Good, easy-to-implement time/life managment techniques?

I’m coming out of several years of being lazy and “going with the flow,” trying to get a jump back in and start working to improve myself and my life. It’s actually looking up; I’m doing better than I have in years at being conscientious and mindful of goals and responsibilities and what have you.

I have, however, realized I’m absolutely terrible at time management and general sort of “life organization.” Things that have “real” deadlines are easy to handle (I was always a solid student, because everything HAD a deadline), but I’m lousy at keeping track of and finding timeframes for…well, everything else.

I’ve read “Getting Things Done” (since GTD is such a big buzzword) and it’s a very sensible approach, but it’s also much more professionally-focused and written for people already “on” their path who just want advice on efficiency.

I’m looking for something that’s a bit more about personal goals, perhaps a little simpler and snappier to implement. Something written, I suppose, for a naturally disorganized person trying to get more conscientious and responsive, not something for an existing “type A” person just trying to hone their edge.

Any recommendations?

Organization is for people who are too darned lazy to get up and look for stuff. I’m a bit lazy, but I like to think of it as ‘efficient’.

Flylady helped me quite a bit many years ago. I also have a large wall calender with plenty of space for notes, and make a lot of lists. .

First off, I’ll say that it can be done. I used to be an ace procrastinator. Even in grad school, I’d be up all night working on last minute papers. Then, I decided to stop. And, it worked! This last round of finals, I had no crunches and no emergencies…despite having a brand new full-time job! I just put in small chunks of work towards my finals over the course of several weeks, and it all go done.

The bad news is that the magic isn’t in the system, it’s in the mindset. The missing ingredient is discipline, and unfortunately that’s a lot harder than reading lifehacker articles.

The first thing I would do is agree to some general principles. For example, I decided to have 0% flakiness. If I said I was going to do something- either to myself or to someone else- I would do it come hell or high water. I had about five or six basic principles- nothing unachievable, but definitely challenges. I also had some defined goals (in my case it was a three point plan: Find a place to live, find a job, find a partner…4 months later I’m 3/3!). I try to write in a journal at least once a week to keep track of how these goals are going, and what principles I may be slipping on.

From there, it’s a matter of finding systems. There is no one magic system, and you will waste a lot of time trying to find it. Instead, focus less on the system and more on what you need from that system. For me, I use the following tools:

  1. GCal, like crazy. EVERYTHING I need to do, from “Job Interview” to “Think about what classes to take next semester” goes into GCal. Anything that is vaguely “To Do” immediately goes in to GCal. I even throw “Well, maybe that’d be a good idea” things into GCal…for example, I’ll put in stuff like “Go back to that webpage you saw and didn’t get a chance to read thoroughly.” If something comes up, it goes directly into GCal.

The I have GCal spam the heck out of me. It sends me a daily digest with everything on my list for that day that I review first thing in the AM. I also have it send me an email one day ahead of a task and an SMS one hour ahead of a task. This is great for those “Think about this…” or “Read up on that…” kind of tasks that are so easy to ignore otherwise. In GTD talk, GCal is basically my Tickler.

  1. For larger projects with lots of steps, I’ll use Wunderlist to break it down. It’s easy, straightforward, and looks nice. I also use Wunderlist for my projects at work.

  2. I use Evernote for school notes, school readings, and random articles I might want to look at later.

  3. I make sure my inbox is cleaned out basically every day, I have folders for things I need to follow up on, with different degrees of urgency (i.e. a folder for jobs to look at, one with friends to write back when I have time, etc.)

  4. Get enough sleep. This is a big one for me, but YMMV. If I don’t sleep well, all I’m going to be able to do after work is zone out. But if I get enough sleep, I can get in a few productive hours after work.

My laziness often involves sitting on my sofa, watching TV, surfing the web on my laptop.
I always have a pad of paper next to the laptop. It’s open to my to-do list. When I think of something that has to get done (errands, chores, etc), it goes on the list.

I look at the list before I settle in for procrastination, and usually do a few things on it. Sometimes it helps to break the list down into pieces, if you’re new to it. For instance, I’m making soy milk today. I have to soak the beans in the morning (happening now) and actually process them later. That could be two items on the list. If I broke them up, I’d write
“Soy milk - soak, process”
And then cross out the relevant parts as I finished.

The biggest one for me is to delay gratification. It’s from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The book for the most part is hogwash but this idea is the basis of my organization and time-management.

In summary, do the things you should do before the things you want to do.

That means when I really want to play a video game or watch TV, I need to do the dishes and clean first.

This works great for smaller everyday tasks.

I also maintain a book with daily lists of things to do in it. Some things are date-specific (Dr. appointments, passport renewal, for example) but most are just the little things I need to accomplish before I go to bed each night (make lunches for the next day, laundry, etc.).

For bigger tasks (for me, that would be home improvement stuff, for others, it could be an essay or studying), I break it down into manageable chunks and put the items on the same daily lists. That way, I am not trying to do it all at once but know that there is a plan to complete it and that once I am done the chunk for the day, I can relax.

Lists and calendars. Lots of them. And always carry a pen and paper. Well, I used to do that, but now my smartphone takes care of a lot of the heavy lifting.

I have improved my organization by massive amounts in the past 2 months. I finally got fed up with having unprocessed mail clogging the kitchen table and having piles of papers waiting to be filed in my office (I’m a college professor–we attract a lot of papers.)

Here are two small changes I made that have made a big difference:

  1. I don’t take my shoes off in the evening until all the mail has been handled. If there’s a bill, I write the check and put it in the envelope. If there’s something to file, I file it. This way mail doesn’t stack up.

  2. I realized that my biggest problem with office organization is that I dump papers willy-nilly on my desk to handle “later.” This doesn’t work. So now my rule is that if I have a sheaf of papers in my hand when I enter my office, those papers have to go directly from my hand to wherever they belong.

What allowed me to make these changes was that I sat down and figured out at what exact moment the system was breaking down. It’s not that I didn’t have a place for papers or a place for filing mail. The problem was that the stuff was never getting there because I was intending to deal with it “later” (as if “later” ever comes). So I now handle stuff immediately instead of pretending that the sorting will happen “later.”

Don’t know if this will help anyone or not, but that’s my 2 cents.

I’m not even the OP, but this is totally awesome. I especially like even sven’s Gcal tip and QuarkChild’s tip to file things Right Now – I’m going to have to implement those.

I’ll add that one thing I’ve found helpful is to put an extension on my browser (I use Chrome and StayFocusd, but I know other stuff exists) that tells me when I’ve surfed the web for a given amount of time that day (and stops me from accessing key time-waster sites after I’ve exceeded that amount), and that lets me keep track of how much time I’m wasting and prevents me from wasting more than a particular amount.

(Speaking of which, I’m running out of time!)

I am another Gcal addict. I totally depend on it even to remind me when it’s time to do laundry and buy groceries. You should try it.

A tip I heard once, which has basically been suggested several times already in this thread, is to “deal with things only once.” That means don’t put things off. Don’t register that something needs to be done and say you’ll do it later–do it now. It frees up mental space and tidies up your physical space.

Bills and receipts:
Get yourself a binder and a box of those clear plastic page covers, (with holes in for the binder).
Put the page covers in, upside down. So the opening is at the top. Now file your monthly bills here as you pay them. It’s easy to flip through, last months bill is always visible and, come the end of the year, it’s all in one place, in order, ready for the accountant, etc.

Make a housework list;
Separate things that need doing, once a week, once every two weeks. Spread the chores out so they jibe with your available time. Put together things that make sense, empty cat litter/garbage night, bed stripping/laundry day. Mostly don’t be afraid to keep tweaking it, till you get it just so.

Saves braincells, trying to remember when things were done last, what not to forget, etc. It’s rewarding to cross things off as accomplished. And it’s way, way easier to keep your house clean than to get your house clean.

I already use GCal, and it’s been nice. At the moment, part of my problem is that I don’t have a lot of discrete deadlines and tasks. I should try to integrate more stuff in there, though.

“Deal with things once” is a good mindset, something I’ll try to focus on. It’s related to the “three minute rule,” which I’ve tried to follow for a while now: if there’s something that needs doing and it will take less than three minutes to complete, do it immediately.

I’m trying to take a “small steps” approach to improving procrastination, starting with small things around me. I’m trying to “tidy as I go” around home more than I ever have, and the effect that’s had is already pretty substantial.

What sorts of things are you doing? If you don’t have a lot of “must do’s”, what are your new years resolutions? Heck, if you don’t have a lot to do but still want to feel productive, go hang out on Lifehacker for a bit and you’ll find all kinds of great self improvement projects. I’ve spent my day off designing promotional stickers to go with my business cards and creating an infographic resume.

It seems to me like your main issue might be that you haven’t really defined goals and broken them down into discrete steps. I try to have a strategy for everything- even when I was dating, I had a strategy for managing my updating my online profile, time to spend replying to messages, aiming to go on X number of dates a week, etc. I have a whole laundry list of career development projects, from personal branding (website, social media, etc.) to researching organizations I’m interested in and putting the information I find into a useable database (thanks Evernote!)

I find that for me, structure really helps. When I’m just in school, I never seem to get a lot done. But now that I am in school and working, I really put my bits of time to good use. Maybe you need a few more structured things in your life.