Also see part 1 on technology things.

Honing time management skills is a lifelong process that starts at an early age. I don’t think it’s something that is perfectible. Instead, it’s something that someone can simply get better at with maturity and awareness. I feel like 2016 was my best “time management year” ever because of what I accomplished and the efficiency I felt in the day-to-day moments of my work.

Based on self observation, these are the aspects of time and project management that I think I improved on the most.

Time management

I dedicated mornings to deep reading and tasks that require the most mental energy. I’ve always known that I do my best work in mornings, but in 2016 I made my most concerted effort ever to guard mornings for specific kinds of work.

It’s a nuanced thing I guess, but the biggest change I made was that I stopped working on projects as linearly as I used to. Rather than use any time available to work on the “next task in line,” so to speak, I began carving projects up into more specific task categories using OmniFocus contexts.

I’ve never been a fan of contexts like “high energy” and “low energy,” but I’ve learned to associate specific stages of my typical projects with energy states, which are largely dependent on the time of day. In doing this, I made more progress over longer time periods because projects were less likely to stall on high energy tasks that I used to try to take on in afternoons. Once afternoon rolled around, if a high energy task was next in line, I learned to let it go until the next morning, and I looked for lower energy (e.g. administrative tasks) to tackle.

It’s kind of like learning to knock down a huge brick wall by chipping away at different spots until the whole thing collapses under its own weight, rather than tearing it down brute force brick-by-brick from right to left. At first it feels like you’re making less short-term progress when you take a more energy-based approach to work, but over longer periods, I believe you begin accomplishing not only a greater quantity of work, but a higher quality of work because at each stage, you give the work the appropriate amount of attention.

The other benefit I began to feel is that I started keeping my admin-oriented tasks to a manageable number. They stopped piling up because I was able to knock them out during times of day that my mind was useless to work on higher value work anyway.

I’ve begun to understand that I’m essentially a collection of “selves” that change subtly throughout the day, and I’ve learned to manage these “selves” as different workers—or like a great football coach who knows how to get each player to play to his full potential.

I also became much more aware of how important sleep is to getting more out of all these “workers.” The closer I can come to seven-ish hours of sleep a night—not just in a given night, but in consecutive nights consistently—the higher I perform at every stage of the day.

Project management

I finally bought OmniPlan in 2016, and within only a few days of using it, my biggest disappointment was that I hadn’t bought it sooner. I’m probably a very unusual user of OmniPlan because I’m not a “project manager” in the formal sense, and I’m not using it to manage projects with multiple people.

For me, it’s just very useful to have a time forecast for projects so that I can set realistic expectations for myself and my customers. Knowing when a project will likely end also lets me do more macro-level project planning to understand what I can realistically accomplish in the coming months or year so that I’m less likely to over-promised my time. Gantt charts are definitely not unique to OmniPlan, but I really like how the OmniGroup has implemented them in OmniPlan and how easy it is to work with them.

OmniPlan makes it very easy to create task dependencies and realistically budget for weekends, holidays, and other planned time off. There is nothing better than taking time off and knowing your work is still on schedule when you get back.

I’m using OmniPlan exclusively in iOS. It’s really great on my big iPad Pro, but it’s also surprisingly well implemented on the iPhone. I may buy the Mac version at some point, but the iOS version is satisfying all my needs for now.

For me, OmniPlan complements OmniFocus. I used OmniFocus more than ever in 2016. In 2015, I began a trend of creating more, smaller OmniFocus projects rather than fewer, larger projects. The longer-term, multi-week and multi-month projects I track in OmniPlan are usually organized within specific folders in OmniFocus. Very roughly speaking, each OmniFocus project is corresponds to one or two tasks in OmniPlan.

In OmniPlan, my goal is to forecast time, and so the tasks I create in OmniPlan need only be granular enough for that purpose. OmniFocus actions are much more granular, representing the steps I need to execute in the day-to-day and moment-to-moment to moment work of the project.

At first I was worried I was just duplicating administrative work in OmniPlan by doing what can feel like recreating tasks there. But the return on this additional time investment has been huge. OmniPlan essentially gives me an additional time-oriented perspective of my projects that I don’t have in OmniFocus (or any other task management tool). For longer projects, it’s also very motivating on a daily basis to see how staying on a preset schedule today translates to time savings weeks in the future. It also helps avoid the natural tendency to waste time until a fast approaching deadline forces urgency.

Bigger picture

For most knowledge work, “project management” reduces to simply time management. Good planning is about turning each day into an urgent, but achievable deadline.