A 2006 post on Pascal Veniers blog made me think a little about a topic that I’ve long considered and held some thoughts on. This topic is that of time management.
It is clear that I am an example of what you could call a productivity geek. I’ve studied various methodologies and used various tools. I’ve been on a search for the holy grail of personal productivity. You’ll note that I rarely use the expression time management. This is simply because I don’t believe in it.
You see time cannot be managed. It is a constant. There are 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day. That makes a grand total of 1440 minutes in a day. No matter how hard you “manage” your time, you cannot possibly produce even one extra minute in a day. 1440 is a critical number — it is rock solid and rock steady. Time frankly refuses to be managed, despite our best efforts and great intentions.
I’ve held this view for many years, so when I stumbled upon Getting Things Done a few years back, I was instantly intrigued. Why? Because David Allen never talks about time management. He talks about action management.
Actions are the only things we manage. Eating, sleeping, meditating, exercising, work, rest, play are all actions. Some actions are standalone, some are part of a greater “project”. But actions are, by definition, the things we do.
So give up trying to manage time — time is an external concept, and steadfastly refuses to be managed. Instead, look within yourself and focus your efforts on your actions — on making the most use of your 1440 minutes in a day. You will be more productive.
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In May last year, I blogged about my (then) favourite productivity applications. As co-host of the Personal Productivity podcast, and a long time seeker on the journey to improve my personal productivity, I’ve studied and experimented with a lot of methodologies, tools, gadgets and software applications to assist me in my quest.
As regular readers of this blog know, my own system is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, with some influence from Stephen Covey, Asian and Western philosophy and life lessons I’ve learned in work, life, scuba diving and karate.
Now before I get to heavily into this discussion, I want to emphasise that it is important to focus on working with your productivity system, as opposed to on it. I see a classic trap (one that I have been guilty of falling into myself) is to procrastinate by working on the system too much, trying to change things, playing with every tool/gadget/application available. You really need to understand the techniques and principles of your system before modifying it too much. See my post on Shu-Ha-Ri and GTD for more discussion on that topic.
Last year I had a list of 5 applications that I counted as favourites.
Whats interesting is that three of the 4 still number in my new expanded list. One has been replaced by a competitor, for reasons I’ll discuss.
So without any further ado, here’s my newly updated and expanded list of Favourite Personal Productivity Applications.
- ActiveWords – still a big hitter. This tool allows you to control your PC from any application and in context. The addition of the InkPad for TabletPC’s has been fantastic.
- Anagram – an easy way to capture stuff directly into Outlook or Palm Desktop. I debated whether to leave this on the list, as I don’t use Palm anymore, and I don’t like the current iterations of Outlook. But I still use Anagram to get stuff into Outlook and then onto my O2 XDA IIi.
- Backpack – this is a fantastic web based tool from 37Signals. Its a place where I can collect my “stuff” online, as well as organise it. Its the repository for my Next Actions and Projects lists, and a place where I collect stuff for projects, presentations and so on. I really love the ability to be able to email stuff to my pages, the mobile version and the ability to share selected pages with selected people. It is elegant simplicity personified.
- Bloglines – as I maintain a blogroll of approximately 300 feeds, and use several computers, I want a good browser based tool to manage my feeds well, and keep stuff in sync. To be honest, I got fed up with Bloglines for a while (when they had lots of availability issues), and defected to NewsGator/FeedDemon. I had FeedDemon on 2 main computers, but the syncing engine from NewsGator was temperamental, and I don’t like their NewsGator Online version in a browser. Bloglines has improved heaps, and are back on my list.
- Firefox – what a great browser. Especially since the release of version 1.5, I love this browser, and with more of my favourite apps being browser based (e.g. Bloglines, and several AJAX/Web 2.0 apps) I love the tabbed interface, and the extensions. Some great extensions include Performancing for Firefox (blog writing tool), Xinha Here, Livelines, Foxmarks, IE View, and the cool del.icio.us extension.
- gmail – I’ve moved all my personal email over to gmail. I love the labelling capabilities, the archiving and the easy search functionality. I do wish they’d listen to users, and give us a delete button.
- Google Desktop Search – Last year I rated Copernic Desktop Search, and I still really like that program. The reason for the switch – Google Desktop Search is well integrated to gmail and MindManager, and has an easy browser interface.
- Lotus Notes – a perennially cool application. Email in Notes is wonderful – I really appreciate simple touches like Send and Save. The collaboration functionality is outstanding, and I believe this is the best enterprise class messaging system. I am not sure why I didn’t include Lotus Notes last time ’round.
- NetVibes – an outstanding homepage based on the AJAX framework. This is my dashboard – I can see a bunch of key stuff in one place. On my page, I have websearch, and then feeds from tech.memeorandum, DIGG, del.icio.us/popular and Tailrank. I also have a display of my own MyComments field. This way I can quickly view whats popular in the blogosphere and also track my most recent commenting activity on other blogs. I’d like to see a world clock on this page to track current times in other zones. I have played around with other AJAX desktops, including Google IG and Protopage, both of which I like. NetVibes is the best for me though.
- Skype – my IM and VoIP tool of choice.
There are a couple of other applications that are on the radar, but have not yet made the leap to be a favourite for me. These include Writely (online word processor) and AirSet (online PIM). Writely is very cool, and I think will make the grade very soon. AirSet I am less sure about. Its interface is a bit clunky, and I dislike that I have to sync through Outlook to my PDA.