 2 more weeks. That’s just not professional. So my question is: How do you effectively manage your time?

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Sunday, February 29th, 2004.


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20 comments on “Time Management”

  1. Posted by Adam Bramwell on Sunday, February 29th, 2004.

    Some simple rules/guidelines

    1) go to bed early. after a few days of this, you will be consistently:

    2) getting up early. starting work early in the day means you are on top of things all day long

    3) prioritise email. set up work / personal accounts or just use filters. if using the same account, set personal incoming emails to not set an alert.

    4) Finally, to the tasks. JDI. Just do it!

    5) Personal things for personal time: after hours.

  2. Posted by Grant on Sunday, February 29th, 2004.

    Firstly – all of the ideas in that previous comment are pretty good (except that get up early thing – never could get that to work for me).

    I know this’ll sound naff, but I got tremendous value out of reading and applying the 7 habits of effective people. The core principles do make a lot of sense – they’re kinda obvious, but it’s amazing how useful they can be in application. I personally wouldn’t recommend all the other crap the Covey mob peddle, but some of my friends find them useful too. But if there’s one rule I would put forward as vital:

    Put first things first

    In other words, do the important stuff before you get bogged down in daily crap. You know the stuff I mean.

    Also, this article: http://www.alistapart.com/articles/pickle/ I found was very useful. Kinda like “put first things first”, but in wrapped in a great analogy.

  3. Posted by Virginia on Sunday, February 29th, 2004.

    I have two words: tick boxes.

    I have dozens of lists with tick boxes (including my Mother List in iCal), and it gives me a warm feeling every time I get to mark stuff off. I swear, I’ve reformed myself from being an always-late student into being a relatively on-timey type. And it only took two years.



  4. Posted by Andrew on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    I don’t… I think your’re fine the way your are. Oh, and don’t use RSS readers they are way to impersonally (as Eric Meyers mentioned last week).

    Also, while i’m talking bs, TextPattern doesn’t have anything on MT or WP just in case you were wondering.

  5. Posted by Xian on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    Like Virginia, I find list very helpful. I don’t get the same kind of joy by ticking them, but I do find them helpful in actually getting things done. But only when augmented…

    First I use OmniOutliner which lets me add hierarchy + etc to my lists.

    Then I add oTimer( http://sourceforge.net/projects/otimer ) to the mix which gives each of my items a second ‘Active’ check box. And when ever an active box is checked it tracks the time spent on that project and writes it back to the outline. It also blocks out any time spent in iCal so you can see what you were doing when. Very slick.

    I’ve added extra columns to my outline for rates and wrote an apple script to total every thing up for invoicing.

    It helps me stay on track when I have a clock running.

    Which is part of it. Then I throw in Adams rules. And anytime it is ‘Work hours’ my goal is to ALWAYS have an ‘Active’ box on some item checked. That way I get things done.

    As far as RSS feeds go. I have forced myself to quit my reader when work time starts. And not start it again until work time is over. It’s hard sometimes but it’s worth it.

    And now I have to go, because it’s an hour past my bedtime. A concept I’m still getting used to, but I’m more productive when I’m consistent.

    And that’s also the final thing. Find a work pattern that works for you. And be consistent. By creating a structured and inflexible system, you free up your mind and energy to be creative.

    All of these things, I am still working on. Good luck!

  6. Posted by James Lewis on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    Basic Speed Reading 101

    1. Just look at the pages to get a sense of layout (page down may help w/ web) and quickly catch sub-headings, titles, and/or diagrams.

    2. Go through the article again, this time scanning each title sentence.

    3. The third time, scan the whole text line by line, catching phrases rather than individual words.

    At first this technique may not significantly improve speed (maybe a little), but as you get practice it’ll definitely improve speed, comprehension and recall. Yes, improve recall.

    The principle behind why “speed reading” works is that a large percentage of your mental effort is expended trying to understand where the author’s argument is headed. By covering the text in multiple passes, your mind begins to consciously and subconsciously index the material, allowing you to spend more of your mental effort on the actual reading. This lends itself to faster reading, since now a sizable majority of the thinking time is spent on the content, rather than on interpreting the content.

    It’s a bit like html. Normal reading is akin to reading the html code itself, while speed reading is like looking at the interpreted, styled product in your browser. You don’t need to know all the detail in the code itself; unless, of course, you’re an independent web designer. In which case we’d complain about everyone else’s horrible web-grammar.

  7. Posted by Mark Hurd on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    I used to have trouble with time management, and then when I got to college it *really* came back and bit me in the ass, so I got a pretty good system going now:

    – I go to bed relatively early (1 AM, 2 AM at the latest), wake up at 8 AM, and head off to the gym. I feel that after getting a good workout for an hour or so I feel better for the rest of the day. Of course, this requires not scheduling classes prior to 11 AM.

    – After I eat, shower and stuff I usually have about 30 minutes to get in touch with my boss, who lets me know if he’s got any work that I need to do. This is *great* because it lets me know early on exactly what I need to accomplish for the day.

    – Use lists. Like everyone else has been saying, I have a whiteboard that I just list all the stuff I have to do (hell, I’ll even put EAT FOOD on there if I’ve got a busy day), and constantly check it off as you do it.

    If you’re really anal retentive, you can rate all the things you have to do on a scale of 1 to 5 or whatever, and knock out all the really low priority stuff early on in the day. I used to do this until I didn’t really need to rate them anymore.

    I’m taking 18 class hours this semester and currently have 3 clients in the works as well. Even with a (relatively) healthy social life, I honestly haven’t felt stressed out or low on time once this semester because of the things I listed above.

  8. Posted by KillAllDash9 on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    The number one way to increase your productive time: stop reading comments to blog posts! :-) (Yeah, I see that happening.)

  9. Posted by mattymcg on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    I once worked on a large development project (100 developers!!) and remember emailing the project manager something that wasn’t work related – I think I was asking his permission to start a collection of toys for homeless kids at Christmas or something.

    I was astounded that someone with his responsibility returned my email almost immediately. I questioned him on this once and his response was:

    “There are different approaches to time management. I deal with things as they come up, and then they are done with.”

    In other words he doesn’t fob people off because he is dealing with more important things at the time, he just gets it out the way as soon as possible and moves back to the important stuff. A little different to the “first things first” approach but clearly as effective if you can keep on top of it.

  10. Posted by nate on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    I must concur with commentor #4 and say that I have not yet mastered the art of time management… why, just last night I pulled an all-nighter to start and finish a paper I should have started a week ago. Good times.

  11. Posted by Adam on Monday, March 1st, 2004.

    Great comments so far and some nice routines to try!

    Like Virginia (#3), I once had and loved a TickBox pad. The paper form has its’ advantages, as my online ToDo list (Rainlendar) doesn’t recognise past achievements. Can anyone recommend other time management software for the PC?

    “it gives me a warm feeling every time I get to mark stuff off”

    A necessary step for large projects is breaking it into manageable chunks, and doing a 20/20/20 for your sanity and vision. (Look 20m into the distance for 20s every 20min). Virginia, you are right about the value of keeping your lists, they’re great for morale.

  12. Posted by Didier Hilhorst on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004.

    Thanks for sharing all your tips and tricks to manage time. There are these small things I can change, but those are just echos of something bigger. Lately I’ve been getting to bed earlier and consequently getting up earlier. No matter how cliché, it works. Matty (#9) shared an interesting view on time management which, i think, is closer to my general philosophy in life.

    Time management is not an exact science. Different methods work for different people. First of all, in my opinion, you need to be comfortable and motivated to change your lifestyle. It’s a bit like smoking. Tough to kick the habit. Keep the comments coming, and like Adam (#11) I’m curious to know what software is outthere.

  13. Posted by Clandestino on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004.

    After going through several time-management classes (time management seems to be a very funny serious thing in the company I’m working for) I found that there is no “golden path” to follow. On the opposite, a lot of concepts that are explained in those classes are pretty similar to each others, and can be resumed in a couple of points:

    1) Plan, plan, plan! Setup a schedule of your projects, and prioritize them from the most important to the less one

    2) Prioritize! Give each project a value from 1 to 5, one beeing “stop everything and work now”, five beeing “neither so important, nor urgent, but to keep somewhere in my mind”

    3) Relax! Avoid beeing stressed by last-minute matters. In the “real” professional world, 95% of projects (even the most important ones) fall (far) behind schedule

    As you highlighted (#12), time management is not an exact science. It’s rather a matter of self-discipline, which you can get used to very rapidly

  14. Posted by Brent on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004.

    I’ve been using a product, Tasks, by Alex King (http://www.alexking.org/index.php?content=software/tasks/content.php) ait seems to work well for me to keep track of all my work related project. That and iCal. Tasks is a web based todo list (PHP, MySQL) and I run it on my powerbook. It also ties in with iCal.

  15. Posted by DarkBlue on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004.

    Time management? Just say no!

    Don’t be a slave to “the man”. Don’t stifle your creativity and/or imagination with a schedule. To hell with that.

    As Douglas Adams once said, “I love deadlines, I love the whooshing sound they make as they go whizzing by.” (maybe not verbatim – but you get the idea).

  16. Posted by Starlight on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004.

    I have been struggling with the same thing – contemplating it TODAY actually. My ability to perform under pressure means I don’t do ANYTHING in advance until I absolutely have to. Then I just stay up all night to get it done and slack around till then next deadline exerts unbearable pressure. Thanks for confessing my confession for me. :D

  17. Posted by Piers Young on Thursday, March 4th, 2004.

    An easier said than done thing to bear in mind is trying not to multitask too much.

    There’s been some research recently that shows people waste time whenever they “switches” from one task to another – e.g. from writing a thesis to picking up a phone. basically, your brain has to ramp down and ramp up to move from one task state to another, and while it’s doing that you’re not much use to anybody. What’s worse is that the more complicated the tasks you’re switching between, the longer the ramp time.

    Some multitaskers can waste as much as 40% of the working day in this ramp time.

    Which, let’s face it, is a bummer.

  18. Posted by Amit Karmakar on Thursday, March 4th, 2004.

    I agree with Adam and Clandestino. Plan plan plan… or if you wish to see it the traditional way: Location, location, location.

    Multitasking is good but comes at a cost. Though a bit of it is fine… Its pretty much like keeping an eye on system resource and checking every now and then how much memory its chugs away… kill tasks that are unimportant and/or can be avoided.(for the time).

    And, yes… the old adage… ‘Early to bed…Early to rise, makes one healty, wealthy(not sure) and wise’. LOL. My $0.02 anyway :)

  19. Posted by andrew on Monday, March 8th, 2004.

    during college i started to do things as they came to mind. of course, if i decided that i needed to write some email, id stop coding the program due the next day to do it :) i dont think id be able to keep it up long term, but it did work out for about a year. i figured that thinking about something else, while doing my work wasnt going to get me anywhere, so id just let myself get distracted for a bit.

    i’ve never been able to hand things in late either – when it’s due, it’s due, so i always got it done on time. long nites… lots of them…

  20. Posted by Slip on Tuesday, March 9th, 2004.

    Get an organizer of some sorts so you can try and manage your time, being able to open it any time and seeing what you have to do and what to do after that. :)