In recent years time management tools have become big business. Whether the latest gadget or a scrap of paper kept in a pocket, whatever helps people improve their time and task management will be popular.
The trouble is, some of them do more harm than good, often costing a good deal more time and money than they claim to save.
It’s so easy to pay good money for something, only for it to sit in a desk drawer gathering dust.
So what time management tools can you depend on to genuinely help you to live well and work better?
So, how to choose and what to use?
What they should do
Your time management tools can be as simple or as multi functional as you like, but they should all allow you to capture, store, organize and access information, quickly and easily.
Whichever you use, they need to help you to manage the following:
Appointments. Your repeat and one off appointments need to be scheduled so you know where you’re meant to be and what you’re meant to be doing.
Deadlines. You need to know who wants what by when, to allow yourself time to plan, prepare and complete the project.
Dates. Personal or social dates that you want to remember need to be recorded. Some you may forget and get away with. Others you’d better remember!
Reminders. Built in to give you time to take action before an important date or deadline.
Thoughts and ideas. Do you ever have a fabulous idea and then lose it? Lock these down before they fly away.
Goals, projects and actions. Whatever you’re working on or towards becomes less abstract and more concrete if it’s out of your head, as well as being in it.
Reference. All the information you want to be access, as and when necessary.
What they should be
Whatever you use to help you manage your time, ask yourself which of the following criteria they meet. The more they do, the better they will serve you:
Simple. Technology is great when it saves you more time than you invest in it. But how much wasted technology do you own, or see at work? Learning how to operate a system has to justify itself. If it doesn’t, ditch it for something simpler.
Accessible. Can you get to it quickly and easily? You could own the most sophisticated gadget in the world, but if you can’t keep it with you, you won’t use it.
Reliable. You need to be able to trust it to work, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.
A good way to quantify these is to rate whatever you use on a scale of 1 to 10 for each of the three criteria to give you a score up to 30.
There are countless free time management tools available, online and off.
But which ones do you need?
'Must have' time management tools
Planners. Whether they're electronic or paper based, daily planners should form the backbone of personal organizational skills. Bear in mind that you’ll only ever be as effective as the quality, planning and execution of the contents in yours.
Pen and paper. Small enough to keep with you -- you never know when a thought or idea will strike, so make it a habit to keep them with you. This is particularly true if you're committed to keeping a time management log. A pocket notepad and pen mean you can jot down pretty much anything you want to act on, or commit to, later.
Computer. A double edged sword, this one. Your PC or notebook can do many things, online and off. How many save you time? As many as you want. Time spent improving your data storage and access by organizing computer files is time well spent. Manage you computer well and it will serve you. Don’t, and it will start to own you.
Timer. Use a timer to establish limits on whatever you want to do more or less of (visual timers are particularly useful). For example, if you're habitually wasting time online, use a timer to help you put limits on the amount you do it. On the other hand, when you're having difficulty overcoming procrastination set it for a short time to get you going.
Digital voice recorder. When you’re travelling, taking notes isn’t always possible. Using a voice recorder allows you to capture thoughts and ideas when you’re on the go. These really are portable, whether you’re waiting, walking, driving, or even running (well you may be able to; you may end up sounding like a crank caller when you play it back later).
PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). More a luxury than a necessity? Some say they are. Do they justify the costs? Many people say they do. Discover the advantages of PDA tools for time management to decide for yourself.
Finally, there's one more tool you can use when you want to remember something but you find yourself without any of the capture tools mentioned above -- what you're wearing.
Change the way you wear something -- turn your watch round, undo a button or untie a shoelace (be careful with that one!) Get creative so that later you ask yourself why you did it when you have the means to capture the thought on paper. You'll find it comes back to you.
Bottom line? Choose what you’ll use. A tool will only serve you if you apply it. The time management tools you choose are exactly the same. Make sure yours earn their keep.