the Profession of it
Professionals overwhelmed with information glut
can find hope from new insights about time management.
TiMe ManageMent iS a per- sistently hot issue for many computing professionals. Almost every day we hear (or have) laments about
information overload, about a relentlessly increasing rate of input from
Internet and other sources, and about
feelings of overwhelm, data drowning,
inadequacy, and even victimization.
The consequences from poor time
management can be significant: loss
of trust, loss of reputation, negative
assessments about our competence
and sincerity, and inability to get the
jobs and projects we want. Books and
seminars on time management continue to be popular. Software tools to
help keep track of calendars and to-do
lists sell well.
The same issues plague us as decision makers. We wanted larger
networks and more sensors for better situational awareness—and now
those networks overwhelm us. We still
complain about the quality of our decisions.
In my own research on this subject
I have turned up new insights that are
very helpful especially if viewed as a
coherent framework. I discuss these
insights here. There are opportunities
here for all computing professionals to
become more productive and for some
to design new software tools.
from time Management to
It is very important to frame the question properly. Although we often complain about not having enough time,
although we often
not having enough
time, lack of time
is the symptom,
not the problem.
lack of time is the symptom, not the
problem. The problem is commitment management. Time is one of
the resources needed to manage commitments. Other resources, such as
money, space, and personnel, may be
needed as well. From now on, let us
talk about commitment management.
In managing commitments we need
to know only four things. I’ll call them
practices because you can learn them
as skills and get tools to help you do
them better (see the figure here).
1. How to track commitments to
2. How to chose what commitments
to make or decline;
3. How to organize the conversations that lead to completions of commitments; and
4. How to manage mood and capacity.
These four practices go together. If
we pay attention to only one, we will
see some headway but not a lasting solution to our problem.
Much of the literature on time management focuses on the first practice.
That practice directly addresses one of
the biggest breakdowns with commitment management—missed or forgotten commitments. When the world
gets demanding, we can find ourselves
in a state of constant worry about
whether we forgot commitments or
their due dates and whether we have
the capacity to get everything done.
David Allen has written a hugely
popular book about how to organize
our records so that nothing is lost and
we can eliminate from our minds all
concerns about whether every commitment is being taken care of. 1 He has defined an operating system for managing commitments. His system can be
implemented with a few simple rules
and folders. The folders and structure
of flows among them are remarkably
similar to the job-scheduling part of
a computer operating system. After
you set up your system and practice its
rules for a short time, you soon become
skilled at commitment tracking. That
so many people have found his book really helpful illustrates that the record-keeping part of commitment tracking
is a huge struggle for many.
Allen’s story begins with “stuff” arriving before you. Stuff is anything that
demands your attention and possible
future action. Think of stuff as incoming requests. A request can be anything
from the really simple (such as “read
me” or “take note”) to the complex
(such as “write an analytic report” or