Why Do Complex Time Management Systems Fail?


One of the most common reasons that people’s time management systems fail is due to complexity.  Their system or tools are simply too complex for long term success.

This usually happens in one of three areas:

 

  • Too complex for the task at hand
  • Too complex for the user
  • Too complex for everyday use


Tools That are Too Complex for the Task at Hand

We have been sold on complexity.  Look at some of the leading time management solutions.  Look at smartphones.  Look at Outlook.  Most of them are so bloated with features that the manuals can be inches thick.  Most people will never master most of the components.

So, how did we arrive at the assumption that the more complex and feature rich a tool/gadget is, the more productive it is?  Usually, this is the result of years of adding more and more features to such a product.  Outlook and many smartphones are good examples of this.  (This is why it took such a radical redesign as the iPhone to reset the phone industry)

When it comes to time management: “The simplest solution is the usually the most effective.”  

Look for the simplest solution or tool for the task at hand.  Sometimes a yellow pad is better for your todo list that some fancy PDA or computer program.


Too Complex for the User

Another area of complexity occurs when the tools are too complex or difficult for the person trying to use them.   This is not an attack on the skills of the person, but rather a statement that people should use the tools that are comfortable and work for them.

If you are comfortable with a paper-based dayplanner, why would you try to pick up the latest wireless web-syncing gadget solution?  It will only waste your time and frustrate you.  And it will be sitting in a drawer somewhere in less than 30 days.

Stick with the tools that you are good with and suit your work style.


Systems that are too complex for Everyday Use

If your time management system is so complex that it is overwhelming, then it actually becomes a hindrance to getting your work done.  Time management when done right is an enabler to action and allows you to get more done with less effort.

If you find yourself spending most of your day writing down “next actions” instead of doing things, then your system might be too complex.  Time management is about organization, but it is also about action.  Most time management solutions concentrate too much on the organization side and not enough of the action side.  

 

 

What are your thoughts on the complexity of your time management solution?



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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • jeffreyftang

    I agree … when it comes to time management tools, the simpler the better. I find that a simple notepad works better than almost anything else. Yes, a notepad is limiting, but sometimes that’s a good thing. The act of writing down each task forces me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. Plus it feels really good to physically cross something off the list.Now if I could only get a notepad with drag-and-drop functionality …

  • jeffreyftang

    I agree … when it comes to time management tools, the simpler the better. I find that a simple notepad works better than almost anything else. Yes, a notepad is limiting, but sometimes that’s a good thing. The act of writing down each task forces me to slow down and think about what I’m doing. Plus it feels really good to physically cross something off the list.Now if I could only get a notepad with drag-and-drop functionality …

  • Dinu

    Totally agreed. I had the same issue with complexity while playing around with task management systems. Even the most elegant apps (like Things for e.g.) still had a somewhat complicated system. So I finally resorted to creating http://simplygtd.com. The plan is to eventually make it scale from a simple to-do list to a more robust system on an ad-hoc basis.

  • Dinu

    Totally agreed. I had the same issue with complexity while playing around with task management systems. Even the most elegant apps (like Things for e.g.) still had a somewhat complicated system. So I finally resorted to creating http://simplygtd.com. The plan is to eventually make it scale from a simple to-do list to a more robust system on an ad-hoc basis.

  • Layla

    I totally agree!!Well, for me GTD seems a bit too complex, so I took a look at ZTD the other day – it seems maybe not complex enough, so a happy medium would be great!I do love some aspects of both!Basically it’s probably important to tweak your own system and make it work!I’m still playing around with things, seeing what would work out.. Staying with paper right now.. :)

  • Layla

    I totally agree!!Well, for me GTD seems a bit too complex, so I took a look at ZTD the other day – it seems maybe not complex enough, so a happy medium would be great!I do love some aspects of both!Basically it’s probably important to tweak your own system and make it work!I’m still playing around with things, seeing what would work out.. Staying with paper right now.. :)

  • Stormbringer

    Full agreement on Outlook, most people do not need it. Where I work, it is required but most people do know how to use more than e-mail and a little calendar stuff. I turned down pirated software of Outlook in favor of Mozilla’s Thunderbird and the Lightning calendar extension. Then I sync the calendar with an online calendar that will send me text messages if I want them. (My story is here, if anyone has time and interest: http://xrl.in/4d9r)Using the simple approach, I carry around a small notebook for passing thoughts, “to do”, reminders of article ideas and so forth. Then I coordinate the “to do” stuff onto the big calendar.Sure, it was time-consuming to set up. Now it works. If I keep at it. BUT, it’s at my complication limit. If I tinker just one more time, I know the system will not work because I made it too complicated. At least, I don’t have a bunch of useless stuff in it that I don’t know how to use like Outlook has.

  • Stormbringer

    Full agreement on Outlook, most people do not need it. Where I work, it is required but most people do know how to use more than e-mail and a little calendar stuff. I turned down pirated software of Outlook in favor of Mozilla’s Thunderbird and the Lightning calendar extension. Then I sync the calendar with an online calendar that will send me text messages if I want them. (My story is here, if anyone has time and interest: http://xrl.in/4d9r)Using the simple approach, I carry around a small notebook for passing thoughts, “to do”, reminders of article ideas and so forth. Then I coordinate the “to do” stuff onto the big calendar.Sure, it was time-consuming to set up. Now it works. If I keep at it. BUT, it’s at my complication limit. If I tinker just one more time, I know the system will not work because I made it too complicated. At least, I don’t have a bunch of useless stuff in it that I don’t know how to use like Outlook has.

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