Is Your Time Management Held Together by Duct Tape?

Recently, I was working with an individual who had a pile of organizational tools on his desk.

He had tool after tool that he used for various tasks and todos.

There was one piece of software that fed another. And one system that was synced and linked to another via keywords.

It was a complicated mess, to say the least.

Is your time management system a bunch of tools being held together by duct tape?

Complex Productivity or Just a Mess?

I often see people who have too many tools in their productivity toolbox.

Often, they have developed wonky ways to use them together.

One system links to another, or this tool is connected to that tool.

Don’t let your productivity tools be ruled by a tangle of rules, flowcharts, and scripts.

The simpler the solution, the more effective you will be in your work.

Complex productivity systems quickly become non-productivity systems.

Simple Gets the Work Done

Do any of these sound familiar?

- Your review process requires a flowchart.

- You have scripts that feed one tool into another.

- You have so many tools that sometimes you don’t know which one to pick up for the task at hand.

 You end up doing more work just to maintain your system than you do getting work done.

Here are some tips to help you avoid making your time management too complex:

  • Keep It Simple – You don’t need a power drill when a simple screwdriver will do. Don’t use complex tools just because they are shiny or new. Stick with what works. Upgrade only when it makes sense.
  • Power of 1 – Have one tool for each type of task. Minimize the number of tools in your productivity toolbox.
  • Complex Doesn’t Get the Job Done – Just as many confuse movement with productivity, don’t confuse complexity with effectiveness. The latest gadget or software app isn’t going to save you. (See #1) You have to do the hard work yourself.
  • Beware Weak Links in the Chain – The more moving parts in your system, the more likely you are to have a failure. “It was on my other calendar” doesn’t cut it as an excuse.
  • Choose Your ToolsAlways choose tools that you will use, and are proficient with. Adding tools to your arsenal that are just for show, just ends up making a mess.

Effortless Means Effective

Don’t fall trap to complex solutions that look fancy.

Fancy doesn’t get work done. Complex doesn’t either.

So, leave the duct tape out of your time management.

Keep your system simple.

Simple gets the job done.

Question: Are you using duct tape to hold your productivity together?

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

  • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

    ok… you asked for it :)

    I think this conflates two people. One who grabs tons of tools, tricks and tactics that are meant to help you get things done with the (futile) hope that it gets things done and another who may need several tools, but has really thought about how they work in concert.

    I use a lot of tools, you would tell me I’m crazy and it’s too complex, however it isn’t for me because I don’t look at it as several tools, I look at it as one workflow. I don’t have two tools that do different jobs, I always know which tool to pick for which job.

    A simple solution never worked for me. This does. As I often say, my “enough” is probably too much for others, but it’s certainly my enough.

    Do I like a chart with my review? Yep, visuals clarify things for me. They let me see projects that are overflowing and others that are unnurtured.

    Do I have scripts that feed one tool into another? Yep, finding ways to turn everything into a check box in OmniFocus has been central for me and making sure it worked with key apps like nvALT and Evernote was transformative.

    Do I have so many tools that I don’t know which to pick up? No, and I think this is really the key. When you hesitate, you’ve gone to far.

    I get what you’re saying here, but there’s a massive difference between simple and appropriate. A difference that varies tremendously from one person to another.

    My workflow was complicated to create and uses several tools, but it’s simple (at least for me) to use. And that ease of use is far more important than simplicity (at least for me).

    • http://www.timemanagementninja.com/ Craig Jarrow

      Good stuff. Appreciate the discussion.

      I think there are different approaches to productivity. I lean towards the simpler, defined tools method.

      When there are too many tools involved, it leads to unnecessary complexity. Too many moving parts, and eventually “normal accidents.” (Accidents that are inevitable due to the complexity of the system.)

      For example, I tend to challenge the GTD approach. While it has some wonderful tactics and strategies, as a whole it can be too complex to be sustainable. That is why you often see articles about people “falling off the GTD bandwagon.” I believe, Mr. Allen (who I love) has written a few of those himself. :)

      In the end, it goes back to “choose tools you’ll use.” And what works for one, may not be the right solution for another.

      • http://michaelschechter.me/ MSchechter

        Perhaps I’m blind to the complexity, but the difference in output is clear.

        Sure I could just use nvALT to write, but by using it in tandem with Byword, I have a speed based power tool for capturing ideas and a more comfortable writing environment for fleshing out and formatting an idea. By daisy chaining them together, I can press a single keystroke to shift what I’m writing in one to the other.
        Sure, I could use Keyboard Maestro to handle all aspects of my Markdown formatting, but by using both KM for instances where I’m copying text and TextExpander for when writing them inline, I take advantage of both of their strengths. KM can do the kind of fill-ins that TE offers, but it’s not optimized for it. To anyone watching, it doesn’t seem like I’m using two apps to format something, but in practice, it’s a simple workflow.

        By deemphasizing the focus on tools, you think more about the way you work. It’s more about having one way that you get things done than it is a matter of the number of tools it requires to do that.

        As for GTD, I see what you mean, but for the most part, the tenets of GTD keep my disorganized and forgetful brain on task. Do I “fall off the wagon”? Sure, but I expect this and my system is always there to help me get back on track when I do.

        For me, in the end, it’s “keep the tools you use”. It often takes me a few times to find the one that fits. But once you do, stop looking for something shinier. I’m always happy to settle for something that works.

  • http://mikevardy.com/ Mike Vardy

    I think the bigger issue is that because there is so many overwhelming tool-based blog posts and tips out there for people to come across that it manages to put them in the very mode you’re warning about. There are far more trap doors out there than there are doors that lead to somewhere, well…productive.

    What works simply for one won’t for another, and vice versa. The best part part about starting out as you’ve discussed above is that it lowers the barrier to entry and provides a far less overwhelming approach than what a lot of others offer (either in terms of software or system).

    The thing we all need to remember here is that simplicity is subjective.

  • http://twitter.com/apinaud Augusto Pinaud

    Love the post. BTW.

    I beleive in simple set up, but understand that for some people that simplicity leads to more procrastination instead of less. The complexity on maintaining the system keep them engaged to it. (It may be what happen with MS.)

    I agree and disagree with you Craig in the following, you said:
    “I tend to challenge the GTD approach. While it has some wonderful tactics and strategies, as a whole it can be too complex to be sustainable. That is why you often see articles about people “falling off the GTD bandwagon.” I believe, Mr. Allen (who I love) has written a few of those himself. :)”

    I agree that people failed on GTD and fall of the wagon because of their GTD implementation, but not because they do complex or simple, they failed because they want to implement David Allen system on their reality. A lot of people can see the principles and then think on their reality. People is afraid of create the context that will work for them, the ones that fit with their reality because the book never said you should in a way that they got the message.

    • http://twitter.com/apinaud Augusto Pinaud

      I like the idea of Enough, but enough not always is simple, many times from the outside seems really complex.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1040600935 Erin Skelly Cameron

    I’m still working on developing my personal time management “system.” so I’m still testing things out to see what works best for me. But this is good for me to keep in mind.

    But this strikes a cord with me – the thing about multiple calendars. My boss insists that we have multiple calendars in Sharepoint for different types of stuff. So we have a recruiting calendar, an out-of-office calendar, and office calendar; everyone in the office has them linked to their Outlook accounts so they can see them. Additionally, everyone has their own personal Outlook calendars.

    This has caused SO MANY PROBLEMS. I’m responsible for all the calendars, and when we were transitioning from Sharepoint 2007 to Sharepoint 2010 this year, we ended up losing calendar appointments because of syncing issues. And then people will put stuff on the wrong calendar, so we can’t find it. People will put things on multiple calendars (say recruiting AND personal), but when there’s an update, they only update their personal calendar; no one else gets the update, because the personal calendar is not synced with the recruiting calendar. I have to constantly switch between calendars when I’m scheduling people for recruiting events, because I have to check to see if people are out of the office, if we have an office thing, or if they have a personal appointment already scheduled (which I have to use my personal calendar for, because I can’t access their personal calendars through Sharepoint). It’s a NIGHTMARE, and I HATE IT.

    It’s a really inefficient use of my time. It would be so much easier if it was all in the same place.

  • http://www.lifewhack.com/ Peter Hall

    I think you nailed it with the simple is better than complicated. Given that work comes at us from multiple directions then we need something to collect all our work items together. Doing this manaully in a paper notebook can be effective as this gives us time to review each item first which tdchnology can prevent. The second thing I use is a priority list which lasts for a day or so – on a sticky note. Works for me, the weak glue of a sticky!

  • http://glynisj.com/ Glynis Jolly

    My time management system is probably overly simplified. I have a calendar that sit on the desktop of my computer. It’s only use is to make sure that I know what day it is. I have a program called Sticky notes. I use a page of it for every major task. I have “done” folders for the categories of these tasks so that when one is done, a copy of it goes in there. That’s it. So far it has worked out well for me.

  • amanda

    Oh man you guys know me all to well haha! Great article. I am the type that often is trying to find that tool that will solve it all but in the end just end up with more then I need. I got an iphone and have installed countless apps to try and help but in the end..maybe I should just use my outlook calendar to help with these things :)

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