We strive for and in fact crave simplicity here at Simple Time Management. If something is too complex,
we quickly lose interest in it. Over the years when it comes to time management things have gotten
more complex. David Allen’s Getting Things Done also known as GTD was complicated enough even
before the Iphone, Droid, Ipad and other gadgets came out designed to “help” you get things done using
GTD. Even those who seem to embrace simplicity like Mark Forster have designed some seemingly
simple systems like his new Superfocus which appear to be fairly complex. After the launch of
Superfocus, there have been dozens of threads and hundreds of posts on his forum asking for clarity on
the rules of the new system, which is paper based by the way. So, possibly it is not as simple as it was
designed to be if it requires all of this debate. Now, I am not knocking these two fine gentlemen who
have done much to advance the productivity of the world and certainly have profited deservedly so for
their efforts. My point is always to ask and try to answer the question, is there a simpler way? Can we
find a method that provides us a framework to capture and process the stuff we need to get done
without having it take weeks, months or years to learn on? More importantly, can we also do this in a
manner that actually saves us time because any time management system requires the use of our most
valuable commodity which is of course that thing we are trying to maximize, our time?
One thing common to all time management systems is rules. In order to do GTD you must follow its
rules. That means you have to make certain lists for Next Actions, Projects, Someday/Maybes etc. You
need to sort your actions into contexts. So I need to decide what I could do at a computer or at a phone.
You need to do a weekly review to manage all of this. In Superfocus you create lists of tasks based on
urgency. Some things go in one column others another. You circulate through the tasks and work on
stuff that “stands out”. Unfinished tasks get added to other future columns. If you don’t do stuff when
you pass through in a certain way, you dismiss the page, meaning all of the tasks are now gone. Now, I
am sure followers of these systems will claim I got the rules wrong and don’t understand the systems, I
am just pointing out that all systems carry with them some complexity and overhead to implement.
So, this begs the question is there a simpler way? Personally, I have a much simpler system I use and I
have never been happier. It has one rule and one rule only. What is the rule?
Write everything in one place.
Let’s examine the rule. When you say write everything in one place, what do you mean? Well just that.
Everything you have to do, calls you need to return, to-do lists, notes, ideas, project lists all go in one
place. Ok, got it what is the place? The place is the paper notebook of your choice. Note, this is a paper
system, which in my experience is the easiest, most efficient way to keep track of commitments. The
notebook can be an expensive Moleskine or a spiral notebook like we all used in school. Aside from cost,
there is actually a difference in how the system operates depending on what you choose. A spiral
notebook allows you to rip pages out, a Moleskine does not. So if you are using a spiral notebook, you
can rip out notes and place them in files for later use. If you use a Moleskine or other type of hardbound
book, you will not be able to file notes. What is the impact of this? Either way if you need to save notes
you will need to expend some additional time to either catalog your notes if they are kept in a
hardbound book or make files and keep the notes you rip out of the spiral notebook. The choice is up to
you. People will naturally ask things like how often and how do we review the notebook. I have always
said a time management system does not choose your priorities and limit your commitments to a
manageable number, you must do these things. So, given that you are in charge of your life, you will
naturally determine how often to review your notebook and also what to work on when you review it. If
you need the focus of a daily list, you will write one. If you need to get caught up on lingering tasks, you
may start at the back. If you want to focus on recent urgent items, you may work backwards. There are
no hard and fast rules because no rule can govern changing circumstances. However, the rule of writing
in one place I have found gives me the 80/20. I have captured all that needs to be done in an easy to
review system with minimal overhead. This system allows me maximum processing time, because of the
low overhead, yet I can trust it because everything is in it.
What do I do at the end of the notebook? You can review it for things you still need to do and transfer
them to new notebook. Throw it away and start fresh, which may be therapeutic. Keep it and keep
working the items until they are done. You will still only be writing in one place, which is a fresh
What size notebook should I use? Whatever size is comfortable for you and fits in your briefcase,
backpack or purse. Lefties may consider a steno notebook or another top bound alternative.
What else could make me even more productive? Maintain a simple A - Z filing system since a huge
cause of wasted time is hunting for things. Also give up hunting for the perfect time management
system and use the time to get things you need to accomplish done.