Need a convincing, but lightweight time management system
April 16, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

My boss has asked me to come up with "Time Management" processes. I don't really know what this would be apart from "Do all the things!"

So, in a 1:1 my boss asked me to come up with some strategies for time management. This was triggered by me not producing some minutes for a meeting on time, but he has said that he would like techniques for the whole team (including himself) to use.

Currently I have a ToDo List of sorts made from little coloured flags on my monitor and a few repeating calendar entries on outlook. So far as I can tell my colleagues have even less in the way of time management systems. I often forget to do the boring admin tasks, because they are boring, and I usually focus on my deliverable stuff instead. They get done eventually, but I could be more efficient.
So my question is, without unduly increasing my bureaucratic load, give me some things that I can present to my boss as Time management strategies or systems.
Oh, also, I have very little leeway to install software on work PCs, they are tightly locked down, a lot of websites are blocked too. We do not have a very modern view of technology here.
posted by Just this guy, y'know to Work & Money (18 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Tom's Planner, it's web based and I doubt it would be blocked and it's easy to use.
posted by pwally at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2012

It's more of an overarching system than a process, but the Pomodora technique is really lightweight and doesn't require software past this.
posted by griphus at 8:10 AM on April 16, 2012

Buy a copy of the book Getting Things Done, give to him.

Another approach I've found works well for me is to distinguish between time-sensitive and important. I.e., the meeting minutes are not exactly vital compared to other tasks you do, but they are absolutely useless if not produced in a timely fashion, so they either need to be high-priority or not done at all.
posted by kindall at 8:11 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: is a very intuitive, web based system.

Or if you just want simple techniques rather than products, try getting people to mentally place tasks into these four categories as they're assigned.
posted by the latin mouse at 8:25 AM on April 16, 2012

It is such a vague request you may want to go to him and ask him what specifics he had in mind.

When my boss asked me for something similar, it was because he was looking to downsize and wanted a list of all the things that I do, so that he wouldn't drop the ball on anything once he let me go. Sadly, I was unable to provide him with a list. Now, the poor fellow keeps forgetting to update the website along with many other things that I once did.
posted by myselfasme at 8:38 AM on April 16, 2012

At minimum, time management is taking "do all the things!" and organizing it into "do all the things, in this order!" Beyond that, "do all the things, in this order, each of which should take X long", and then "do all the things, in this order, each of which should take X long, and if new things come in, they should go into the order based on Y criteria."

The processes around this involve things like "how do we know that we know what all the things are?" and "how do we determine the order in which we should do them?" and "how do we estimate the time it will take to do each?" and "how do we determine the priority of incoming items?" and what tools might (or might not) be necessary to handle these things.
posted by davejay at 8:47 AM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, and as for technology: time management tools don't have to be on a computer. For instance, I'm working for a company that just went full Agile, which I have past experience with; but the company I used to work for did it all on whiteboards, which was efficient and painless and awesome, but the current company uses a web-based tool that really, really, really gets in the way of the processes. Don't be afraid to go old-school (and at your company, it sounds like old school is your only real choice.) Just pretend you live in the early 70s (sans the woodgrain) and figure out what you'd do to handle this.
posted by davejay at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use a version of Getting Things Done and Remember the Milk. RTM would be nice here because you can send tasks to other people through it.
posted by anotheraccount at 8:49 AM on April 16, 2012

This book comes very highly recommended from people who needed to quickly learn and disseminate best practice time management/workflow organization: Instant Productivity Toolkit.
posted by batmonkey at 8:54 AM on April 16, 2012

Best answer: I came in to recommend the table linked to by the latin mouse.

It's from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Habit 3: Put First Things First), and I found it quite elegant in its simplicity. It's really helped me order my time effectively at work and at home for over ten years now.

The idea is to try to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II - activities that are important, but not urgent. Things will come up that are important and urgent (Quadrant I) - they'll have to be dealt with, but time should be spent in Quadrant II thinking about those Quadrant I emergencies and how to minimize them.

Try to minimize and (if possible) eradicate any Quadrant III and IV activities altogether. Whether they're urgent or not, they're unimportant - time wasters - and get in the way of effectiveness.

Here's a PDF that expands on the table, also showing the results of time spent in each Quadrant, and providing a blank sheet for you to enter your own activities for reflection.

It's such a simple concept, easy to adapt to your own circumstances. Get a copy of the book from your local public library, and read the relevant chapter. It's really easy to read, and (if I remember correctly) contains ideas/activities for practical application.

Everyone who knows me knows I'm really well-organized, but what they don't know is that it doesn't come naturally - I learned the secret from this book ten years ago, and took it to heart.

(The following paragraph might sound like I'm tooting my own horn, but I'm really not - I just want to illustrate the effect this little table has had on me.)

My supervisors and colleagues come to me when they want something done, because they know they can consider it done quickly and efficiently once I'm on it. My desk is always tidy, my email is never out of hand, and I manage all my tasks professionally. I don't use any complicated time management tools whatsoever beyond using my Outlook calendar. It's all just intuitive after a while.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 8:54 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know how big your company is, but do you have an HR department who does time management training or a budget that can be used for a a short time management training? It's easy enough to come up with time management solutions, but the hard part is getting a whole team to commit to them (if that's what he wants to do). On the other hand, going to a 2-hour training about time management will get you all on the same page and is kind of inspiring / gives you the impetus to start managing time better.
posted by beyond_pink at 8:56 AM on April 16, 2012

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is a must-read for excellent time management principles.
posted by Ryogen at 8:57 AM on April 16, 2012

If you work in teams, think about the Scrum process. It's meant for development, but the process itself can be useful for time management and getting things done.

Here's the part I like best about the process:

"During the meeting, each team member answers three questions:[11]

What have you done since yesterday?
What are you planning to do today?
Any impediments/stumbling blocks?

It is the role of the ScrumMaster to facilitate resolution of these impediments, although the resolution should occur outside the Daily Scrum itself to keep it under 15 minutes."

posted by xingcat at 9:00 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Identify the due date for each deliverable, and add an appointment for this date to your work calendar. Break down each deliverable into subtasks, estimate the total time to perform all subtasks, then assign time to yourself to perform each subtask on your calendar. The total amount of time for all "appointments" you assign to yourself is equal to the amount of time you estimated to perform the subtasks. If needed, each subtask can be broken down into smaller blocks of time also. If you require others' input for any of the tasks, then send reminders to them at appropriate times.
posted by cahlers at 10:33 AM on April 16, 2012

Yes, Scrum's daily standup is awesome if you're working with others. It's very hard to stand up day after day and admit to your teammates that you didn't do anything the previous day. Little by little, things get done without it ever really feeling like a burden.

If tasks tend to have multiple stages or pass from one person to another, then you may find a Kanban board useful. Trello is a newish, free, Web-based, Kanban-style process organizer. Watch the video, it's pretty nifty.
posted by kindall at 10:34 AM on April 16, 2012

No idea what your industry is, but the book Time Management for System Administrator by Tom Limoncelli has good suggestions. The TL;DR is, a fresh To Do list written each morning, with time blocked out for certain tasks.

I do a daily To Do list (which is similar to GTD, I think), and it works…on the days I don't skip making my To Do list. :7) Some weeks I alctually draft the list a few days out in an effort to prevent this, which helps.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:24 PM on April 16, 2012

Response by poster: Feedback!

The company is big. If you live in the UK you have definitely heard of it. (Though I'd probably not mention more, in case I've said anything too negative)
So, yes we do have an HR department and training budgets, they just tend not to be that great. I will look into it further.

The work my team does is desk based engineering. Lots of spreadsheets and engineeringy tools. I have looked into the kind of tools that software companies use and would want to use them more, but we are also very traditional and, like most big companies, it's difficult to change the culture. Everything needs processes, sign offs, authorisations etc. Agile we 'aint.

That said, the team itself is smaller and we have a little more freedom to ignore (or at least fudge a bit) some of the company standards and processes, which does make things easier.

I really like Scrum, and I think if I were running any of our larger projects I would want to use it, but I fear that the daily stand up would end up becoming yet another hour long meeting and we have too many of those already.

That pomodoro link is blocked at work :)
Though I gather it is just a timer, so I might use that for myself to stop myself procrastinating so much.

Thanks also for all the book recommendations. I've heard of many of these, but didn't know which were worthwhile and which were in the crank pile. I'll check a few of those out.
I think I can probably sell the time management matrix, it has the look of the kind of thing that goes down well at work and doesn't look like it'll add too much overhead to my workflow. I think I need to read the whole book though.

Oh, yeah, and I can see Trello being useful, I'll check when I get back in tomorrow, but I would bet that it is blocked.

Please keep the suggestions coming in, this stuff is gold!
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:22 PM on April 16, 2012

I fear that the daily stand up would end up becoming yet another hour long meeting

I don't know your workplace and mine isn't particularly agile/scrum but my understanding is that the point of "stand up" meetings is that everyone has incentive to keep them short. Perhaps developers are just weak and frail creatures?
posted by pwnguin at 8:25 PM on April 17, 2012

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