Plenty of the information about time management you can find online is bloody useless. “Stay concentrated!”, “Don’t procrastinate!”, “Don’t multitask!”, “Find your most efficient hours”… A bunch of advice that worths nothing without answering the question how you can achieve this.
Because I am sure you are here not to be told you need to manage your time better. You already know this: you are looking for specific advice, help and tools that will let you achieve your goals. This is what matters.
Why Time Management Tools
Time management tools are usually software programs (or sometimes just a pad and pencil!) that help you manage your time in several ways:
- Help you work smarter not harder. Usually by organizing, automating and simplifying tasks
- Remind you about tasks at the right time
- Replace the need of your brain power with automated computer power when possible
- Logging and providing statistical data and charts which show you where your time gets wasted
- Help you set and follow up goals
- Calculate the costs of your time and help you decide what tasks can be abandoned or outsourced
- Help you prioritize your tasks.
Some time management tools will waste your time instead of saving it. Others will take too much time to learn and then return too little results not justifying the investment you’ve made in learning them.
The best time management tools achieve at least one of the items pointed in the list above, are easy to learn and follow straight logic in using. It’s not an easy thing to find them, that’s why I’ll publish reviews and recommendations for good tools in this site.
Types of Time Management Tools
Time management has many aspects and for each of them there is a type (or more than one) of tools available. It can really take a while to get used to them all but that’s not required. You will find out that you mostly use the 2-3 types of time management tools which suit the best your personal and work lifestyle.
Here are some of the most important types you may have to deal with:
- Calendars are among the easiest and most popular ones. The most known is probably the Google Calendar. Their purpose is to manage events, invite people to them, send/receive email reminders and so on. Such tools don’t do wonders with your time but at least free up your brain of thinking about when and what you have to do. Recently the web based calendars are much preferred because you can access them from anywhere (as opposed to local software installed on your PC). Of course you can just bring a paper based calendar and have it everywhere with you – even when there is no Internet connection or power in the laptop.
- To do lists are similar to calendars but usually the items in them don’t have specific date/time and place. They may have a target time or a deadline if you wish. I’m used to writing my to-do list in a simple text file, but softwares especially designed for this purpose have some advantages. The most popular to-do list software at the moment is probably 37signal’s Ta-da list
- Project management tools. I can’t classify these as purely time management tools as they do a lot more. They manage resources, tasks, teamwork, deadlines, bugs, statuses and more. These are most popular in the software business but recently seem to take places in many other areas too. You are less likely to use them if you don’t work in or manage a team. Here is a list of 15 project management tools if you want to know more.
- Time analysis tools can track your time and help you see how you are spending it. Such tools can be amazingly helpful to find out how you waste your time in social networks for example. Of course the benefit of such tools is zero if you don’t apply the information they give you. Maybe the most popular of them is Rescue Time.
- Automation and shortcut tools. Just like the shortcuts to programs on your desktop save you time for searching in the Programs menu, this category of time management tools lets you launch applications quicker. They are strictly focused on your work with the computer but as everyone works on a computer today I think it’s safe to call them general purpose time management tools as well. If you are running Windows, see for example Launchy. The concept of automating repeating tasks and giving shortcuts to them is well known in programming and can save some of your time.
- Mindmapping tools. These visualization tools are useful in learning and understanding complex concepts. Wikipedia has a good list of mind mapping tools.
Where To Find Them and How To Choose Your Tools
Well the answer to the first part of the question is bloody simple: online. You can find all the time management tools you’ll ever need, and then few thousands more, by searching the web, reading this blog, reading recommended resources and so on.
The harder part is how to choose between all the tools offered, because the variety is huge. Prior to choosing, try to figure out what kind of tool you need – that’s why there is the categorization given a couple of paragraphs above. Then it becomes slightly easier. You don’t need to choose the most popular tool, but usually those are a good starting point. Most of the software tools have free versions or at least free trials so you can try the features and see whether the tool is good for you without spending money upfront.
Before going further I have to give you a very important advice: if you are going to spend more time searching for the right tools than the time they are going to save you, you won’t achieve much. So, don’t over-analyze and spend months in learning every tool. Just pick, try, throw away, try again and find the best ones that will do wonders for you. Well, of course we this site is going to help you too.
How To Use Time Management Tools
Starting with important advice again (you see I have many of them today): don’t insist in using a time management tool just because you “must” use it. For example if you have 1 appointment per week and you memory is good, it’s pointless to write this in a calendar. You are going to lose time writing it and not gain anything.
Other than this advice, (almost) every tool has instructions and often live demos and videos which can help you learn how to use it. It’s always good to start with the simpler/cheaper (free) versions of the tools and to prefer simpler tools over complicated ones. Starting simple will help you get an idea of the tool and figure out how and if it can be useful for you. Then you can see yourself what other features you may need. It’s like with the image editors – for most people MS Paint is good enough to start. Only after having some practice you may figure out it’s worth it to learn/buy Photoshop or GIMP.
Use the tools but don’t let them use you. If applied properly a good combination of time management tools can save 50% of your time and double your productivity. Apply the best time management techniques and strategies you can learn and you’ll get another 50% and another double.
Recommended from Amazon: The 25 Best Time Management Tools & Techniques: How to Get More Done Without Driving Yourself Crazy