When it comes to time management, there definitely isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. After all, time management isn’t really about managing time – it’s about managing ourselves, and we all have very different ways of working. As the foundation for that process, time management planners offer huge power to structure our thinking, visualize our progress and keep us accountable. Yet a tool that works for one person may not work for another.
The time management planner market is pretty saturated, so it can be helpful to try out different ways of planning your time to see which tools actually make your life easier (and more enjoyable!). We’ve broken down three types of time management planner to get you started – with best-in-class examples for each approach.
We may live in a digital world, but that doesn’t mean that pen and paper have become obsolete. The past few years has witnessed a renaissance in low-tech time management, with people turning away from advanced time management software in favor of slow, analogue methods. In part, this can be seen as a rejection of the frenetically fast-paced lives we live – a desire to return to a simpler time. But it isn’t just about nostalgia; low-tech time management tools like productivity journals, work diaries and bullet journals have become so popular recently because for many people, they work.
Studies show that writing by hand engages the brain in different ways than typing, and this enhanced cognitive engagement helps us process information in a deeper, more meaningful way. So if we use an offline tool to help us record deadlines, schedule work and analyze how long tasks take us, the information may resonate with us far more effectively than if we’d used a high-tech tool. When you take into account that the very act of writing can feel therapeutic, this offline approach to time management planning can be surprisingly effective at making us feel calm and in control.
But this approach definitely isn’t for everyone. As a long-hand approach, offline time management planners require a serious time investment in themselves. Aside from being impossible to quickly scan or link to other information, offline planners are also liable to human error – and an act as small as writing down the wrong due date has the potential to cause much bigger problems. Plus, without a digital record of your time management plan, you need to consider what happens should you lose your offline plan or forget to bring it with you to work.
For many of us, in order to stay on track of all our tasks and be aware of upcoming deadlines and milestones, we need to see a visual representation of our schedule – like a timeline or calendar. While calendar tools like Outlook are used by millions of people for email, many of its calendar and time management features aren’t capitalized on – yet these can be really beneficial to keeping track of work and priorities.
When you use calendar tools as a visual schedule, you can easily see what needs to be done – and when – with just a quick look. You can also use calendar features like tasks to help you manage time via your email – e.g. if you have an email that requires action, you can use it to create a new task, which appears in your calendar for easy tracking. This helps you stay on track of work, and if you’re someone who worries about things slipping through the net, can help you feel on top of things.
Tools like Outlook also integrate with many time management plug-ins, like MyLifeOrganised, PlanPlus, and Getting Things Done, which further enhance their capabilities as a time management planner. Plus, another benefit of calendars is that they work really well for time blocking, which is a super effective way of getting things done. You can use simple calendar tools like Week Plan to time block your week, and use color coding so you can quickly differentiate between high and low priorities. However, while calendar tools can help you stay organized, they don’t return any insights which can help you refine the ways you work or improve processes. Just watch this space – there is a growing market for intelligent calendar tools like Dewo, which use AI to help you prioritize your calendar for deep work and provide running insights on how you actually spend your time.
Ultimately, you can’t get better at managing your time unless you understand how you actually use it in the first place. Aside from showing you how long different pieces of work tend to take, tracking your time reveals hidden time drains, identifies inefficient processes, and highlights your productive patterns, giving you the insight needed to make effective changes that support your focus. While time tracking used to be a fiddly and time-consuming process, these days you can use automatic tracking to do all the work for you.
Automatic time tracking tools like Timely run in the background while you work, capturing every detail of your day – and you can then use this data to inform your time management plan and make accurate estimates for how long different tasks and projects will take. Once you know how much time you actually put into different bits of work, you can quickly plan out a schedule using Timely’s calendar interface, which allows you to visualize all planned work from one beautiful timeline.
With this type of tool, scheduling becomes effortless, and you can allocate, edit and reassign work between coworkers using a simple click and drag. Beautifully, you can actually report on your planned vs. actual time for a specific piece of work, allowing you to continually refine estimates and create more realistic schedules. Intelligent time management planners like this do come with a price tag, but this may pay for itself if you frequently juggle multiple projects and clients.