There are so many books on Time Management published every month that it is difficult to find time to read and digest them all. What happens to most people is that they buy a book on time management, read it, decide that some parts of it may suit them, but then fail to adequately integrate system into their lives. This is partly due to inadequacies in system itself, and partly due to inherently difficult nature of learning a new system - equivalent to learning a new habit. What books don't tell you is that each different time management system is not necessarily suitable to all people or for all uses for which people need them. Finding right combination of basic methods is entirely individual depending on both nature of tasks that are required to be done and nature of individual who is implementing strategy.
This is where an overview of basic systems is useful. There are few books that give such an overview, but one that does is Get everything done and still have time to play by Mark Forster. After outlining basic methods, he goes on to describe one system that may be useful to some - but is rather complicated and which would not suit everyone.
Basic Time Management Systems
1. To-Do Lists - write a list of things that need to be done and then do them in that order. They can be distinguished from Checklists that are wonderful for breaking a project down into smaller tasks that can be ticked off regularly (which boosts motivation). Pros: can be used for many different types of tasks Cons: not useful if you have a schedule to keep to; can proliferate rapidly causing overwhelm
2. Prioritisation. This is pretty simple - you write down list of things you have to do and then put them in order of priority. Then you do them in that order. Pros: very good for office tasks, home chores, emergencies Cons: can become cluttered and disorganised unless you make separate lists for different projects
3. "Do it now". A favourite with people who handle a lot of paper - this is basically a preventative measure for procrastination. If you need to do action something, you do it now. Pros: Very good for procrastinators, and also for spring cleaning (of both office in tray or your home), routines and tasks which are vital for function (e.g. filling car with petrol) Cons: Not useful for a multi-faceted life where there are a lot of different aspects which need equal attention, as here you can end up spending all your time on one area as you have to "do it now"!
4. "Do thing you fear most first". A form of prioritisation, this is also good for procrastinators as it has a great kernel of truth in it, in terms of fact that once most-feared thing is done, rest will be easier in comparison. Pros: Good for personal growth and conquering fears Cons: can mean that NOTHING gets done if fear of first thing is very strong.
5. Scheduling. Again, pretty simple - you put things in your list with times attached and then you action them according to time. Pros: actions where other people are involved such as meetings, or picking up children. Cons: Can be difficult to estimate exact length of time something will take, and doesn't take interruptions, delays and other unexpected issues into account.
While all of these are very useful in particular situations, and for particular people, they often work best in conjunction with each other. Individual tools just don't work on a consistent basis. If they did, time management books would not be commissioned any more.
The Human Variable - Attention
So why are these tools not working? There is something which underlies whole issue of time management which makes any solution you apply equivalent of a plaster on an otherwise untreated wound. Time is not variable here - there is same 24 hours in every single day. Human attention is vital variable - focussed attention gets things done, while distractions and poor organisation fragment attention so that tasks do not get done. Remember days where a lot gets done, and remember days when you just couldn't concentrate on any single thing long enough to get it completed? This is down to your attention span. It changes from person to person, but research shows that average person can concentrate fully for about 20 minutes at a time, before attention starts wandering.