If you are the kind of person who easily gets distracted with emails, phone calls and minor tasks, you may find the Pomodoro Technique useful.
- get a count-down timer
- pick a task
- set the timer to 25 minutes (aka. a pomodoro)
- work on the task, with no interruptions until the pomodoro ends.
- add an(other) 'X' mark next to the task (even if it's not completed).
- take a short break (3-5 minutes). after four pomodoros, take a longer break.
- while task not complete, go to step 3.
- after a task is completed, count the number of X's to get a sense of the time spent on it.
- time management should be simple
- frequent breaks improve mental agility [ref which I don't really understand :-)]
- increased awareness of the time spent
- reduce the time spent on distractions
I've been following the pomodoro technique for a little over a month now, and I think it did help me spend the time more efficiently (at least when I'm serious about it). I'd like to highlight a few problems and how I attempted to fix them:
problem: just because you shouldn't be distracted in the middle of a pomodoro doesn't mean you won't.
solution: every time I get unnecessarily distracted, I punish myself by resetting the pomodoro.
problem: the short break is too short.
solution: make it a little longer. I found 10 minutes to be a reasonable time.
problem: when tasks take too many pomodoros, I lose any sense of achievement.
solution: spend the first couple minutes of a pomodoro thinking about the focus in this pomodoros. then, spend the last couple minutes of a pomodoro documenting what you have accomplished (regardless of how little/insignificant it was).
While I found this technique to be quite effective, it doesn't address all time management problems. I use rememberthemilk and github issues to track my tasks and prioritize. I keep all my time-constrained commitments on the calendar to make sure I'm not double booked. ...etc