Time Management 101

Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.

Photo by Michel Filion

Managing time is the basis for all productivity systems, yet the systems assume people already know how to manage time.

It doesn’t matter if your files are organized, you have all your next actions laid out, your tasks prioritized in a grid, or your most important tasks picked out; if you don’t know how to manage the time that these things take, you will never make progress.

Here is a crash course in Time Management as it works in SPB-land.

Fill Out Your Schedule

In order to manage your time, you are going to have to know what time you have to work with.

As an example, I took a recent Monday out of my own schedule. Click on the picture to see a larger version.

Sit down with a blank piece of paper, some electronic form, or a pre-printed form. Next, fill in all the time that you are committed to doing something. In my case, this includes work, my daughter’s piano lesson and a Girl Scout leader meeting.

Calendar Form, First Pass

Next, you need to add in transit time. For me, this means commuting time to and from work, as well as driving time to and from both piano and my meeting.

The last category of time, often overlooked, is your non-task time. This includes sleeping, getting ready for the day, food preparation and cleanup, as well as some down time before bed to help you relax.

Calendar Form, Second Pass

As you can see, my Monday doesn’t leave time for a whole lot. There is an hour block before I get going in the morning, my lunch hour, and two hours before bed.

Calendar Form, Third Pass

Assemble Your Tasks

Now you need to know what else needs to be done that is not time-specific. This is where your task list comes in.

My task list (and yes, this is the real one) is below. You can see there are recurring tasks on the left side, and my other tasks on the right.

The Task List

I assembled this list from several sources. First is my list of tasks that recur on a weekly and monthly basis. This list, which I keep electronically, has been assembled over the years. I keep routine maintenance, correspondence and household tasks in this list.

The second list is from the things I currently have on my plate. There are one-off tasks which come up as a matter of course during daily life, as well as my bigger project goals.

Weed Through the Tasks

When I am short on time, I make it a practice to go through my tasks and apply the four D’s: delete, defer, delegate and do.

Deleting Tasks

The first thing I do is go through the tasks and find the ones that really don’t have to be done at all. Emailing Nancy can be removed because I know that she is currently traveling, and I will pick back up with sending an email next month.

Deferring Tasks

Not everything on my list has to be done today. The only three things that are due today on my list are returning the library books, paying for piano and buying supplies. And even these could be deferred if it came down to it. I have to look at the consequences of deferring each task.

If I don’t return the library books, I will have a fine. But I could call and renew the books and return them this weekend. I could skip paying for piano until next week, but that would increase the stress on my daughter’s piano teacher, so I won’t do that. If I don’t buy supplies for the Brownie meeting, I can still do that tomorrow, but it will lead to crunching other things tomorrow.


There are many things I can delegate on this list. My husband’s schedule is wide open tonight, so I can ask him to pick up some of the tasks. Of the tasks, he could clean the powder room, return the sweater, buy dog food and return library books. Since I know he is going to the vicinity of the area where the sweater and dog food are, I will ask him to do those things.

The Resulting Task List

  • Computer maintenance – DO – since this is automated and requires only 5 minutes of my time to turn the computer on and plug in my iPod.
  • Process Inbox – DO – there are only two things in my inbox to deal with, and both are filing.
  • Backup blogs – DO – again, it’s automated, and if my machine is on for the computer maintenance, this will happen automatically
  • Send Nancy email – DELETE
  • Clean powder room – DEFER – it won’t be the end of the world if this doesn’t get done, since the room is essentially clean.
  • Outline Book – DO – the deadline is approaching, and it is my most important task
  • Blog Articles – DO – I can outline these today and keep on track
  • Return sweater – DELEGATE
  • Pick up dog food – DELEGATE
  • Return library books/call for renewal – DO
  • Prep for Brownie meeting – DEFER – this doesn’t have to be done until tomorrow
  • Pay for piano – DO – this can be done when I go to the lesson
  • Buy Brownie supplies – DO
  • Knit scarf – DEFER
  • Read Simple Blogging – DEFER

Doing The Tasks

This leaves me with the following tasks to do: computer maintenance, processing my inbox, backing up the blogs, outline the book, blog article work, calling the library and buying the Brownie supplies.

Working In The Tasks

With a limited amount of tasks, I can now estimate how long each task will take and where it has to be done. With tasks, you have to take into account setup and cleanup time, much as you do with transit time on schedule items. For example, if you are cooking dinner and the recipe says it needs to cook 30 minutes, you still have to allow for time to assemble the dish and putting ingredients away.

  • Computer maintenance – 5 minutes – home
  • Processing inbox – 5 minutes – home
  • Backing up the blogs – < 1 minute - home
  • Outline book – as long as possible – wherever (done on paper)
  • Blog article work – 30 minutes – wherever (done on paper)
  • Call library – 5 minutes – wherever, but before 7 p.m.
  • Buy Brownie supplies – 30 minutes – near work

Some tasks can be put together in batches, saving startup and cleanup time. In my case, grouping computer maintenance and backups together make sense because they are on the same machine. Processing my inbox while I am right there takes advantage of me being in the same room.

I can now work my tasks into my schedule:

  • 6:00 a.m. – Blog article work
  • 12:00 p.m. – Buy Brownie supplies, call library
  • 6:30 p.m. – Computer maintenance, processing inbox, backing up the blogs
  • 8:30 p.m. – outline book

Time management is much like fitting pieces into a puzzle. The secrets are knowing what your commitments are, figuring out what needs to be done, and scheduling them in.

Photo by Michel Filion