⏳30 time management techniques
But just two are high-impact
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There are lots of time management techniques and I wanted to know them all. But I couldn’t find a comprehensive list online. So I made one, which I share at the bottom of this piece.
It took some weeks. I started with the fair few I knew already. I reacquainted myself with this list of lists from Filtered. I did the obvious Google searches. I consulted GPT-4 and Bard. This gave me a long list of hundreds.
The job is then to de-dupe. So many of these techniques are essentially equivalent. Once I’d done that, just 30 remained.
For these 30, six groupings occurred to me: focus, prioritisation, explicit periods of time, task management, motivation, and time awareness.
A lot of them looked absurdly arbitrary, including some of the better-known techniques. Could a pomodoro be 30 mins instead? Wouldn’t a 2-Task Rule work just as well? Could the two-minute rule be one or three? Though some of them have a little science behind them, I think it’s pretty obvious that most would work just fine with slightly different parameters. Proponents of these methods will argue that the numbers and names don’t matter; what matters is the general behaviour that the methods encourage and effect. Better to say something arbitrary than say (and do) nothing at all.
So how might these groupings and this list be helpful to you? Perhaps the world of time management seems smaller in a way that’s useful to you. An unfamiliar method might intrigue you (short explanations of each below). Or you might see how two different methods link up. It might also be helpful to think about each of the categories above and what, if anything, you do to boost that area. You might also take issue with my personal out-of three star ★★★ impact scores.
Which techniques do you currently use? Try a new one?
Appendix: The full list with descriptions
I placed timeboxing in the Focus category. It might have gone into any of them, such is its flexibility, versatility and wide array of benefits. Timeboxing is not only consistent with almost all of the other techniques, it can be used to support, accommodate and optimise them.
Time Blocking. Specific blocks of time for specific activities. Note that timeboxing is this concept PLUS getting something tangible and useful done within the allotted time.
Getting Things Done (GTD). Created by David Allen, GTD is about focusing on the next actionable step.
The One Thing. From Gary Keller & Jay Papasan: focus on the single most important task, thereby making everything easier or even redundant.
The 90/90/1 Rule. From Robin Sharma: spend the first 90 minutes of your day for 90 consecutive days on your most important task.
80/20 rule. Focus on the 20% of tasks that will achieve 80% of the effects. Also called Pareto Principle.
Eisenhower Matrix (Urgent-Important axes). A 2x2 matrix for thinning about, differentiating and prioritising tasks according to both urgency and importance.
Four Ds of Time Management. Related to Eisenhower’s Matrix. Do it (if it's important and urgent), Defer it (if it's important but not urgent), Delegate it (if it's not important but urgent), and Delete it (if it's neither important nor urgent).
The 3-Task Rule. Prioritize just three critical tasks each day.
ABC System. Classify tasks as 'A' (must-do today), 'B' (should do today), or 'C' (nice to do but not urgent).
The 10/10/10 Rule. From Suzy Welch, the guidance is to consider the implications of a decision after 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years to lend a broader perspective.
Explicit periods of time
The Pomodoro Technique. Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this method involves breaking work into 25-minute focused intervals (called pomodoros) followed by a short break. After four pomodoros, take a longer break.
The 52/17 Rule. Work intensely for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. This rhythm was identified in a study as one of the most productive patterns.
Zero-Based Calendar. Allocate every hour of your day to a specific activity, including breaks and free time, so that you're intentional about how you spend each moment.
Two Vital Hours. Dedicate two undistracted hours early in teh day to the most crucial task.
The 2-Minute Rule. Another concept from David Allen's GTD. If something takes less than two minutes, do it immediately. If it takes longer, schedule or delegate.
18 Minutes. Based on Peter Bregman's book. Spend 18 minutes a day planning and reviewing your to-do list to ensure you stay focused on what's truly important.
To-do lists. Maintain a list of tasks to do…at some point.
Kanban. Originating from Toyota's production system, Kanban is a visual tool (often using boards and cards) to manage tasks and workflows. Tasks move right in the flow, from column to column as they're worked on and completed.
Batch Processing. Grouping similar tasks and tackling them together. Reduces cognitive load and the inefficiencies of task-switching. Commonly utilised specifically for emails.
Closed Lists. Instead of an ever-growing to-do list, keep a closed list of tasks to which no new ones can be added until the current ones are finished. One out, one in. Oliver Burkeman makes a good case for these in Four Thousand Weeks.
Eat the Frog. Based on Brian Tracy's "Eat That Frog!", tackle the most challenging task first thing in the morning. By addressing the most daunting task first, the rest of the day becomes more manageable.
The Seinfeld Strategy. Named after comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Mark an "X" on a calendar for every day you perform a specific habit or task. Then do not break the chain of Xs.
The 5 Second Rule. From Mel Robbins. Count backwards from five (5-4-3-2-1) and then launch into the action or task you've been putting off. Brings about urgency and impetus.
Energy Management. Instead of managing time, manage energy. Focus on hard tasks when you have the most energy and take breaks or do less demanding tasks when energy levels dip.
Rapid Planning Method (RPM). From Tony Robbins, it stands for Result, Purpose, and Massive Action Plan. Envision the result you want and then work backwards.
Parkinson's Law. Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So, by setting tighter (artificial) deadlines for tasks, you’ll complete the same amount of work in less time.
Time Multipliers. A Rory Vaden concept. Tasks are evaluated for their long-term return on time invested.
Time Auditing. Periodically track how you spend every hour or even smaller increments of your day, to identify where you might be wasting time or could be more efficient.
168 Hours Challenge. There are 168 hours in a week. By mapping out how you intend to spend each one, you can gain a clearer picture of your real availability and commitments.