Are time management systems effective? The problem with n=1 designs

October 22nd, 2006 by jose

Do we know if time management systems work? By time management systems, I mean the absolutely  mainstream GTD and the newer “Do it tomorrow” (DIT). This post points out the fact that we have no conclusive data.

We could guess that people who start a blog to praise the wonders of GTD should cont as evidence of it being effective. A quick search in technorati renders quite a few bloggers singing the virtues of GTD.

And it’s not only the numbers. Blogs that focus on time management (e.g., Lifehacker is ranked the 15th blog in the blogosphere  43folders, the 109th) are really high in popularity.It seems that in times where information is everywhere (thanks to the internet), people feel like prioritizing and managing their time is the only option to cope with the overload. Also, the fact that time management systems are usually geek-friendly (it can be done with the help of a computer! Boy oh boy!) makes them even more popular.

There are 7,399 posts tagged as gtd in technorati today, 14000 for productivity and about 2000 for Getting Things Done.

DIT, on the other hand, is not that popular so technorati analyses are not very helpful.

However, we cannot take this as evidence, because we are not considering people who

(1) tried the system, and concluded that it wouldn’t save much time for them.

(2) tried the system, and failed to maintain it, dropping off (see the costs of maintaining a time management system).

The problem is that noone has compared the effect of using a time management system vs. not using any, or for that matter, a comparison between time management systems. All we have is the n=1 designs of people who talk about their success in their blogs.

That way, the only thing one can do is either to make an ‘act of faith’ and buy into a time management system, or not doing it at all. There is no way to make an informed decision since there are no data on how effective they are (a bit like the ‘before’ and after’ pictures in the diet advertisements :) ).

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3 Responses to “Are time management systems effective? The problem with n=1 designs”

  1. Matthew CornellNo Gravatar Says:

    You raise a great question. For me, it boils down to “does it help *you*? (or me). In my case, the before and after states are radically different, so much so that I didn’t trust that it was the book/method. So I did a timeline, looked at possible contributors to give credit to, and came away with the conclusion the book really opened me up for a bunch of changes (new career, writing, etc.) As they say, YMMV…


  2. SimonNo Gravatar Says:

    I was really interested to read this and just wanted to see whether there was any further empirical evidence that time management systems help or hinder.

    I’ve tried so many systems (probably didn’t get very good at any of them) and can now – hand on heart – say that I am a) considered by people at work to be the most organised person they know and b) totally absorbed by time management systems to the point of obsessive compulsive disorder. The first is healthy, the second is deadly!

    What it means is that I put on a very organised front, showing people my shiny system (whether it’s paper or digital) but on the inside, I’m thinking about which system to try next.

    The outcome? I’m almost *certainly* less effective than those who don’t bother with a system!

    Is this a confusing and mixed message from someone who is the most organised person at work? Scary I know.

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading the post nearly as much as the naval gaze afterwards!

  3. JiniNo Gravatar Says:

    You have induced a doubt about time management.Actually time management strategies are often associated with the recommendation to set goals.The comparison of using and not using time management must be surely experimented to know about the true facts of time management.

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