The simplest time management system in the world


Everyone has their favorite time management system. Except those who don’t. Many people don’t have any system. They look at the choices and conclude that they’re too complicated or, ironically, too time-consuming to use.

Others, try lots of systems and are never satisfied, so they keep looking.

If you don’t have a system that’s right for you, or if you don’t have any system at all, I want to present to you the simplest time management system in the world.

There are three parts to this system:

(1) Write down everything.

Get it out of your head and on paper or in some kind of electronic list. I use Evernote, but there are many alternatives.

What’s important is that you have a place to go to see all of the tasks and projects you have to do, want to do, or might one day consider doing, and that place is not in your head.

(2) Use a calendar.

Anything that is time-oriented–due dates, start dates, appointments, reminders–should be recorded on your calendar. If there is a specific time when it must be done, like an appointment or a conference call, record the time. If not, and you’re using an electronic calendar, record it as an “all day” event.

The key is to only record things you actually intend to do. As David Allen says, the calendar is “sacred territory”. If it’s on the calendar, you do it.

Of course throughout your day you need to look at your calendar to see what’s on it. You can also set up electronic reminders if you want.

(3) Ask yourself THIS question every day.

So the first two elements of this system are nothing new. I’m pretty sure every time management system uses them. Where things get complicated is with what happens next.

Time management systems use many different ways to categorize and prioritize the items on your master list. They uses tags and codes and allow you to put things in different boxes or on different sub-lists. If these work for you, use them. If they don’t, once a day, ask yourself one simple question:

“What are the most important things I need to do today?”

Write these on a separate list. These tasks are your “most important tasks” for the day. If you get these done, your day will be successful, even if they are the only things you do that day.

You don’t need to complete a lot of tasks to make it a successful day, as long as those tasks are important. I usually write down three “most important tasks” (MIT’s) for the day. Sometimes it’s just one or two, sometimes four or five. So the question I ask myself every day is, “What are the three most important things I need to do today?”

And that’s it. That’s the system. You look at your big list, decide what to do that day based on what’s important, and do them. You don’t do anything else on your list, or that comes up during the day, until you have done your “most important tasks” for the day.

What about the rest of your list? Forget about it. You’ll never get everything done and that’s okay. Let it go. Focus on getting the most important things done each day and when you’ve done that, you can go back to your list and choose additional tasks to do if you want to or you can call it a day.

Now, you may be wondering if this system requires you to read through your master list every day so you can choose your most important tasks. No. That’s too much. Reviewing your master list once a week is enough.

But here’s the thing. You probably already know what to put on your list of most important tasks for the day. At least your subconscious mind does. I’ll prove it.

Without looking at any lists or your calendar, ask yourself this question: “What is the most important thing I can do right now?”

I’ll bet you had an answer.

That’s what you should do next. When it’s done, go ahead and ask yourself that question again.

Do you use Evernote? Have you read my ebook, Evernote for Lawyers?


Prioritize your to-do list by asking why


When you tell a young child to do something–pick up their clothes, finish their veggies, do their chores–you invariably hear them ask “why?”

They don’t ask this because they want to drive us crazy, although I know you might disagree. “You don’t know my kid!” Mostly, they really do want to know why they should do what you’ve asked them to do.

In other words, why is it important?

They are learning about the world, trying to make sense of everything and how it all fits together. In that context,”Why do I have to finish my veggies–I don’t like them,” is not an unfair question. Why indeed should they finish them?

By the way, if my father is reading this, “Because I said so,” is not a good answer.

When you tell your children why something is important, why they should do it, even though they still may not like it, they will be more likely to do it. It’s not just something on a never-ending list of things children have to do, there’s actually a reason for it.

And yet as adults, we make lists of things we have to do without always understanding why. It shouldn’t surprise us then that our lists contain tasks that never seem to get done simply because we are not motivated to do them.

When you make a “to do” list, the parent in you is telling the child in you to do these things but not telling you why. Why not ask your inner parent why?

According to an article in Psychology Today, knowing “why” will help you accomplish more of the things on your task list, especially things you “have to” do but might not feel like doing.

The author recommends making a “why do” list rather than simply a “to do” list. Write down why a task is important, the benefits to be had for doing it. If those benefits are important to you, you’ll be more motivated to complete the task.

I love this idea. Not just because it helps us get things done we otherwise might not do but because it lets us compare the tasks on our list and see their relative value. This lets us prioritize our list so that we get the most valuable tasks done first.

In other words, knowing why helps us become more effective.

Right now, I’ve got hundreds of tasks on my master task list. I prioritize my list based more on gut feeling than anything else. Sure, there are tasks with deadlines and there are things I do every day because they are part of my long term business model. But most of the tasks on my list are discretionary and for those, I’m going to start writing down why.

Right now, I’m off to get another cup of coffee. Why? Because I said so.