12 Most Methodical Time Management Systems

12 Most Methodical Time Management Systems

Hello, I’m Rosemary and I’m addicted to trying time management systems. Today I will share the fruits of my research, since I’ve personally road-tested all of these (with varying results). There is no single, perfect system, only the one that works best for your style. Some people are visual, some need auditory reminders, and others work best with less structure.

I have settled on a mixture of Tony Robbins and Moleskine. It’s a one-two punch of clarity and focus that works for my visual learning style.

This post offers an overview of some of the best time management systems available, and how they might suit your own style. Once you find one that works, it can take your productivity to the next level.

1. Stephen Covey’s Priority Matrix

The granddaddy of time management. Some Covey followers used to tote around Franklin planner binders (now they’re mostly digital). This system uses a 2×2 matrix, with tasks organized by urgent/not urgent or important/not important. You’d be surprised how many non-urgent, non-important tasks you are doing in order to avoid those urgent, important ones.

2. Getting Things Done

David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) is so popular that it’s created a cottage industry, and has been integrated into many other apps and planners. The key to GTD is to capture and process all of your random tasks, thoughts, and goals into a single system, and then work through next steps in context. GTD is a good flexible framework for creating your own system.

3. Pomodoro

This is the pretty tomato one. Created by Francesco Cirillo, Pomodoro method involves using a timer to break down the workday into 30 minute chunks. When the timer goes off, you can move to the next task. Ideal for attention-deficit folks. I used it to write this blog post.

4. Tony Robbins RPM

Tony Robbins’ system is the rapid planning method. You get clear on what you want, why you want it, and then create a massive action plan to achieve it. I love this method because it helps keep your “eyes on the prize,” if you refer to your plan daily.

5. Zen Habits — no goals

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has decided to go completely “goal-free.” This seems counterintuitive, but in reality, he is simply leaving room for serendipity, opportunity, or subconscious machinations to take place. He still knows what he ultimately wants, but he’s following his passion without the limitation of a specific goal. If you’re a free spirit, this one’s for you.

6. 168 Hours

This book, by Laura Vanderkam, offers a way to look at your schedule one week at a time, which makes it easier to handle when things get off track. It also has the interesting effect of making you appreciate your time. Using this system involves prioritizing and reorganizing blocks of time so that the right things get your attention.

7. Jerry Seinfeld’s don’t break the chain

Pretty simple. Get a calendar, and put an “x” for every day you do the thing you are trying to do. Then work like crazy to not break the chain of Xs. Consistent, daily action should definitely be included as part of your time management toolbox.

8. Kanban

This system (attributed to Taiichi Ohno at Toyota) uses a visual series of columns, including “backlog,” “doing,” and “done” tasks. You can use a whiteboard, paper, or post-it notes, but the idea is to see the flow of your work through the process. One benefit of this system is seeing your “done” items; we often don’t allow ourselves that important moment of victory.

9. Eat the Frog

The name of this technique refers to a Mark Twain saying: “eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Do the hardest, scariest thing, and then the rest of the day is gravy. The key to this method is choosing your “frog” before you go to bed the previous night. Brian Tracy wrote a book called Eat That Frog, offering tips and ideas for using this method.

10. 4-Hour Work Week (outsource and delegate)

Ah, Tim Ferriss. He who does all things in 4 hours. The core of the “4 hour” system is outsourcing and delegating those things that aren’t in your core competency. Makes perfect sense, but it can be very difficult to pull off if you’re a control freak. This one is best for those who are super good at letting go.

11. Kick it old school with a Moleskine

The legendary Moleskine notebook allows you to feel like a French beat poet any time. Choose your paper style, cover color, and page size, and you have your own personal reminder that won’t run out of batteries. I know a lot of folks who go through one notebook each month and then keep them as an archive.

12. Google Calendar plus reminders

Face it, you’re already using Google anyway. Why not set up a calendar and use the free tools to keep track of your tasks and appointments? I’ve found that if I put random tasks on the calendar, they actually get done. Bonus points for using color coding.

What does your time management system look like? I’m always looking for a better one!

Featured image courtesy of Martin Lopatka licensed via Creative Commons.

Rosemary O’Neill


Rosemary O’Neill is Co-Founder & President of Social Strata, Inc., creators of Hoop.la, the ultimate online community platform, which includes blogs, forums, chat, calendar, photo/video sharing, and iPhone app. Rosemary has been in the trenches of community creation and management for 13 years, and makes a mean blueberry pie. She offers a mix of community tips and behind the scenes info at the Social Strata corporate blog. You may also have seen her on Fox & Friends, CNN Headline News, and NPR as an HR policy rebel, as Social Strata instituted “unlimited paid leave” last year.

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