The best system that I am aware of is Getting Things Done (GTD®) by David Allen.
The limitation of GTD and other systems is not that the ideas are not good, which they are. Instead, the problem is that they each represent a single set of strategies.
I liken it to a particular kind of music that you can get from using an equalizer (a device used to balance the different frequencies of sound to produce a particular quality of music). One can set the knobs to enhance reggae music (with lots of bass), rock music (with a lot more treble) or to clearly hear an audio recording, which involves enhancing the frequency for spoken sound and dampening the others.
Of course, the choices are infinite and depend on the taste of the listener, who can use a rock setting to listen to pop music, if that is what they like.
No one kind of music is better than the others – they all serve the needs of the user. The same applies to GTD and other systems.
They reach represent a single setting, or choice of frequencies. Some go so far as to say that their setting is the best, and all the others are wrong, or inferior.
People who become adherents of one system or another tend to follow the settings in much the same way – that is, in whatever way the creator decided works for them personally, and should therefore work for many.
The problem is that time management systems are all about habits, and these little buggers are ridiculously hard to break, as I have said elsewhere on my blog.
My experience is that when someone offers me a new system of habits of any kind, it’s usually easier to adopt the new system only if my current habits are not that much different from the new set of target habits. That is to say, GTD is most useful to people who are already almost there.
It is much harder to use for people who happen to have habits that are radically different, because then they are faced with the problem of trying to change a LOT of their habits all at once.
The result is predictable. They are “good” for a week or so, and then fall back into their old habits. The distance from where they are now to where they need to get to is just too great to overcome.
How does 2Time help?
Well, a student of the 2Time approach is introduced to the fact that productivity is a function of habitual practices. Each of these practices can be independently assessed to determine
- where the student currently is
- where they would like to get to, and by when
- which habits they should introduce next, or break next in order to move up the scale
When they put all the changes together, they can then spread the changes out over time. In 2time they are encouraged to be conservative about their ability to change habits, and not to try to “build Rome in a day”. Those that over-estimate their ability to learn new habits, no matter how good they sound, or how inspired they happen to be, are likely to fail.
For example, a user that decides to adopt the habit of taking a digital voice recorder around wherever they go might think that this is an easy habit to create, within the overall 2time practice of “Capturing”. Once they start doing it, however, they could discover that the device is to hard to learn to use, and that they use it only when it is convenient, a far cry from using it to capture everything they can.
It could take 30 days of concerted effort to get to the point where the habit is ingrained enough to even attempt to tackle another new habit.
It would be a mistake to try to force oneself to change the habit more quickly, or to try to change too many at once. Habits don’t respond that way.
The 2Time user may well decide that the GTD approach is the best one to use, but they would approach it with an understanding of where they are and how to get there that boosts the chances of their success.
To continue the equalizer analogy, instead of trying to change all the dials on the device at once, they would move them slowly and carefully from one kind of sound to another, with the minimum of chaos and the maximum of finesse. To the listener, they might not even notice the difference, but to the user the changes are profound and long-lasting.