Posted by: Diabolic Preacher | September 21, 2008

Can time or task management tools be used for anything other than saving time?

GTD, Project Management, To-do lists, Weekly Planner, Organizers, Reminders…no matter what way you like to address the concept, it always projects a no-doubt-about-it image of getting the most out of time. To keep your life on track to use time as efficiently as possible to be able to do as many more things as possible. But, do you think this is the only perspective that one should have from these tools? My ideas follow 🙂

First thing that I think of when trying out an organizer or a task reminder is to consider how much of my life’s activities do I want to maintain a routine on and how much do I want to execute without deadline or duration constraints. If you organize each and every breath of your life, what exactly are you saving up time for? Its like even forgetting to reading a story book or novel for an hour would make you as guilty as missing a lecture. “oh crap! i fell asleep again!”
Another thing that one needs to have before planning to use any of these planners is faith…faith that the change in lifestyle will take time, will see some failures (but don’t take that ‘some’ for a long ride), but will bring in some changes.

Now as I said before that I want to explore alternative uses of these task management or time management tools. So far I have used a pocket casio organizer, yahoo calendar (or whatever its called) then my nokia 6670, google calendar, remember the milk. I also occassionally explored a bit of korganizer. One of the reasons, I believe that I wasn’t using these tools too regularly was perhaps because I only thought I’d have to routinize my whole day to be ultra efficient and save time…but save time for what? Well,that’s what I thought about and that’s why this post is getting composed in the dark room.

Start with organizing or planning few of your daily activities. It is like encouraging yourself through small achievements. Set some due date and time for a task and see that you do finish that task on time. When you do a task a few times, try to set a duration lower than average to see if you could stay within the timeframe. This, as my friend Sagar suggests, builds up confidence by keeping you organized. You know your time needs for a few basic activities that you perform regularly and that helps you foresee how much time you got in hand for those ad-hoc activities.
One fun use of a calendar app would be to set reminders for all the birthdays and/or other anniversaries of your near and dear ones. I use Google Calendar for this. Online apps and services have more ways of reminding you than desktop software. Facebook’s got an app on it that exports all your friends’ birthdays to an iCal format (*.ics) file. Its called fbCal.

What about serious uses? How do you get good returns from these tools without making your life extra monotonous? Without really thinking of these tools as one extra botheration?
First of all, the most advantageous thing about these softwares is that the iCal file format is widely used, open source or screwed-tight-shut source. So you can always sync up your calendar data at multiple computers or access a single one over the internet using some online app. Secondly most calendaring software allows sharing of tasks or calendar events. Reminds you perhaps of meeting appointments and similar formal stuff. But think of things that you plan to do.

  • Think of shows or movies that you want to watch…watch with your friends without either you or your friend backing out of the plan with a “i got some work” busy tone.
  • Think of people that you do want to meet over the weekend
  • Think of places that you want to go or maybe some new thing that you want to self-learn.
  • Think of those one-time tasks like sending an email that someone asked you to, when you get some time, “Oops! I forgot about sending you that email about the article! I’ll surely do it tonight!”

…and it goes on and on.
Enter reminders. Not only does organizing your activities build up confidence, but they let you be able to actually have time for those suddenly scheduled one-time activities that are hard to remember since they are not part of your habit.

I find people’s initial reluctance comes from the fact that calendars are not so common with them, though a lot of them use their PDA’s or smartphone’s calendars almost on a daily basis.

Photo credit: mahalie
Google Calendar

I have liked Google Calendar both on the desktop and my cell for the natural language event adding, as well as the quick responsiveness of the interface. What’s missing from a calendar app (which is as per standard) is the ability to mark a task as done or to view tasks as lists under user-defined headings, tags or searchlists. To people still unaware, I am talking about to-do list managers or task management software to be precise.

I had heard of Remember The Milk (RTM) for quite some time but having liked and settled with Google Calendar, I wasn’t ready to switch to another app until I actually signed up for and tried RTM for a few days. The reasons I love it demand a dedicated post for itself, but main thing is that besides being a calendar type reminder of sorts, its a task management tool. So you get to know your tasks for the day and also you could show the important ones on top by giving them higher priority. Without priority tasks with a due time alongwith the usual due date come up higher in the list.

Photo Credit: DiamondLime

Google Calendar also has ready to import calendar files for festivals and holidays of various countries. Most often music artistes for example might put up their tour schedules as iCal files. You could set something up like that for your community events too. Software release timeline can be shown on calendar too.

Sometimes tools like Google Calendar or RTM does feel like only good to be used very very occassionally. Sometimes it feels a little tedious to keep dragging along with updating event times and schedules and never following up on them, but I believe, things take time and I need to start from managing most insignificant tasks and quickly move onto managing larger chunks of my time by prioritzing on important activities that I need to get done somehow.

Another observation is that “time management or task management tools can kill adaptability & risk handling skills”, but I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the management concept itself over here. Management is about being as adaptive and being able to account for and handle risks or undesired situations. A task/time management tool is after all still a tool and therefore its an aid to your management skills not a be-all-end-all solution provider. Adaptability and risk handling skills get sharpened by experience. It is not at all remotely usual to just strike the right balance between your planned and unplanned usage of time to account for all possible delays and deviations. This is the reason, why one should not lose heart with not being able to follow a schedule set by the person himself/herself for the first few times.

Some might feel like “I’ll do what I please, when I please.”, but if you need to be able to do ‘all’ that you please/have to do in the given time, so that you could do more things that you please later on, schedulers or to-do lists could definitely help you make each and every day more eventful. You would have some interesting stuff to say to “how was your day?” and you would feel proud inside that you could do a lot more things than you were used to…but it’s gonna take some time and possibly intermittent failures initially.


  1. Great Insights

    Great insights on time and task management. I used and taught Covey and Daytimer for many years before reading David Allen’s GTD book and switching to GTD. And then I found an application that allows me to view my entire GTD at work on my Win machine, at home on my Macs and even on my cell phone. And another app lets me call in tasks to my GTD without any writing or typing, great for those thoughts that hit me while driving. I’ve written about my experiences with GTD in a blog post at John

    • Re: Great Insights

      Thank you John for sharing your blog post and also highlighting the one single concept GTD, that I was trying to avoid to not be caught in the same stereotype 😛 but then undeniably, GTD often is an ultimate goal towards which these tools are geared, but to get people started on these tools, they need to find out alternative ways to get familiar with the tools, and then become habituated to them.

  2. You can bill more hours

    If you are a freelancer or small business who bills hourly for its time, saving time means you can bill more of it. Also, time tracking apps are useful for tracking the time that usually falls between the cracks. So you are effectively accounting for more of your lost time. A great web-based app that does this is Intervals.

    • Re: You can bill more hours

      That certainly is an interesting point that me not being a freelancer had overlooked. When it comes to time-tracking, KArm from KDE comes to mind, but didn’t know of any online app.

      Thanks for the input 🙂

  3. If you’d like a tool for managing your projects, you can use this application inspired by David Allen’s GTD:

    You can use it to manage and prioritize your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A mobile version and iCal are available too.

    • more GTD… 😀

      thanks for the link and suggestion, 😀

      but the extremity of GTD is something i want to initially avoid to not get intidimated and stop using the tools totally..

      • Re: more GTD… 😀

        The app is not so extreme, only main ideas like contexts and next actions are taken from the book, but you ar not forced to use them.

        I think especially the Checklists section is useful for the routines you want to keep track of.

      • Re: more GTD… 😀

        even RTM follows a similar layout of explore as deep as you can understand or want to…


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