Two Resources (One Paid, One Free) for Getting On Top of Stuff

It’s Friday, so hopefully you’re winding down a bit and thinking about how to relax rather than how to be more productive–so file this away for Monday (or read it now if you work weekends).

Here are two resources–one paid and one free–to help stay on top of email and tasks.


1. Dispatch App



I’ve never understood the logic of apps that allow you to “snooze” email. Handle it once and move on, I think. Emails are often calendar appointments or tasks in disguise, and our Inboxes are no place to be keeping tasks. Inbox Zero is elusive (though see here), so an app that helps you get your Inbox messages into tasks quickly is appreciated. This is the goal of Dispatch app, newly available on iPad. Check it out here.


2. Free Podcasts from GTD


You might also check out free podcasts from David Allen‘s Getting Things Done:

Our GTD podcasts are here to support you at every stage of your GTD practice. You will hear interviews with people from all walks of life about their journey with GTD, from beginners to those who have been at it for years. The podcasts include personal and professional stories, as well as practical tips about GTD systems for desktop and mobile, using apps and paper. Start listening now and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free productivity.

Find the podcast page here.

Cultured Code’s Things Cloud Gets Even Cloud-er

Things Cloud 2

First things first–who is even doing design for Cultured Code’s app Things? Because that design team is the best in the biz. The two images in this post show as much.

Yesterday Cultured Code announced a significant improvement to how Things syncs data across devices. Once again, they’re ahead of the pack in this regard. From their blog announcement:

Shortly after Things Cloud launched, we released a feature called Local Push. It makes sync instantaneous as long as Things is open on your devices (and they’re on the same local network). But of course the app is often closed on your mobile device—so it won’t receive the push, and won’t be in sync until you manually launch the app later.

Today’s new version of Things Cloud solves this problem by sending your devices a push from the cloud (regardless of what network they’re connected to). This means that most of the time you’re in sync even before you launch the app.

And then they give you this sweet visual representation:


Things Push Sync


… which is quite nicely explained in full at their blog. Read the whole thing here.

And be on the lookout for Things 3. I’ll do my best to cover it here once it releases.

Todoist (Premium): Reviewed and Considered

I’m pretty tied to the Apple ecosphere of apps when it comes to productivity: OmniFocus, Drafts, MindNode, Ulysses, etc. Three major exceptions are Scrivener, Evernote, and Accordance. But otherwise–whether this has happened consciously or not–most of the apps I use regularly are Mac-only.

Todoist is the rare task management app that is available on every platform. And I mean every platform. It even has a Web-based interface, if you don’t want to have to fire up the app on your computer:


Universal Todoist


Not only that, it integrates with just about everything. This itself is reason to consider Todoist as a primary task management app.

In this post, I review Todoist Premium, considering at the end whether it could, for me, replace OmniFocus.

Here’s a short video from the makers of Todoist, which offers a quick overview:



What’s Awesome about Todoist


First, what’s awesome about Todoist.

1. It looks good. Really good.

Here it is in landscape mode on an iPad mini:


iPad Layout


At first I thought it was overly simple, sort of blasé. But the more I’ve used Todoist, the more I appreciate the layout. No clutter, easy to read, pleasing to the eyes. (And you can tweak the color scheme, too.)

2. The sync: It Just Works.

Todoist’s sync across devices is natural and fast. It’s much more like Things than (previous versions of) OmniFocus. I don’t even really think about it, which is what you hope would be true. No manual anything required.

3. Todoist is everywhere (almost).

It’s the most ubiquitous and app-integrated task management app on the market. Look, it’s even in my Firefox browser!


Firefox Plugin
Click to enlarge image


There’s a Gmail plug-in, too. This, unfortunately, is only available with Chrome–which is too much of a CPU hog for me. But it looks good.

Todoist doesn’t offer a Mac Mail plug-in, but as you’ll see below, you can email a task right into a Todoist project, so that’s not a big deal.

4. Labels and Filters

I don’t know Todoist like I know OmniFocus, but Labels and Filters would appear to be the app’s heart and soul. Sure, there’s an Inbox you can use for GTD-style capture (from anywhere). Yeah, you can set up different Projects for organizing your tasks. But Labels allow you to assign contexts and anything else you like to your tasks (expected task duration?). Then you can filter your tasks by Labels or priority or any other saved search:


Priority 3


Annoying is the fact that when you create a new Label, if there are two words or more, Todoist automatically inserts an underscore. So one label of mine is now “Waiting_For.” I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but it feels a little AOL-ish.

I’m sure there are Label and Filter ninja reading this post, and there’s much more to say about them–Todoist can do quite a bit here. So check out this page and this page for more.

5. Easy task input

Todoist understands natural language, so entering tasks intuitively is no problem. It’s easy to enter tasks in rapid-fire fashion, too, so you can do a brain dump well with Todoist.

6. Email reminders

Todoist assigns an email address to a Project of your choice, so I can email tasks (or forward actionable emails) directly to my Inbox. This is a must-have for me in a task management app. You can include attachments, too.

Speaking of email… you can also have Todoist email you reminders of your tasks. At first I thought this was redundant (well… it is). But even though I’m seeing the same task twice (maybe a GTD no-no?), I have found the added reminder helpful.


What I Don’t Particularly Like about Todoist


1. The Premium, subscription-based model

Of course. It would be ridiculous to expect a sophisticated app with task notes, attachments, email reminders, fast sync, etc. to be free. There is a free Todoist, but it’s limited. Here’s some of what is in Premium, which is about $29/year:




But I’ve never liked subscription-based models. Sure, if you work for a big company that’s paying for it, I can see it working. But what users otherwise want to pay $150 to use the app for the next five years? Other apps with one-time purchases end up being cheaper. If you don’t have Premium, or let it expire, you can no longer add notes or attachments to your tasks–serious GTDers (and other task management obsessives) will need Premium.

2. The interface is not so customizable.

You can change your start screen, but not on iOS, that I could find. You’re pretty tied in to the layout Todoist gives you.

3. For GTDers: No weekly review option

My weekly review–a built-in feature of OmniFocus–is what allows me to set due dates sparingly, a key practice for effective project and task management. Todoist’s Karma is fun, but feels gimmicky. And their GTD page has suggestions for something like a weekly review (it would be easy enough to set up a recurring task for it, employing Filters and Labels as needed), but I have gotten so used to OmniFocus’s Review function that not having one already in the app is tough. But it won’t be a deal breaker for a lot of folks.


Concluding Evaluation

If I were to stop using Apple products tomorrow, I’d get Todoist up and running right away.

How does Todoist Premium rate with apps like OmniFocus and 2Do and Things? It’s right up there, and maybe—given its cross-functionality and fast sync—the best of the batch. But the subscription model is just something I can’t latch on to. Some will have no problem with this.

When I set out to write this review, I was planning to conclude it with, “Yet another app falls short of OmniFocus….” But Todoist really doesn’t. Sure, OF beats it in some regards, but Todoist outperforms OmniFocus in other key areas.

So if you’re one of those handful of disaffected OF users, or if, heaven forbid, you’re not keeping track of your commitments in writing at all–and if you have $30/year to spend–Todoist Premium might just be your new, sole task management app.



Thanks to the fine folks at Doist, the makers of Todoist, for giving me 6 months of Todoist Premium so I could write this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

Two Soul-Piercing Gems from David Allen (Getting Things Done 2.0)

GTD 2The wedding of productivity literature and thoughtful anthropology (let alone spirituality) seems to be woefully uncommon, but David Allen strikes me as a spiritually attuned writer. That’s why I think it’s no stretch to call some of his insights into personal productivity “soul-piercing.” Or, at least, one can better provide oneself good soul care when implementing Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) principles.

Readers of this blog know of my new-found use of OmniFocus, which is really just one possible tool (out of several) that helps one practice Getting Things Done.

Here are two total gems from Allen’s new, re-tooled GTD 2.0:

What you do with your time, what you do with information, and what you do with your body and your focus relative to your priorities–those are the real options to which you must allocate your limited resources. The substantive issue is how to make appropriate choices about what to do at any point in time. The real work is to manage our actions.

He says this as a reaction to talk of “managing time” or even “managing priorities.” Allen says you can’t manage time (“you don’t manage five minutes and wind up with six”) and don’t manage priorities (rather, “you have them”). That seems at first like semantics, but his point is:

Things rarely get stuck because of lack of time. They get stuck because what “doing” would look like, and where it happens, hasn’t been decided.

So the focus becomes managing our actions. And this is still relative to our priorities.

Phew. Love it. (Also, guilty as charged.)

Here’s the second gem:

Getting things done requires two basic components: defining (1) what “done” means (outcome) and (2) what “doing” looks like (action). And these are far from self-evident for most people about most things that have their attention.

I’m (actually, finally) reading Getting Things Done cover to cover. It’s already a breath of fresh air. Find it here.

I Love to Run vs. I Love to NOT Run

I Hate Running


I have fallen off the wagon a bit these last 10 days or so with regard to running. Nothing to be proud of, I know. Today I realized something frustrating (but true):

I love not going for a run.

It feels good to not have to wake up super-early to exercise, or figure out how I’m going to schedule a jog in a day with multiple other demands.

But then I went for a run today, and remembered:

I love going for a run.

Ah, these blasted competing values. I get caught in the crossfire every time!


I Love Running


But I do love running, even though I also love not running, and that feeling–as long as I can keep remembering it–will get me out there again in the next day or two.

A Review of Cultured Code’s Things App

Things for Mac - App Icon


I’ve reviewed enough software to know over-hyped copy writing when I see it, so I was initially skeptical at the Things app’s claim to be “a delightful and easy to use task manager” (my italics).

But its aesthetic and usability really are pleasing and enjoyable. The layout is very simple and clean. It has almost a cartoonish (in a comforting way) feel to it. It looks like this:


Mac OSX version
Mac OSX version (click image to enlarge)


iPhone version
iPhone version


Readers of this blog (especially patient ones) know that I’m a user of OmniFocus, but I’ve also been putting Things through its paces these last few months.

First, straight from the nearly perfect Things getting started guide, here’s the basic structure of the app:

List Icons

Today is the list for to-dos that you want to start before the day ends. They’re your priorities.

Next is home for all of the to-dos you could start at any time. It’s a good place to look when putting together your Today list, or when you’ve finished everything there and you need more to do.

Scheduled is for to-dos that you’d like to start on a later date, either because there’s nothing you can do to start them yet, or you’d just rather be reminded of them on a specific day.

Someday is the place for to-dos that you might like to get to, but you’re not sure when. Regularly review what you’ve added here to decide if it’s time to act.

It all starts with the Inbox, where you can put items until you’re ready to decide when to do them. Things also allows you to organize by multi-step Projects and Areas of Responsibility, as well as make extensive use of Tags.




Things syncs instantaneously via its own cloud service across multiple devices. This makes using it on both a phone and a computer, for example, really easy—you never have to worry about an outdated notification showing up on your device. This is one of the few drawbacks of OmniFocus—if you don’t keep OF open and make sure it’s synced on all your devices, you’ll get a reminder on your iPhone to complete a task you already checked off on your computer. This is not an issue with Things, and it takes away an extra step in the task management process, so you can direct that energy to actually working through your task list.

Things is head and shoulders above other task management apps in this regard.

Things has a really nice tagging system. No GTD-style “contexts,” per se, though you could certainly use your tags as contexts if you wanted to. You can even assign sub-tags to your tags, a feature I really like. So I can tag a task under the category “Blog,” but also assign sub-tags such as “Future post” and “Learn apps.” I used this tagging system to track thank-you notes last Christmas—writing down presents (and who they were from) as we opened them, and then sorting by tag (giver) so that I knew what all I was thanking someone for when I came to their note! Handy, indeed.




Things for Mac OSX


The desktop app is feature-rich. As you might expect, in addition to seamless sync with the mobile apps, the desktop version of Things (pictured above) is fuller-bodied than the iOS apps. There is the Quick Entry feature, where a keyboard shortcut (no matter what app you’re using in the foreground, so long as Things is open somewhere) will let you enter a task before you forget. There is a really smooth way of accessing, displaying, and adjusting all your tags (where Things really shines). Editing a task is fast. And it looks good.

The iOS apps have a useful Today widget. Some Today widgets are better than others, and this one is good. You can view items due today, check them off (both without ever opening the app), and tap on New To-Do to be taken to the Things app to make a new entry.


Things Today widget


Siri and Things work together (quite nicely). You can set up Things so that reminders you voice dictate to Siri go right into that app as tasks. So that you can use Things safely while driving. As OmniFocus is my task management app of choice, a comparison again is inevitable: to get Siri-generated reminders to show in OF, you have to actually open OF and let it sync. Not so in Things: the reminder goes to your Things Inbox for processing immediately.






There are some things that Things can’t do, which I had hoped it could.

There is no way (whether in iOS or OSX) to attach photos or files to an item. I find this a noteworthy lack. In OmniFocus and Evernote you can take a photo of something and immediately set it up with a to-do reminder. Sometimes life’s “inputs” come as visuals, and taking a picture and setting a due date is easiest. That’s not doable in Things. (You can link to actual files on a desktop, but that’s not the same as attaching the file itself, and the file doesn’t show up on an iPad.) There is a “Notes” field that attaches to your to-do, which is essential, though that field just accepts text entry.

The cosmos (or just your co-workers and bosses) also like to give to-do items via email. There’s no way to automate moving from an email into a task in Things. In OmniFocus you can just forward an email to your special OmniFocus email address, and it automatically becomes a task in your inbox. Todoist, like Outlook, can let you turn an email into a task in just a click, without even having to forward it anywhere. Evernote even lets you send an email as a Note to a specific Notebook with Tags, if you phrase your subject line right. Things may add this email-in-to-Inbox feature in the future, but for now, you have to take the extra step of copy-pasting an email into a new task yourself. Not as automated as I’d have liked.

You can get to a new task via the + button on the bottom right screen on iOS—so entering a new task right away is easy—but there is not the “Save +” option that other apps offer… so you have to add an extra tap when doing a rapid-fire brain dump. (This is not as much an issue on the desktop version of the app.)

You can set up repeating tasks, but not easily. This process was not as immediately intuitive as the rest of the app is. Things’s support page (which is awesome) details how you can do it from iOS and OSX. But, wow, did I spend a lot of time figuring out the very specific way in which this must be done in Things—and a couple of methods that you’d think would get you there… don’t.






So many reviews of task management apps affirm that there’s a personal element to what app works best for you. One user’s “intuitive” is another user’s, “Huh?” I’ve bought into the OmniFocus methodology and layout (mostly), which is intuitive enough but not easy out of the box. Things, on the other hand, is easy to figure out how to use right away without using a manual. The “Today” part of the app functions as a sort of daily review, though I prefer OmniFocus’s Forecast and actual Review perspectives. But you might be totally different on that!

In terms of complexity and capability, I’d put Things somewhere between Reminders and OmniFocus. It’s far more robust than Reminders, but not quite the souped-up to-do app some users might need. (Although one could just use the robust tagging system to customize Things for higher levels of complexity.)

Things is well-designed, looks great, and the seamless sync is a huge plus. Try it for yourself here (download link) with a free trial.



Thanks to the fine folks at Cultured Code, the makers of Things, for giving me downloads for the Mac and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

New OmniFocus iOS Universal App, Explained in 2 Charts

OmniFocusToday OmniFocus is expected to release an update that makes their iOS apps universal. The iPhone app, for the first time, will carry with it the capability to view and create custom Perspectives.

There are several upgrade paths, depending on what you’ve already purchased from Omni in the past. (Before the universal update, the iPhone and iPad apps were paid, separate purchases, with only iPad carrying a Pro upgrade version.)

It’s not the easiest upgrade process to understand, but here are two charts from Ken Case (via the Twitter) that will help:


The upgrade paths (click to enlarge)
The upgrade paths (click to enlarge)


More Options on the iPhone Version (click to enlarge)
More Options on the iPhone Version (click to enlarge)


And check out this lovely screenshot from the updated help files. You can now re-arrange your Perspectives on the phone.


Reordering Perspectives in iOS Pro
Reordering Perspectives in iOS Pro


You can see everything that’s new in iOS 2.1 here. My overly eager and long-winded review of OmniFocus is here.

From Conflict to Opportunity (“Red Zone, Blue Zone”)

Red Zone Blue ZoneOne of the people who has most influenced my understanding and practice of leadership is Dr. Jim Osterhaus. Case in point: one can survive so-called middle management by understanding a concept that Jim introduced me to (via Ron Heifetz): leading without authority.

Osterhaus’s Thriving Through Ministry Conflict, co-authored with Todd Hahn and Joe Jurkowski, offers some of the most practical advice I’ve ever read or heard on how to deal with conflict.

Drawing on the same “red zone” and “blue zone” distinction, a new book from Osterhaus, Jurkowski, and Hahn is due soon: Red Zone, Blue Zone: Turning Conflict into Opportunity. Here is the publisher’s description:

Most of us fear and dread conflict, at home or at work. But conflict can be your ally, not your enemy. Conflict doesn’t have to tear your family or organization apart.

Using the story of a family business leader embroiled in generational conflict, Red Zone, Blue Zone shows how to navigate conflict in a way that is healthy and leads to enhanced relationships, self-awareness, and greater leadership success. Practical response activities and personal reflection questions help the reader understand the sources of conflict, have a working command of conflict navigation principles, and be equipped to help others navigate conflict in their own lives.

You can find the book on Amazon, or at the publisher’s page linked above.

If you now find yourself or ever have found yourself in vexing conflict situations (i.e., if you are human), you should check this book out as soon as you can.

The Last To-Do App You’ll Ever Need: OmniFocus

OmniFocusYou know that creeping suspicion that some of your strangest idiosyncrasies could not possibly be shared by anyone else ever?

You’re usually wrong.

Case in point: it turns out I’m far from the only one who has had about a dozen different to-do apps on his phone in the last couple months. But it’s a bad idea to use multiple apps to organize tasks. All the better if you can track everything through one clearinghouse.

OmniFocus is that place for me. In more than half a year of daily use (exception: techno-Sabbath), I’ve only found one real flaw in the program (sync is not seamless). Otherwise OmniFocus (a.k.a. OF) does everything I want a task management app to do, and many things I didn’t know I would want such an app to do.


First Things First: Learn OmniFocus Language


There’s a lot to OmniFocus. To get a quick overview, check out this video, or this one, which explains the fundamental OF concept of “perspectives,” ways of organizing and accessing your tasks.

Or skip the videos and read this one-paragraph simplification of what you need to know about OF terminology before using it:

Projects help you break a bigger endeavor down into its component actions. Projects can be Sequential (you have to do action 1 before you can do action 2) or Parallel (it doesn’t matter in which order you do the individual tasks). For that matter Projects can just have what Omni refers to as loosely-related but not interdependent “Single Actions,” like a grocery shopping list. Contexts allow you to organize actions according to the things/people/environment you need to do them: Office, iPad, Internet, Computer, Car (careful!), etc. The Forecast view shows your tasks chronologically in one place–I spend most of my time in this view. Or you can just make a quick entry in the Inbox, and then decide how to categorize it later.


iPad, showing various perspectives and Inbox
iPad, showing various perspectives and Inbox (“Blog Posts” is a “custom perspective” available with iPad Pro version)


The Inbox is the starting point–OmniFocus suggests that you take some time to just “brain dump” everything there and then assign Contexts and Projects, due dates and duration times later.

Using OF requires some patience and learning, but is worth the investment of time if you’re serious about project and task management.


Contexts in iPad
Contexts perspective in iPad


OmniFocus is Ubiquitous Across Devices and Apps


OF syncs automatically across Mac, iPad, and iPhone. When you are in the Forecast perspective, both the iOS apps and the OSX app allow you to see your Calendar Events right next to your actions for the day:


iPhone Forecast View
iPhone Forecast perspective


I even figured out, using their Clip-o-Tron 3001, how to turn Mac Mail messages into tasks with a keyboard shortcut. (Email inboxes are not a good place to keep tasks, you realize.)

And I love the Share Extension in iOS8. From almost any app I can create an OmniFocus task. I do this regularly. I see something I like, so share to OF:


iPhone Share 1


From Safari, for example, the Note is automatically populated with the article link, and I can set the Project and Context:


iPhone Share 2


One lack in the Share Extension is the ability to assign a due date from the screen shown above–you have to manually open OmniFocus if you want to do that. However, the more I use OmniFocus, the more convinced I am to only set due dates if absolutely necessary–you can always look through undated tasks in your weekly review, which OF makes really easy with their excellent Review perspective:


OmniFocus for Mac Review Perspective
OmniFocus for Mac Review perspective


What if you’re on a library computer or PC or purchased OF for Mac only and see something on your phone that needs to become a task?

OmniFocus gives you your own unique email address, to which you can email a task. This “Mail Drop” feature helps get the user close to Inbox Zero on email, too, since you can just forward a Gmail message to OmniFocus, where it will end up in your OF for future processing. In other words, you can input OmniFocus tasks from anywhere.

And TextExpander helps here. That app allows you to type your own abbreviations that then expand into text of your choosing. With TextExpander enabled, I write “.omni” and my OmniFocus task capture email address (which is neither short nor memorable) pops up right away.

Another way you can input tasks? Connect your OmniFocus in iOS to the Reminders app, then you can tell Siri to remind you something, and it goes into OmniFocus. Awesome!


Bonus: It Does Photos and Voice Memos


The iOS OF apps even allow attachments to tasks. If I’m processing paperwork and need to set a reminder to pay a bill, I can just take a picture of the bill from OF and save it to a task. Whenever I pull that task up on my computer or other device, the photo will be there.

You can also tap on the “Attachments” tab to record a voice memo, and save a task that way.




There are some limitations to using OmniFocus, though not many, and far fewer than other task management apps. Its sync function, which uses Omni servers, operates with a delay. Though sync is supposed to be seamless, it doesn’t function with the same instantaneous speed as, say, Apple’s native Reminders app. On the ground level this means that if I work through a task list on my computer but don’t have the OF iPhone app open (even though background refresh is on), I will still get outdated task notifications on my phone until the sync properly takes place. This is a daily frustration, even if a minor drawback compared to all the other robust features.

The workaround for this is to manually sync the app each time I update it, to make sure it’s up-to-the-minute. OmniFocus has made improvements here since I started using it, but I hope it will soon match what other apps do by way of syncing speed.

OmniFocus is not cheap–they’re working on making their iOS app universal (very soon), but in the meantime, there is a separate Mac app, iPad app, and iPhone app available for purchase. It’s not on Windows or Droid.

However, if (a) you have a complex set of roles, priorities, and tasks to manage, (b) you don’t feel fully on top of them, and (c) you’re willing to take the time to learn OF, it’s well worth the purchase price. One could probably get by with OF on just one platform, too, though if funds permit, having it on a mobile device and a desktop is an advantage.


Made with Care: Some More Thoughtfully Designed Features


Perspectives sidebarThe longer I use OmniFocus, the more I appreciate some little features. Just the other day I noticed for the first time that in your perspectives sidebar on Mac, if there are items in that perspective to process, a little colored bar on the left highlights that perspective.

The image at left tells me I am due my Review, that there are items in the Forecast (i.e., scheduled actions), and that there are some entries in my OmniFocus Inbox needing attention.

There are lots of nice little touches like this–the color of your task circles, for example, varies depending on the status of the task (whether flagged, due soon, overdue, repeated, etc.).

And one of the best intangibles for me has been the ease of accessing the help manuals. Sure, you can get impressive help information from within the app, but OmniFocus has made their iPhone, iPad, and Mac help manuals available as free iBooks downloads so you can annotate them to your heart’s content.

Also, using Control-Option-Space on Mac, you can open a Quick Entry pop-up to enter an Inbox item. As long as OF is open, you can do this from anywhere on your computer.

Two more sweet little features I love about the iPhone version–there’s a little “+” icon for an new Inbox entry on just about any screen within the app, so adding tasks is easy, no matter where you are in the app. And once you add a task in iPhone or iPad, you can not only Save it, but can tap on “Save +” to go right to a new task entry. In other words, you can add a task and not be sent back to your Inbox, but keep adding task after task. I find this feature essential when I’m using OF to track action steps in meetings.

I could go on. Lots of people have! It seems that explaining OmniFocus is its own third-party cottage industry.



TL;DR version? (I know–I am supposed to put that at the top of the post.) OmniFocus is an amazing app, designed with care, and more than any other tool has helped me to greatly improve personal productivity. With a good system in place, I spend less time worrying about what I’m forgetting and more time doing what I know I’m supposed to do.



Thanks to the fine folks at Omni Group, the makers of OmniFocus, for giving me downloads for the Mac and iOS apps for this review. See my other AppTastic Tuesday reviews here.

Review: How to Invest Your Time Like Money

How to Invest Your Time Like MoneyEven if you got only one thing out of Elizabeth Grace Saunders’s How to Invest Your Time Like Money, her idea of a Why are you awake? alarm makes the 75-page ebook well worth the purchase.

But there’s a lot more sage advice packed into the highly readable offering by HBR Press.

Saunders’s basic premise is a simple but compelling one: “You need to learn the skills to invest your time like money.” She elaborates:

When you invest your time as if it were money, you look at the reality of how much time you have available and the truth of activities’ time cost. You then make decisions that allow you to get out of time debt. And with this balanced budget in hand, you can then set up the structure to consistently invest your time in what’s most important.

Five chapters and an inspiring epilogue help the reader to consider how to best use her or his time in the service of identified values and priorities:

1. Take Control of Your Time and Your Life
2. Identify Your Time Debt
3. Create a Base Schedule
4. Set Up Automatic Time Investment
5. Maximize Your Time ROI
Epilogue: Remember What You’re Working For

I’ve read enough time management books to nearly expect the kind of introductory statement in the first chapter: “Most time management methodologies fail….” However, Saunders really does offer a unique angle on time management, writing, “Time, like money, must be invested to work for you now and support your ideal future.” This is what sets Saunders’s book apart from other task management writing. She boldly begins: “What will need to change is you.”

She helps the reader address psychological “barriers to success,” such as accepting the role of victim of other people’s expectations, playing the rescuer (and therefore taking on other people’s tasks), or even somehow thinking “a sane and sustainable schedule with (gasp!) free time” is an undeserved luxury.

I can imagine a hurried executive reading, “Accept the past and forgive yourself” and balking at an emotions-based approach, but I think Saunders is right on the money. We can’t fix how we manage our time without taking a careful, hard look at what’s behind our time-spending (and time-wasting habits).

So only after a full chapter devoted to examining the ways we undermine our effectiveness–and suggesting practical ways to combat this–does Saunders write:

Now you’re mentally and emotionally primed to authentically evaluate your time investment. So, it’s time to take a serious look at whether you’re in time debt and, if so, how you can move toward a balanced budget.

For the rest of the book, Saunders serves as the temporal equivalent of a financial advisor. What turned me on to the book in the first place is an excerpt HBR posted, where Saunders suggests a “formula to stop you from overcommitting your time.”

Chapters 2 through 5 then walk the reader through setting both a daily and weekly “time budget” and schedule. Saunders suggests how to help the actual match the envisioned. (One juicy nugget, via Arianna Huffington: “You can complete a project by dropping it.”) There is a difference, Saunders notes, between, “Do I have to do this?” and, “Do I have to do this now?

Even as the author deftly guides the reader through the nuts and bolts of scheduling, she continues to keep an eye on some of the deep-down causes that prevent us from spending time well:

[Y]ou need to uncover what’s at the bottom of your emotional resistance so that you can let go of it and make time investment decisions that serve your greatest and highest good.

Each chapter ends with a really helpful summary checklist, making it easy to translate ideas into actionable progress.

One thing that seems to be missing in this book is more specific advice on how to tally how much time various tasks will take. After all, part of the issue is that we often underestimate how long it will take to complete a task. Saunders does give advice here (a section called, “Improve Your Estimation of Time Costs”), though it is largely of the just estimate via trial-and-error variety.

That said, there may simply not be much else to do but to follow her sound advice to track one’s time to be able to “look back at the totals for similar past projects for data on realistic estimates.”

Even in book form Saunders is interpersonally and psychologically sensitive and insightful. And she so often calls the reader back–in an inspiring way–to the big picture:

In the end, getting the best return on your investment is not about whether you got the most tasks done but about whether you put time and effort into what’s most important to you.

By all means, go download this book right now. Schedule five 20-minute blocks to read it (this is what I did, and it worked great). And then schedule some more time to sit down with your calendar and put into practice all that Saunders recommends.



Thanks to HBR Press for the review copy of this awesome, succinct ebook. Find it here on Amazon, here at HBR’s site, and learn more about the book here at Elizabeth Grace Saunders’s site.