J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, through the character of Gandalf, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” If you want to know the secret to creating the world’s perfect time management system, then you need to listen to Gandalf.
My own personal road to the perfect time management system was a long one, and it is littered with the carcasses of past attempts. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Well, let’s just say I always started using each new system with very good intentions.
I’ve tried Gqueues, ToDoist, Google Tasks and every life-management trick in between. If you’re like me, you’ve probably done the same. It’s a constant search for more organization with less work. A way to create more time in your schedule, to accomplish everything you dream to accomplish, without losing out on sleep.
What Is The Perfect Time Management System?
If you’re like me, you probably feel like you have a system that’s nearly what you need, but not quite. There’s almost always something missing.
The perfect time management system should have the following qualities.
- Allows you a “quiet place” to contemplate your life goals and dreams
- Provides seamless integration of tasks related to your goals
- Allows you to easily organize and plan your weekly and daily responsibilities
- Helps you avoid forgetting important tasks
- Is compact and simple, but efficient and all-inclusive
That last one is like asking for the moon, isn’t it? It’s the need for simplicity combined with the requirement for it to be all-inclusive that makes finding the perfect system so impossible.
Create A Time Management Assembly Line
The ideal time management system should operate like an efficient assembly line. You have incoming work (tasks), and those need to be organized and planned, and then integrated into your calendar. That process looks something like this:
The problem with most attempts to use a single app like gTasks or anything of the sort is that these apps are specialized to handle one or two parts of this process really well.
It wasn’t until Justin showed me his technique with using LEGOS as a time management method that I started getting an inkling of something that might work better for me. This led to what I thought would become my best and last time management system of all time, using Trello.
Putting The Pieces Together
However, Trello still wasn’t an easy place to plan out life goals, and managing tasks from one step of the schedule to the next was very clumsy.
For these reasons, I finally decided to take all of the lessons I’ve learned from past systems that I’ve tested, and combine everything into a single, automated time management system that does it all.
1st – Create Your Master Time Management Sheet
The workflow that I stole from Justin and used in the Trello system works well. Basically, you start on one side with all of your incoming new tasks that you need to somehow fit into your schedule. Then, to the left of that, you have a list of all the tasks you want to complete this month. To the left of that, this week.
This system worked for me for about four or five months. I started forgetting things that were on some of the lists. They didn’t get moved to “today” and then just got buried. The system started to fail me.
So here’s what I did. You first need to create a Google Spreadsheet, and create four sheets.
In this case, you start on the left and create an Incoming sheet. This will list all of the incoming tasks from your various other systems.
To the right of this, you create a Monthly Demands sheet. To the right of that create a Weekly Demands sheet. To the right of that create your Weekly Schedule sheet.
We’ll get to formatting those individual sheets in a moment. But first, create a weekly calendar in the Weekly Schedule sheet by creating one row of days of the week and a column of every half hour for a whole day.
Now that you’ve got your weekly schedule ready for use, it’s time to start inputting tasks into your new time management system!
On the Incoming sheet, create headers for Task, Project, Date Added, Label, Priority, Link, Scheduled, and Done.
These fields will all make sense in a moment when we start feeding your “Incoming” sheet with automated feeds.
2nd – Create And Automate Your Life Goals
The first of those feeds will be your life goals.
The one most important lesson I learned is that when it comes to the big goals, you need a space that is clean and intended only for one purpose — contemplating on the things that are most important to you.
Of all of the time management apps I’ve ever tried, this is one purpose for which ToDoist is perfect.
It’s clean and simple. You create those big life goals on the left, and then on the right side, you break down those really big goals into the sub-goals that you’ll be working toward throughout your life.
For example, one of my life goals is to have a happy family. Some sub-goals of this would be “Provide a positive childhood” for my kids, or to “Be a Devoted & Caring Husband”. Under those sub-goals, are where more specifics go. For example, building a bedroom for my daughter would certainly give her a more positive childhood experience.
Now, this is an actionable task. What you want to do is set up labels for these actionable tasks, so that ToDoist automatically sends these to your master Time Management System.
You will need to use ToDoist Premium to have access to labels (it’s cheap and well worth it!)
In ToDoist, just click on labels in the left navigation bar and then click the Add Label button.
In the example above, for the building a bedroom task, after creating a happy_family label, I added “@happy_family” to the task itself, to label it.
Why do these labels help you? Because now you can use IFTTT to spot those labeled tasks, and insert the tasks into your brand new Incoming sheet in Google Sheets.
In IFTTT, just choose the ToDoist trigger, and select New task created with label.
Next, you can choose from a dropdown list of the labels you created, as well as the Project where you used the label.
Finally, set the Action to Google Drive, select Add row to spreadsheet, and type in the correct name of your Google Spreadsheet where you created the “Incoming” sheet.
Notice the fields in that output? Those are the same fields you just created in the spreadsheet.
So now, any time you create a Life Goal-related task in ToDoist and apply one of the labels that you’ve created IFTTT triggers for, that task will automatically get loaded into the Incoming spreadsheet.
Think about it. Now, you can sit back, clear your mind, and just plan out your life goals. No worries about how to plan out what you need to do to achieve them — just brainstorm and label tasks that you’ll need to accomplish to get there. Let the automation take care of the rest.
3rd – Automate Your Urgent Demands
Of course, your life is more than just your life goals. Let’s face it, daily demands, phone calls, and emails all bombard you constantly with new demands and new tasks. You need a way to deal with those demands as well.
The answer for this is also automating an “Incoming” feed from your email account. Don’t worry, this is really easy. Just create an IFTTT trigger for every time you star an email in your inbox.
Then create the same action as you did before – Add row to spreadsheet. Make sure to type in the same spreadsheet name correctly. You’ll also need to customize the Formatted row so that it outputs the required fields for the Incoming table you created.
The important thing is just to make sure the subject of the email lines up with the “Task” field in your spreadsheet.
Now, every time you star an email in your inbox, that email subject line gets added to your spreadsheet as another incoming task.
The beauty of this is that as you’re scanning emails and you spot an email that requires your time, it needs to become a task scheduled into your workflow. Don’t waste your time trying to accomplish the task immediately. Just star it and move on.
Now that you’ve got your life goals and your daily emails all automated to fill up the incoming tasks queue of your new time management system, it’s time to get down to organizing the workflow of that system.
4th – Organize Your Time Management Workflow
Now comes the fun part. If you’ve used ToDoist to plan out your long-term goals, and you’ve been starring important things in your emails, you’ll see a bunch of new tasks have arrived in the sheet!
Remember the Scheduled and Done fields you created? Well, those were extras that won’t get filled in by the automation. This is because as you select each task name and move them over to the This Month or This Week sheets, you’ll need to make a note that you’ve scheduled that task. When you complete the task, you can mark it as done using the Done field.
Once a task is scheduled, it exists in the Month or Week sheet. The idea is that on a monthly basis, you should move all incoming tasks that you think you can accomplish this month into the This Month sheet.
The This Month and This Week sheets should have the following fields: Task, Who For?, Frequency, Repeat and Life Goal.
As you move a task name from Incoming to This Month, take the time to fill out those fields. Who (what client or person) is the task for? Is it a task that you need to repeat every month? Is it from one of your Life Goals?
Most importantly, define when the task needs to be completed by. Sorting by this field will help you prioritize which tasks to accomplish when you’re planning out your week.
Remember, do this every month. Also, take time at the beginning of the week to move tasks from the This Month sheet to the identical This Week sheet. Or, in the cases where the task repeats monthly, you might just add the task directly to your weekly calendar and update the “Next Due” field.
This is the beauty of this system. It can help you manage everything — tasks related to those important life goals, mundane daily tasks that come out of emails, monthly and weekly duties that you need to perform no matter what, and then the important tasks that you add to the Incoming sheet yourself.
As the tasks get processed and flow from tab to tab, they get dated and prioritized, and then you will finally add it to your schedule for the coming week. This is the schedule on the very last tab, which you created at the start of this article. This uses the time blocking strategy that Rob recently wrote about — which works quite well.
You might consider color coding those tasks as you add them to your schedule for the week. Maybe, create a color-code for each different client or use different colors to signify different projects or priorities.
The key with this system is that it is capable of handling everything, from your life-planning and goal-setting, to the projects that you’re working on right now.
They are then slated to be accomplished on the second and third tabs, and finally scheduled and accomplished on the last tab. So long as you are disciplined enough to sit down and use this system to plan out your upcoming month and week, it’ll increase your productivity many times over.
Have you found your perfect time management system yet? Does this look like it might work for you? Share your own time management experiences and tips in the comments section below!
Image Credits: Time management Via Shutterstock