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I'm guessing a lot of people here have some sort of time management system. I'm curious what techniques people use to improve that system over time.

For me at work:

  1. Weekly look at where I spent time that week and how it related to what I planned each day. This lets me plan and estimate better in the future.
  2. When my organizational system feels stretched or I read a book with a tip, adapt my system.

So this is more of a question than a discussion, what is your number one tip for learning about your time management system to improve it. Please be specific like "see what projects I spent the least time on" rather than "look at where my time went"

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

Try to look at existing time management systems rather than starting from scratch and trying to reinvent the wheel. There isn't a number one tip for learning about your time management system to improve it, as it simply comes down to an effective study of how an improvement or a difference in your time system would improve how the time management system improves your time usage.

For example, (subjectively) the best time management system I've heard of is The Pomodoro Technique. There are a lot of people practicing this technique on a daily basis and have worked this out into large detail. Which means that there are numerous of discussion, reviews, tips and similar resources available. It's much easier to extend on an existing time management system and forming it your way, instead of taking the wrong tips as an advice and becoming less efficient than you could be...

For example, it's better to "look at where your time went" as this can tell you useful things than it is to "see what projects I spent the least time on" because some projects simply don't need a lot of time. Unless you were referring to equal-sized projects or tasks, but that's most likely not to be true. As for projects, it would be better to look at how much you progressed in the project relative to it's deadline. As that would give a goal-based look instead of a time-based, if you're not on schedule you could then just assign more time...

To reflect on the new title, it all comes down to comparing time management systems and see which one helps you get more things done as well as other personal constraints on time spent on certain contexts. :)

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+1 I like the Pomodoro Technique idea, going to try it now. – DMin Jul 1 '11 at 8:32

To me, the effectiveness of my system relates to my long, mid-range, and short term goals. Effective is very different from efficient: Effective is “producing the intended or expected result”. I try to set goals at least a year out and chunked into quarterly goals. If I meet my goals, I've been effective and if I don't, I haven't been.

If I do not meet my goals with a personal productivity system that organizes me and allows me to complete dozens or hundreds of tasks, that simply means that I've been doing the wrong things. In other words, I've been efficient with non value-add tasks.

Not doing some level of goal setting at least a month out (and ideally longer; think quarterly plans, annual goals, life goals) than IMHO I see that as 0% effective. Plan some goals, meet them and therefore be effective.

As to the specifics of “measuring” my effectiveness; my quarterly goals number about a dozen at any point in time. It is easy for me on a monthly or weekly basis to spend a few minutes in reflection; looking at the goals themselves, honestly evaluating my progress towards them (or completion of them).

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To gauge effectiveness, you would have to define what it will be effective at. In other words, the goals of your time management system. This could range from short term daily goals to long term whole life purpose.

For example, if the goal is short-term "finish my allocated tasks for the day", effectiveness could be measured by how many tasks were left undone at the end of the day. A good time management system for this would not only manage how quickly your finish each task, but also how well you manage the number of tasks you commit to for the day.

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I like SkydiveMike answer, though it seems to imply you need to set long, mid and short term goals for time management system. I think there is a place for time management system that concentrates on the mundane, short term, runway level managing tasks/hours. – sabre23t Jul 7 '11 at 3:00
+1 for also how well you manage the number of tasks you commit to for the day. I think this is one of the things the Pomodoro technique has done for me... I am now much more realistic about what a day's worth of work really means. – KennyPeanuts Nov 13 '11 at 17:10

So far there have been a couple of people who have used this SE site for peer reviews - I think that might be the best single thing that someone could do - get the system thoughtly reviewed by an unbiased outsider... (the example that comes to mind is Peer review: my personal productivity system.)

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