Time Management

Time management is the use of various disciplines and working practices to help us make better use of our time. Over the last hundred years several companies and consultants have offered us various systems for time management. These systems are generally built round one or more of the following five key elements:

  1. The keeping of a diary.
  2. The maintenance of an efficient filing system
  3. The consolidation and classification of one's personal and work objectives.
  4. The creation and execution of plans and to-do lists
  5. The review and adjustment of one's time allocation in relation to one's objectives and plans.


The first pre-printed diary was created in London in 1812 by John Letts. In 1910 American J.C.Parker produced a pre-printed diary organised in separate ring-bound sections which he called Lefax. In the 1920s a UK importer of the Lefax diaries produced an improved version which they named Filofax. Relaunched in the 1980s as a "personal organiser" with a range of sizes and folder designs, the Filofax quickly became a "must have" accessory for thousands of aspiring executives. A key element of the Filofax's continuing popularity is the wide range of optional sections in addition to the basic diary. The strength of such paper-based diary systems include: their simplicity; the integration of the diary with the planning and to-do lists; and, the ease of access to all sections. Weaknesses include their insecurity; the lack of automated reminders; and difficulty of amendment and analysis.

The introduction of the IBM PC in 1981 ushered in a new era of widely accessible computing power and software packages which included diary systems like IBM Lotus Notes (1991-) and Microsoft Outlook (1992-). The use of such computerised diary systems has some advantages over paper-based systems (potential for reminders and backups; easier to amend and communicate). However, they are less portable and sometimes more vulnerable than conventional paper diaries. The arrival of the portable "personal digital assistants" (PDAs) like the Palm Pilot (1995-) allowed individuals to access computerised diaries, address books and to-do lists away from their desks. Mobile "smart-phones" like the Nokia 9000 Communicator (1996-) and RIM Blackberry (2002-) then facilitated synchronisation between portable and desk diaries. The ever-growing impact of the World Wide Web (first unveiled in 1989) has encouraged a valuable new generation of free web-based applications like Google calendar which can be synchronised with calendars on one's mobile phone.

Goals, Cooperation and Filing

Since the 1970's several US consultants/authors have been offering their own philosophies and methodologies for managing one's time and improving personal effectiveness. Perhaps the most influential of these have been Alan Lakein, Stephen Covey and David Allen.

Alan Lakein - As easy as ABC

Lakein's How to get Control of your Time and your Life (first published in 1973) stresses the importance of listing and prioritising one's lifetime goals into As, Bs and Cs. He advocates a 15 minute schedule for this, which he suggests should be repeated annually. The next step is to list activities that could help you achieve these goals and focus on the A-activities, before the others.

Stephen Covey - Proactivity, Understanding and Renewal

The first three of Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (first published in 1989) are similar to Lakein's: Be Proactive; Begin with the End in Mind; and, Put First Things First. His next three habits focus on working with and through others: Think Win/Win; Seek to Understand and be Understood; and, Creative Cooperation. His final habit stresses the importance of self-renewal.

David Allen - Organizing, Reviewing and Doing

Allen's Getting Things Done (first published in 2001) integrates activities and goals into a six-level spectrum: Current Actions; Current Projects; Current Responsibilities; 1-2 year Goals; 3-5 year Goals; and, Life goals. He then describes a five-phase approach to planning and a workflow model for getting things done. Allen lays great emphasis on a disciplined alphabetical hardcopy filing system supplemented by a calendar-based review system with 43 pockets (31 for the days of the current month plus a pocket for each of the next 12 months). This filing and review system allows paper files to be deferred for action on a specified day.

Projects, Tasks & Activity Logs

One of the earliest application software packages developed for personal computers was the spreadsheet. The early market leader was VisiCalc which from 1979 offered a simple way of creating lists of activities with associated times and costs. With the arrival of the graphical interface offered by Microsoft Windows in 1985, VisiCalc was overtaken by more powerful spreadsheet packages like Lotus 1-2-3, and Microsoft Excel. At around the same time Microsoft Project offered a disciplined, if somewhat labour-intensive, system for developing plans and managing tasks and workloads. Current PC options for project- and task-management system include the web-based Voo2do.

Time management requires a good knowledge of how one's time is spent. This can be performed using a timesheet package on one's PC or smart-phone or else using a paper Personal Activity Log.

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