Time Management and the Perpetual Motion Machine

I was at an airport convenience store the other day looking nostalgically at all of those things they call “books”.

And then I saw it.

A paperback with the incredible words “Time Management” on the cover. I don’t know who wrote it. I did not pick it up and I’m certainly glad to inform you that there is no link to Amazon here urging you to buy it.

Can you do something for me? It will only take 4 minutes.

In the first minute think of a number of things you can do in 1 minute. In the second minute do nothing – just sit there. In minute 3, do all of the things you thought of in the first minute. In minute 4? Reflect. What was the difference between minute 2 and minute 3? Did you “manage” the third minute better than the second? Did time transmute itself? What really got managed?

I know that people think they experience time variation; heck, I think I have felt that way. You know… “Time stood still”. “Time flew by”. And so on.

Here’s the thing:

Time on earth is immutable. It does not shift or vary. Until you or I experience the twins paradox time will not be a variable in your life. Time will be a constant.

You cannot manage time. You can manage stuff like tasks, relationships, possessions… Yourself.

On the productivity graph of things vs. time, you can only vary the things axis. Anybody who talks about “time management” as if it exists, ought to be selling miracle cures, perpetual motion machines or time shares on Baffin Island. I never felt productive until I got past this concept. It’s not that you are wasting time or making the best use of your time when results go poorly or go well. It’s that you did less or did more in a period of time. People who go on vacations are not better time managers than people who don’t go on vacations; they just value vacations more.

So in the realm of hackneyed truisms; “Time marches on”. To which I would add, “… at the same rate”.

Workflow and Omnifocus

I have been moved to action by the stuff I have been reading at MacSparky, practically efficient, Macdrifter and Brett Terpstra’s blogs over the past few months. Of this bunch, a couple of them are strong on Omnifocus. David Sparks has been a long time Omnifocus advocat and bon vivant, while Eddie has been a recent convert.

I started with Omnifocus on the Mac in 2009, added the iPhone edition quickly, then completed the trifecta with the iPad version when it was released. In all of that, I often felt Omnifocus was more of a tonic than a tool. So I cruised the forums, finding tools and scripts, downloading everything. What I ended up building was a home handyman’s equivalent of the perfect workshop. All tools and no talent.

Once I purchased Creating Flow with Omnifocus by Kourosh Dini – a must read for any Omnifocus student – I finally realized how to make the base Omnifocus programs, the add-ons, the workflows and the philosophies work for me. (I ended up using a derivative of Dini’s start date based system and the flag based system.) I was already a secular devotee of GTD – relax I am not going there – so I had a pretty structured set of contexts for personal and career life set up. Being an engineering manager, stuff in my life was already one big list of projects. Most engineers understand GTD instinctively.

A Tip

Here’s something that I synthesized from all of the collected wisdom around Omnifocus; once you get projects set up in a way that works for you in Omnifocus, take a look at the file structure on your main work machine. I created a “Projects” folder – it’s essentially my new “Documents” folder. If you establish a file structure in that folder that matches your Omnifocus project folder structure you will have a system that will complement your workflow. It doesn’t take a lot of time, just go to the Nicola Vitacolonna modified scripts in this forum entry and you will be able to build the file structure as you need to (warning: geekiness level is above moderate on this). The scripts also provide a quick link between Omnifocus, Omnioutliner and the file system. Should that kind of functionality be baked into Omnifocus? Maybe, but the power user crowd that use Omnifocus also appreciate that it is highly customizable while not being full of feature bloat.