The Thing That’s Missing From Your Calendar

Time management calendar pieceDo certain tasks cling to your to-do list forever? I’ve had some odds and ends on my list for a while that I never seem to have time for. Today I finally figured out why…

I didn’t have them on my calendar!

“Between Time”

I give seminars, presentations, and workshops all day, with an occasional meeting sprinkled in here and there. Those types of things have prominent places on my calendar, but that’s not all I have to do during the day. I have to respond to emails, compile mileage reports, map out new presentations, etc… I call them “between” tasks, because I squeeze them in here and there between larger obligations.

Today I noticed that my “between time” has been more scarce than usual and some of these smaller tasks have been slipping. If these tasks are to be completed, I need to reserve space on my calendar, just like any other obligation.

Assign Your Smaller Tasks

So, this week, I’m designating where my “between time” is and fiercely protecting it, just like I would any time I’ve reserved for a meeting or workshop.

Take a look at the older tasks still clinging to your to-do list. Are they missing from your calendar? Assign them a time on your calendar this week so you can actually cross them off!

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There Are No Vegetarians in Time Management

Have you ever noticed that when you have a big, difficult project looming over your head, you become suddenly motivated to do everything else in the world except your project? That pile of dishes in the sink? Let me get right on that! The stack of papers waiting to be filed? Sounds like a blast! Pretty soon, my home or office looks amazing, but my project still hasn’t been started. I surely can’t be the only person this happens to!

So, why do we do this? Big projects are Meat tasks. They are difficult, time consuming and require a lot of thinking. It is no wonder we often struggle to find the motivation to start tasks like these! However, most successful people can’t rationalize not working just because they don’t want to start something difficult. We want to be productive, we just really don’t want to start this Meat task. That is why we turn to our Vegetables! Vegetable tasks are much easier and more mindless to do. By filling our day with Vegetables we temporarily mask the guilt of not working on our more difficult Meat tasks. There is a great comic about this behavior here: PhD Comics (If you’ve never read PhD Comics, they are hysterical!)

The problem with replacing Meats with Vegetables is that feeling of productivity is only temporary. At the end of the day we still haven’t accomplished what we need to do. Remember, you need a balanced diet of Meats, Vegetables and Desserts every day in order to be productive.

The Time Diet to the Rescue!

So how do we fix this? Well, since we often view Vegetables tasks as a more desirable alternative to Meat tasks, use that to your advantage! When you sit down to start a Meat tasks, set a small goal for yourself. For example, if you’re writing a paper this could mean finishing the first page. When you’ve finished that goal, go do the most mindless Vegetable task on your “choose-to” list. This will keep you in “work-mode” but give your mind a break. Then, return to your Meat task with another small goal to work toward. Pretty soon, you’ll be far enough in to your difficult task that you’ll be in “the zone” and won’t need to take breaks as frequently. Remember, the hardest part of completing a Meat task is starting it. Once you’re on a roll, nothing can stop you!

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The Best Technology for Time Management

In The Time Diet, having an organized way to manage your tasks and deadlines is essential. There are two components to a good system of time management: A choose-to list for daily tasks and a calendar for long term deadlines. (If you are new to The Time Diet, I don’t like to use the word “to-do list.” I prefer to call it a “choose-to list.” Choosing to do something puts YOU in control. Read more about this concept here: The Choose-To List)

Those who have heard me speak know that even though I am far from a tech-phobe, I prefer the pen and paper method for my choose-to list and calendar rather than technology. This is because pen and paper give me more control over how I write things down than any phone app or online program. I can star things, cross things out, draw arrows, circle things etc…without being limited to the constraints of a computer screen. This is especially true for my calendar. I prefer my paper pocket calendar to the calendar on my phone because I can actually see what I have written on every day of the month without having to click through individual days.

That being said, a choose-to list is worthless if people don’t actually carry it with them. If the only way you’ll ever keep your choose-to list or calendar with you is if it integrated with technology, then you need to make sure you are using the best software out there.

Here are 5 popular time management apps or programs that allow you to keep your list and calendar for your Time Diet synced with the technology of your choice.

Time Management App and Program Review

1) Evernote This is an extremely popular app that you can use on both your computer and your phone. It does not have a calendar, so it can’t really stand alone as your only method of time management, but what makes Evernote stand out is its ability to capture pretty much anything you’d want to keep track of. Is “make dinner” on your choose-to list? Add the link to the recipe and your shopping list to that task. Evernote allows you to categorize photos, web pages, notes, voice memos…pretty much anything you can think of. Because of its flexibility, Evernote can be a great enhancement to your time management system. Check it out here: Evernote

2) Remember The Milk In addition to its adorably quirky name, Remember The Milk is a really cool application. You can access it online or on your phone. Lists are extremely easy to manage and the interface is fairly intuitive. Remember The Milk syncs easily with other applications you may already be using such as Gmail, Google Calendar and iCal so it doesn’t really need to feel like a “new” application, but rather a helpful add on to things you already know. One of my favorite features is that it can alert you of deadlines via text message, email or instant messenger- whichever works best for you. Like most time management software, you are limited with how your tasks actually look when you enter them. You can change the priority of a task, but this just adds a different color exclamation mark next to it. Overall, it is a very helpful and easy to use product and great for your Time Diet. Check it out here: Remember The Milk

3) Astrid This is a time management app for the Android platform. The interface is a little cumbersome, but adding a task is extremely easy. You just start typing! Astrid also syncs with the Android calendar so if you are already using the calendar feature, Astrid is a great app to complete your time management system. The interface has three basic screens: Summary (what the task is) Dates (when the task is due) and Alerts (when you want to be reminded of the task.) Astrid advertises that it also syncs with RTM (Remember The Milk) but in my opinion, if you’re already using RTM, Astrid is superfluous. Astrid is a great tool if you wish to keep both components of your time management system on your android phone. Check it out here: Astrid

4) Google Calendar Yes, I know it seems that Google is slowly taking over the world, but their Calendar feature is really great, especially if you want to share your calendar with others. You can use the “task” feature for your choose-to list and sync your work calendar, personal calendar and spouse’s calendar all in one place. I like that the whole calendar is visible in a “month view” and you can see what tasks fall on which day without having to click through individual days. You can also set up email reminders for upcoming deadlines. Google Calendar is free and works great on my laptop, but doesn’t show up very well on my Android Phone. Check it out here: Google Calendar

5) OmniFocus The program, available for Mac products, is usefully for everyone from business professionals managing multiple projects to college students who just want a simple way to keep track of all their homework deadlines and their book list for each semester. It is a bit expensive (40 dollars for the iPad version) but many of the people who use it swear by it. The interface is extremely sleek and easy to use and you can sort your lists by priority or deadline (or by Meats, Vegetables and Desserts if you are properly following your Time Diet!) My favorite feature is the “forecast” screen, which shows you all your deadlines for the next few days. For me, the steep price tag is not worth it, but if you’re a Mac person and the free-ware just isn’t working for you, this is the way to go. Check it out here: OmniFocus

Have any of these products worked for you? Leave a comment and let me know!

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