Personal time management software systems are big business. The idea of having everything digitally organized has an allure that persuades many people to invest their time and money in one or more of the many options available.
But is it worth it?
There are many types, both paid and free. The trick, of course, is to know (a) if it is actually worth using, and (b) which one to use.
Sophisticated screens full of charts and graphs promise much -- but do they deliver?
Read this guide first to help you decide whether or not to invest in a particular product...
What Should it Do?
The software you use should help you make better use of your time -- it really is as simple as that!
But to fully answer the above question, there are a number of considerations to take into account.
The best should enable you to:
Track your time
On a personal level time management software should help you identify how you habitually spend your time. Knowledge, of course, is power - you can identify patterns of productivity as well as times when you are less likely to get things done.
Collectively, companies use time tracking software for anything, from booking golf lessons to monitoring employees’ hours.
Manage your schedule
You need to know what you are doing and when. This can be in the form of commitments with other people such as bookings, meetings and appointments, or personal commitments made to yourself to work on your roles, goals and projects for a set length of time at some point in your week.
Prepare for and meet deadlines
What’s due when? Truly effective personal time management software should not only highlight the time and date of your commitment – it should be able to remind you beforehand, giving you time to prepare for the actual deadline itself.
Handle your to-do list
Here’s where we really separate the wheat from the chaff… Well designed personal time management software allows you to capture, organize and manage your goals, projects, actions and tasks effectively, efficiently and intuitively.
Getting things out of your head and on to a list should be easy enough to make sure you actually do it.
Not everything is commitment. Sometimes you may want to record thoughts and ideas that could become more concrete at a later date. Your software should facilitate that.
Will your software work across a range of devices? Computers, phones and other visual mobile devices can all be used, allowing you increasing freedom and flexibility.
What Should it Be?
There are two outstanding characteristics that define good personal time management software. It should be:
1. Worth learning
Software systems may or may not be free, but they always require an investment of time to learn. Whilst free software may seem to appeal, an initial financial outlay does have the advantage of boosting your motivation to learn how to use it.
If you’ve paid, you'll want to get your money’s worth.
For businesses and other organizations, personal time management software for employees is a must. It’s not a question of ‘if’ you’ll need it. The only consideration is, for what?
2. Simple to use
On a day to day basis is your system in your way? In other words, is it accessible?
If you’re in an office or you keep your mobile device with you most of the day, software is probably worth using because of the features and functionality it offers over paper based systems.
If it is online, your personal time management software is only ever as good as the internet connection you are using.
Offline, it is dependent on the accessibility, reliability and sturdiness of your hardware or mobile device as much as your attachment to it -- to put information in you need to at your computer or to have your mobile device to hand.
As technology improves, we will all increasingly be able to enter, access and share information digitally wherever we are, whatever we’re doing.
On the surface, this may appear to be a good thing. But software is now so sophisticated it makes capturing information almost too easy.
The danger? Too much information!
‘Over managing’ software can a serious waste of time.
Remember, it’s meant to be a tool to help you manage your time more effectively. If it doesn’t, ditch it for something simpler.
If you’re not going to use software to manage your time the only viable alternative is a paper based system.
The big advantage paper has over software is that its flexibility. Paper is ubiquitous. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can probably scribble something down to be processed more effectively later.
Your digital device, on the other hand, is somewhere specific. If it’s not right in front of you, you lose it or it breaks down, you won’t be able to use it.
Paper or Software?
They’ve both got their strengths: Paper is low-tech, cheap and accessible, whereas software offers power, functionality and the ability to automate, integrate, sync and share information instantly. It is also a lot easier to make back up copies of your data to ensure it stays intact.
I’d recommend using both. At home I use a paper planning for day to day ‘will-do’ list. From my experience, the physical acts of writing, doodling and crossing off the things that I’ve done appeals more to me than doing it digitally. Plus, I'm not at the computer anywhere near as much.
But for work and longer term management such as scheduling or recurring commitments, the power and functionality of personal time management software is hard to beat.
I hope this guide has given you some idea of what makes software worth investing in.
Whatever you choose, research it first, be prepared to put time into learning it, and it will pay you back many times over.
Read my review of the best time management software.