After a recent bragging fit of mine where I pretended I be an expert on all the best and most beautiful literature on time management, a colleague shot me an email, asking in part, "Also: which time management book would you pair me with?!"
For what it's worth, here was my response.
I don't know if you were joking about pairing you up with a time management book, but I'll say that I don't think of this as a joking matter. So I'm taking you seriously.
Here are my five favorite books on organizing time and space.
First is Hyrum Smith and the "Franklin Planner system". I heard these audio tapes when I was just starting out at [the college I teach at], and I've since converted them to MP3s: [I don't know if I'm allowed to share these publicly. If you leave your email in the comments below, I'll send you the link to these MP3's and then delete your comment so other people don't have access to your address.]
I was WAY skeptical before I started these tapes. I did not believe that some business guy could tell a single mom, hippie-granola, math professor how to organize her life, but I've been a hard-core devotee ever since. He encourages people to organize their time by their own values -- the "vital versus urgent" notion I mentioned in our conversation earlier today comes from these tapes. But he also showed me how to have all of the information I'll ever need at my fingertips, and how to have it magically "pop up" just when I need it. There is a book, too: The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management.
Another classic is Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. This has a cult following, I think partly because he loves cute buzz phrases ("Think Win-Win"; "Sharpen the Saw"; etc), and partly because this is a squishier book. This won't help you manage paper, time, or your calendar (I think), but I appreciated his approach to working with other people. In particular, the chapter on "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" was the very best explanation of how to do active listening that I've ever read. And I re-read it once in a while because I'm so bad at working with, y'know, people.
Julie Morganstern's Organizing from the Inside Out is hands-down the best book I've read on how to organize spaces and belongings so that they stay naturally well organized. I've used her methods in my kitchen (where I have lots of random people helping put things away), in my teenage daughter's bedroom (the transformation was almost instantaneous and miraculous) and even in my office. She has very little to say about managing time (and what she does say is vacuous at best). I have 3 copies of her book on my shelf just so I can hand it out to other people who ask for it.
David Allen's Getting Things Done is one of the most recent big organizing books out there, and he's generated his own nerd-cult of "GTD" followers. I twitch at a lot of his book because he spends a bunch of time bashing my hero, Hyrum Smith, and he says that values and priorities don't matter. (Grrrr). But he has some good stuff on the difference between reference information and active files. I reorganized my email folders using tricks he mentions, in particular using symbols in the name to keep those email folders at the top of the stack: I have an
- "@ to print" folder,
- "# waiting" folder for those emails that don't require action until someone responds,
- "& Meetings Committee" for my active committee work,
whereas "old" email goes in regularly named folders below. Allen is also good at describing how to set up a tickler file.
Finally, if time is money, then everybody should read the classic Your Money or Your Life. I've read this book out loud to my husband. I re-read it every few years. Countless people say it's changed their lives (they'd actually say "transformed"), and I have to say it makes me think about "spending" my money as a way of spending the time it takes to generate that money. I wish I could get all my advisees to read it.