Mastering Time Management: A Guide to Evaluating Methodologies and Choosing the Best Fit for You

How maturely do you manage your time at a personal level? There is no wonder that you are startled by this question. We never think about time management from this perspective, but it pays to do so. Let’s borrow a perspective from the process maturity model, CMM.

CMM (Capability Maturity Model) was developed by Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University for software development companies. Eventually, CMM has grown to CMMI and is applied to other industries too.

CMMI provides a growth path for the maturity of an organization’s processes through five levels. The first level is where everyone starts. At this level, called the initial level, the processes are ad hoc, and unstructured. Success is unpredictable and depends on individual heroics. At the fifth level, called the optimizing level, however, the processes are standardized, repeatable, and efficient. Not just that, but the processes are set up for continuous improvement.

The same goes for personal time management. It’s not that one could not succeed without a formal time management method, but then the success is left to chance or heroics. Once you adopt an appropriate time management method, you move from the initial level to the optimizing level, where success is guaranteed and repeatable.

Once we accept that we need a formal time management method, we open a kind of pandora’s box. There are many methods with their proponents vouching for their greatness!

This is where we could take help from Stephan Covey’s concept of generations of time management alluded to in his legendary book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

His idea is that there has been continuous improvement in the way we manage our time, intending to get greater control of our lives. He divides the evolution into four generations, each generation building on the earlier.

The first generation of time management was about collecting and documenting the work items or steps of working. If your time management method is limited to plain checklists and To-do lists, it’s the first-generation method.

The second generation of time management is characterized by the adoption of calendars and appointment books. It solved the problem of taking control of activities that are time-sensitive.

The third generation of time management involves task prioritization, goal setting, and daily planning. Such methods intend to set clear boundaries for your work and time slots. The third-generation methods made the time management process so rigid that there was no scope for spontaneity. That is where the demand for the current or fourth generation sprung up.

The fourth generation time management is something that builds on all the previous generations’ ideas but offers a resilient approach to handling the distractions and spontaneity to choose the right work suiting the duration of a given time slot and your energy level at that hour. This makes the whole process practically applicable and raises the quality of the outputs.

You will not go wrong if you choose a method from the earlier generations, but you could maximize the benefit only if you choose a method from the fourth generation. The Getting Things Done (GTD) method is the perfect fourth-generation time management method. You will find several resources to learn and adopt GTD and you will leapfrog to the latest solution to the problem of time management.

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(Originally published in Times of India on March 18, 2023)

ChatGPT and Wordle: A Productivity Tip You Need to Try

If you haven’t heard about ChatGPT and Wordle, you were traveling back to earth from Mars (I mean you would have heard about them even while hiding under a rock if you were to be on earth). Well, if it is so, congratulations on becoming the first humans to travel to Mars!

Now, let’s get to the little productivity tip I want to discuss.

Wordle has been an amazingly engrossing word game. It’s been a daily ritual for several puzzle-loving people who know English. Of course, there are French & Spanish language versions of Wordle too. Wordle’s wild popularity could be measured simply by the infinite number of offshoots and variations that have come up – Quordle, Octordle, Sedecordle and Squareword, Waffle, Globle and Worldle, Hello Wordl, just to name a few!

ChatGPT could be many things to many people but for the most, it’s a new workhorse helping in drafting tasks and finding quick, reliable (reasonably), and detailed answers to curious questions, in a chat mode. It has cut down the time one might spend on Google searches, although as of writing Google search is indispensable.

You might still be wondering, what’s common between Wordle and ChatGPT, beyond that they are the recent clickbaits – ahem! I am coming there! As of writing both are web-based apps and there are no mobile versions. Not having them on your smartphones hampers their frequent usage. It’s not just these, there are many such Apps that do not have their counterparts on smartphones. Of course, you could open your favorite browser App on your mobile and visit those sites using the URLs, but that’s laborious. One idea is to bookmark those sites in the browser but still, you require a few clicks.

Here comes a great facility offered by your smartphone operating system, be it Android or iOS – creating a shortcut to a website on the home screen. Once you have such a shortcut, it’s just one tap and you are on the required web page.

Adding a website URL as a shortcut on your mobile device varies depending on the operating system.

For iOS (iPhone or iPad):

  1. Open Safari and go to the website you want to create a shortcut for.
  2. Tap the share icon at the bottom of the screen (the square with an upward arrow).
  3. Scroll down and tap on “Add to Home Screen”.
  4. Type in a name for the shortcut, then tap “Add” in the upper right corner of the screen.

For Android:

  1. Open Google Chrome and go to the website you want to create a shortcut for.
  2. Tap the three-dot menu in the upper right corner of the screen.
  3. Tap “Add to Home Screen”.
  4. Type in a name for the shortcut, then tap “Add” in the lower right corner of the screen.

It’s not about saving a little time, but having such shortcuts, encourages you to visit those sites at every opportunity. You may also like to read my post on organizing your mobile home screen.

(Originally published in Times of India on February 25, 2023)

Photo by Lisa Fotios

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From Idea to Action: Are You Implementing Your Good Ideas or Leaving Them Behind?

“Hey, Listen!”, my daughter said, while peeling an orange, “I was surprised the other day when my friends could not relate to when I said that I eat fruits every day”.
We were all amused at the dining table. Indeed, we have been infinitely consistent with eating dry fruits and fresh fruits, every morning! While chatting further we concluded that the credit went to my wife who has been meticulous in getting the right portions cleaned and set on the dining table for all of us. It was not enough to keep the refrigerator well stocked.
In a gathering, you ask people to raise their hands if they believe in the value of fruits in their diet. I am sure most will raise their hands. But if you ask, next, how many of them were able to consume fruits every day, probably many hands will go down.
I think this is what happens with all the good things. It’s not enough to know that they are suitable for our well-being. We need a set of rituals or a system that makes us apply them in life at the right time and place.
A case in point is that there are several personal productivity ideas that are being told for several generations, but we miss applying them simply because we lack a foolproof system where these ideas are tightly built-in.

Look at these:

  1. Plan for the day in the morning.
  2. Plan Your Week’s Schedule, ahead!
  3. Block out your calendar.
  4. Be well prepared for the meetings.
  5. Have some thinking/brainstorming time.
  6. Obtain clarity!
  7. Eat the frog!
  8. Delegate your work and manage delegated tasks.
  9. Be organized with your work.
  10. Focus on only a few goals at a time.
  11. Don’t lose sight of long-term goals.
  12. Set Aside Time for Breaks.
  13. Write your journal every day.
  14. Start early and go slowly.
  15. Don’t multitask.
  16. Ensure quality in the outputs.
  17. Deliver outputs on time.
  18. Stay consistent in all that you do.
  19. Set priorities.
  20. Utilize peak-productivity hours for important tasks.
  21. Learn from successes as well as mistakes.
  22. Manage your energy (not just time).
  23. Get better at saying “no”.
  24. Plan before you act.
  25. Don’t just plan, you should act too.

You will agree with every one of them. But, if I ask if you have a foolproof system that builds all these together to keep you productive and stress-free, I am sure, most of you will even be surprised if such a system could even exist. The GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology precisely offers you this.

Be it, your health, your diet, productivity habits, or anything else. It’s not enough to know what’s good for you. You will have a chance to succeed with them, only if you build them into rituals or a system.

(Originally published in the Times of India on February 12, 2023)

Photo by Mark McCammon:

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What They Don’t Teach you about Eisenhower Matrix

Eisenhower Matrix should be one of the most favorite topics for posts on LinkedIn. Check this 99th page of the search results on LinkedIn, if you don’t believe it.  But even today more and more people look at it with the same amazement. No wonder, it is indeed a great way to visualize and classify the kind of tasks we work on. But unfortunately, that is not all to the Eisenhower Matrix. I would call that gross underuse of the Eisenhower Matrix. Before I reveal the right lessons to learn from the matrix, let me first give you a recap.

Like any other matrix, it has two axes which, in this case, represent the two distinct characteristics of tasks that we work on, i.e. Urgency and Importance. The vertical axis has two values, Important and Not Important, while the horizontal axis has values, Urgent and Not Urgent. And this gives us the four quadrants:


Quadrant I: Important and urgent tasks, like, crises management
Quadrant II: Important, but not urgent tasks, like preventive measures
Quadrant III: Urgent, but not important tasks, like interruptions
Quadrant IV: The tasks that are neither urgent nor important, like entertainment




It’s easy enough to understand, however, in my experience, I found some people who took little time to understand the fact that there could be tasks that are important but not urgent. Our work environment is so vitiated, that we equate importance to urgency!

Most of the writeups, not just on LinkedIn but on the whole internet, give readers very clear advice on each quadrant:

Quadrant I: Important and urgent tasks – Do it first
Quadrant II: Important, but not urgent tasks – Schedule it
Quadrant III: Urgent, but not important tasks – Delegate it
Quadrant IV: The tasks that are neither urgent nor important – Delete it

There is nothing wrong with this advice on the face of it, but as I said before, it’s a gross underuse of this great tool.

Time to learn the right lessons!

Quadrant III and quadrant IV are about “Not important” tasks, however, in the real world, you cannot eliminate them totally from your life. What best one could do is to minimize the tasks in those quadrants to nearly zero.

Interestingly, one should do exactly the same with the tasks that are from quadrant I, i.e., minimize them to nearly zero. In fact, it is more important to minimize the quadrant I tasks. It might appear shocking but you will find that every quadrant I task from your life, was definitely a quadrant II task once. It crept into quadrant II as the task was not tackled when it wasn’t urgent!





Quadrant I tasks are the most hazardous ones as they stress you. Typically they take more time than when they were in Quadrant I. A flat tire on a busy day on the road will hit you worse than the habit of regular air pressure checks. The results of quadrant I tasks are also of poor quality when compared with their counterparts in Quadrant II.

A flat tire on a busy day on the road will hit you worse than the habit of regular air pressure checks.

Further, when you do tasks that are in Quadrant I, you set a vicious cycle of working on more Quadrant I tasks. You end up setting up a game of whack-a-mole for yourself. When you are late to whack a mole, you are already late to whack a bunch of other moles too.

The solution lies in catching the tasks when they pop up in quadrant II first and letting them not creep up to Quadrant I. It’s easier said than done, but there are two key ideas that would make this easy for you:

  1. Always do a work breakdown of a task that is in Quadrant II and then begin working on some of those subtasks as the situation permits. We often hear this at our workplaces from managers, “No matter how much time I give you, I know you will be working on it on the last date”. It does not have to be this way!
  2. Always maintain a to-do list of all your tasks, so that you have the list of Quadrant II tasks handy to squeeze them into your schedule whenever you have some opportune time slots.

Fortunately, as you work more on Quadrant II tasks, you actually set up a virtuous cycle of always working on Quadrant II tasks.

There lies the secret of stress-free productivity!

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(Originally published in Times of India on Nov 05, 2022)

Let’s Troubleshoot Your To-do List

To do list or not to do list was never a question!

As such, our working memory is too shallow to hold all that we must be doing and wish to do. To worsen the matter, the world around us keeps changing faster than we can cope with, in both predictable and unpredictable ways. A well-maintained to-do list only can get you an up-to-date snapshot of your rapidly changing work universe!

To-do lists are not new. I have been seeing my dad using it since I got senses! He always carried a small diary to keep adding and striking off the items on his list. What might have changed since then is that today one could use Apps to manage the to-do list.

But then, or now, to-do lists have been largely useful as a one-off phenomenon. As soon as you start using a to-do list as a system for work management over the long term you would face several troubles with it! Let’s see which of those you could relate to:

1. You end up with multiple to-do lists –

This is the most common scenario. You end up having several of them and since you don’t know which one of them is fit for use, you start fresh, and uh-oh, you added fuel to the fire!

2. All to-do lists even when put together you are sure it doesn’t cover 100% of your work –

This is the most serious issue. One needs to have confidence in their to-do list to rely on it and use it. A partial list will never give that confidence.

3. Your to-do list is a crazy mix –

It could have very small tasks and very large tasks as well. Too small items just bloat your list and make it difficult to work with. On the other hand, too large tasks typically lack clarity on what needs to be done and so they linger around leading to procrastination.

4. Your To-do list has become too long to review and use meaningfully –

Working with a small to-do list can even be fun, but as your to-do list grows, you start missing your items in the nooks and crannies of your long winding to-do list.

5. Your criteria to pick a task from the to-do list is ad-hoc –

It’s one thing to pick a task from your to-do list and get busy with it and it’s another to pick a task that could be called the best usage of your that time slot.  You need a mechanism to choose a task by keeping the size and quality of the time slot at your disposal, which a vanilla to-do list may not offer.

6. There is no way to track delegated tasks that are struck off from your list –

Another peril of having short working memory is that your delegates forget the task assigned by you to them. And, now that you have struck off that item from your list you don’t have a way to track the progress.

7. There is no way to track completed tasks for reflection –

When you finish something worthwhile, it’s always good to do a reflection on the process and quality of the deliverable for optimizing for the future. Again, a vanilla to-do list does not offer any mechanism to do this.

If you are abandoning your to-do list for one or more of these problems, you are throwing the baby with the bathwater. There is no alternative to a to-do list till either human evolve to get better working memory or Singularity arrives!

Meanwhile, you should build a little system around your to-do list to overcome the limitations. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Have just one place to make your master to-do list: a notebook, a spreadsheet, or whatever suits you but just one! Don’t worry even if it grows into a monster. But ensure that it is up to date all the time.
  2. Use the 2-minute rule to finish tasks that take less than 2 minutes to complete, than to enter them into your to-do list.
  3. Break down large tasks into smaller ones and then put them into your to-do list.
  4. Always scan your master to-do list once every weekend to pull out what is relevant for the coming week and focus only on that weekly to-do list during that week.
  5. All that you have to do every day is to review your weekly to-do list and make a day-specific to-do list and just focus on that small list that day.
  6. Any new tasks that come should go into your master to-do list. Some of them should also into your current week list if they are relevant for the ongoing week.
  7. Instead of striking off the delegated tasks, put them separately, for tracking till the task is delivered back to you.
  8. Write a journal to write completed tasks and use the time to reflect and improve the system.

The best utilization of your time is not just for productivity, but for also staying stress-free and healthy and enjoying that precious life beyond work!

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(Originally published in Times of India on Oct 23, 2022)

What is 5G of Time Management?

When we see successful people around us, we want to be like them. We too want to attain the heights that they have attained. Obviously taking inspiration from them is a great thing but it is often seen that we do not end up duplicating their success.

Why does this happen? By doing what we too can always be victorious and successful?

I believe that there are usually three levels of hurdles.

The hurdle at the first level is this. All our attention is focused on the glory of their success and we end up ignoring the hard work put in by the successful people to achieve it. It’s not easy to have and maintain fitness like Akshay Kumar or Suniel Shetty have. Everyone likes to have that chiseled body, but not everyone is ready to take the painstaking effort that is required to achieve it.

It’s not just about physique, whatever field, you want to shine in, you should ensure that you are ready to do the hard work required to achieve it. The bottom line is whenever we see wild success, our attention should also go to the agonizing pain that brought it.

Now once we have made up our minds that we are going to work hard and also start doing it, there comes the hurdle of the second level! When we do not get that success even after a lot of hard work, we start getting frustrated, especially, when we are very close to the destination. And we may abandon the pursuit.

It is told that the superstar actor of yesteryears, Dharmendra, got frustrated after many years of struggle to become an actor and boarded the train to go back to his hometown and even the train started moving. It was at that time that he got his first break. He was pulled down from the moving train with his bags and he gave his first superhit movie and as they say, the rest is history.

When people hear such stories, they think of “luck”. It is never luck. It is your hard work that leaves its footprints and looking at them people find you.

Now that you are past the two hurdles as you understood the importance of hard work and also resolved that you would not give up, easily, there comes the hurdle of the third level.

“Oh man, I want to do it, but I just don’t have enough time.”

It happens. When you want to do many things, you face a shortage of time. But then, time is such a thing that you couldn’t get more. Everyone gets only 24 hours, every day. So here comes the importance of time management.

As we are evolving, the nature of work is changing. And as the work changes the method of time management should also change. Your time management should be according to the needs of today’s era. A farmer of agricultural age needed just a little more than a rooster to manage his time. Can the same method work now?

The concept of generations is made popular by the cell phone network – 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G. If you ask me what 5G of time management could be, I would say this:

A choc-a-block calendar is a thing of the past. Time management 5G is about having a sparse calendar with only the time-sensitive tasks booked in it. The rest of the tasks are picked up flexibly, allowing the spontaneity to pick a task that suits the size and quality of the free time slot. This is possible only when you maintain a full inventory of your tasks in a smart to-do list. The smartness of a to-do list lies in how well it allows you to filter to get to the smaller subset that matters for your current day or the week.

Maintaining your to-do list to have 100% of your tasks is also not easy. You need the right techniques to ensure that. An incomplete to-do list will marginally be better than not having it at all. All this should be part of 5G of time management.

With the right attitude towards the work and the reward and the sophisticated time management system, no goal should be unachievable!

(Originally published in Times of India on October 07, 2022)

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