Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Generations of Time Management Tools

When people talk about efficient execution it often comes to a topic called “Time Management.” However, that name is bit misleading. “Time Management” is not just about time. Before you decide to do something and plan time for that, you should really think about the purpose of your work, how important it is, what your priorities are, and so on. Without that even the most efficient execution will be pointless and won’t lead you to the success you deserve.

There are many tools available to help you perform Time Management. They range from specialized software like Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar, general purpose applications like Excel in which you can keep a list of your tasks, websites to help you lose weight, or simple paper forms in an organizer. To put some structure into this great collection of tools, Stephen Covey suggested to divide them into a few generations and defined 4 separate waves of Time Management tools. Below I’ll give you my own interpretation of what those generations are. This will include a brief description of each generation, related key terms, pros and cons of the generation, and at least one example of each.

Generation 1 - To Do Lists

These are plain and simple task lists, sometimes with priorities and status. In organization management tasks can be assigned to other people (called “resources” or “assignees”), and To Do Lists can be split by different task assignments (project A/project B) and by time requirements (today, this week, this year).

Key terms: Task, Priority, Progress, Execution Status, Resource (Assignee)

Pros: It is the most simple and easily understood tool. It is easy to use, and it does not require anything special--it can be done with just a pen and a piece of paper.

Cons: It is overly simplistic. It does not let us plan time for work properly nor does it help other subordinates understand why the listed tasks are needed. People who use 1st generation tools may experience very busy chaotic lifestyles and have to explain tasks repeatedly. Quite often, people find that their effort goes to waste and does not bring desired results.

Examples: List of tasks written on a piece of paper or entered in Excel, or as Tasks in Outlook.

Generation 2 - Calendars

Calendars add the dimension of time to tasks. In these tools, tasks are called “events” and have a set start date and an expected completion date (or just a duration of time). Advanced calendars allow users to create recurrent (repeating) tasks and also share their tasks with others.

Key terms: Task (Event), Priority, Start/Completion Date, Duration, Progress, Execution Status, Recurrence, Resource (Attendee)

Pros: Allows users to better organize their day, collaborate with other people, plan to have sufficient time to complete tasks, and allows them to recognize and minimize overly optimistic/unrealistic expectations.

Cons: 2nd generation tools still don’t include the purpose or reasons behind tasks. People who use calendars may look more organized and in control of their lives, but in reality they rarely get what they wish and hope for. The lack of perspective leads them to spend most of their time on urgent but low-value activities, or fails to help them consider alternative ways to reach their goals.

Examples: Paper wall calendars, Calendars in Outlook, and Google Calendar.

Generation 3 - Goal Management

Goal Management tools force you to think about what you are trying to achieve and what the end result of your actions will be. They help you to create an action plan and consider obstacles, risks, and alternative scenarios. And, only when you have a clear plan, will the tool help you to schedule and execute necessary tasks. If you then meet an obstacle on your way or an unexpected surprise, you can always come back and use the goal management tool to help you reevaluate goals and replan your actions. Some elaborate tools even allow you to break goals into subgoals and put goals into separate categories.

Key terms: Goal (Subgoal), Task (Activity), Priority, Start/Completion Date, Duration, Progress, Execution Status, Resource

Pros: 3rd generation tools finally allow us to incorporate the purpose and reasons behind work and tasks. The “think first before jumping” approach really helps users to achieve better results, and people who use goal management tools are often seen as being very successful. The included and visible purpose and reasons in 3rd generation tools gives them extra motivation and perspective. Because they can differentiate between needed and unneeded tasks, they can focus and accomplish greater results with the least amount of effort.

Cons: The management of individual goals gives positive results and may look very impressive at the beginning, but it may cause great imbalance in peoples’ lives. Success at work often pushes people to want more, do more, and go higher. That’s fine, but it may come with the high price of damaging one’s health, breaking relationships, and ruining families. After a long series of success, people may finally find that they did it all wrong and that their life was spent on nothing but tasks.

Examples: Paper goal setting forms, GoalsOnTrack, LifeTick

Generation 4 - (Personal) Life Satisfaction

The evolution of goal management led to understanding the importance of having a proper balance in life. Reaching one or a few goals in a specific area of your life does not necessarily make you a truly successful person. A goal may sound good, look right, but then turn out to be not what you really wanted. Also, even if a goal is right, other areas of your life may suffer. The modern state-of-the-art approach in Time Management tools requires a holistic view of a person’s entire life. These tools tend to cover all the important areas such as Personal Development, Physical/Mental/Emotional Health, Family and Friends, Financial State, and Community/Charity. They help people to understand their core values and purpose in life. From this perspective, these tools then create a well-balanced set of goals designed to achieve maximum overall life satisfaction.

Key terms: Mission, Core Value, Role, Goal (Subgoal), Task (Activity), Priority, Execution Status, Progress, Start/Completion Date, Duration, Resource

Pros: 4th generation tools help to define not just good, but right goals. A well-balanced set of goals is created to achieve maximum life satisfaction, and people who use life satisfaction tools usually know very well what makes them happy. They make steps in the right direction on all fronts, are able to balance their work and life, and express more care about their overall well-being.

Cons: Although the life satisfaction approach may look very mature and elaborate, it still has few minor issues. The key problems here are loneliness, lack of alignment, and lack of support. People may have their own goals, but their organizations and the people around them may have totally different goals (or no goals at all). Because of this, goal setters may feel like they are on their own or even against the world--that there is no one next to them with the same aspirations. This won’t stop strong people, but it could be a show stopper for the rest.

Example: PlanPlus

Stephen Covey stopped with these 4 generations. But I decided to go further and came up with a 5th one.

Generation 5 - Social Drive

The last generation on my list was formulated based on the analysis of shortcomings of the 4th generation tools. Even though the number of such tools is very limited, I took courage and based my conclusions on fairly weak arguments. From my explanation above you can see my point that humans are social animals in need of the support of others. We need approval and cheering, and we desire to feel like we are part of something bigger, that we’re making a contribution towards something. Because of these needs, I named the 5th generation of tools “Social Drive” in order to bring that social aspect to the forefront.

In addition to the personal aspect of goals, 5th generation tools are aware of a person’s inner and outer circles. They help people find like-minded individuals, define and visualize group goals, share goals among group members, and let group members contribute towards goals setting and reaching. These tools also help to align one’s personal goals with the goals of the group.

To show it simply, here are few concepts related to goal management in 5th generation tools:

  • Sharing - goals are visible, and even editable by others
  • Delegation - goals to be achieved can be passed or assigned to somebody else
  • Personalization - delegated or shared goals can be redefined based on one’s own values or personal goals
  • Cheering - members provide support, increasing the motivation and morale of other people in the achievement of their own goals

Key terms: Group (Family, Organization), Goal (Subgoal), Sharing, Cheering, Delegation, Personalization, Mission, Core Value, Role, Task (Activity), Priority, Start/Completion Date, Duration, Progress, Execution Status, Resource

Pros: With using 5th generation tools, there is better alignment with other people’s or organizational goals. There is a higher feeling of contribution to society, and there are less conflicts and pressure, and more transparency and support. Also, there is a lot of help and motivation offered for personal success.

Cons: Not yet known.

Examples: Are there any? Not yet, but it’s my personal goal to create one! :)

Time Management tools help us to achieve goals and reach our desires. Lists help us organize, calendars help us plan, and goal management tools help us assign reasons and motivations to our goals. Fourth generation tools help us to find balance in life, and the next generation of tools will help us find greater support and personal drive. These tools push us forward, keep us connected to our tasks, show us our purpose, and help us find success.

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