Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nonfiction Review: Time Management from the Inside Out

I started the new year determined to get better at time management, to reduce my stress and feeling of constantly being overwhelmed, and to get better at achieving my goals. I got two books out of the library that I’d heard good things about. The first, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam, was helpful to me in several ways (you can read my full review at the link). The second book that I got out of the library was Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule – and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern, whom I’d heard in an NPR interview several years ago. I liked this one so much that I bought my own copy when it was due back at the library. I’ve actually read through it twice now and have implemented some of her recommendations.

Morgenstern begins the book by asking you to take a look at what your motivations are and what obstacles stand in your way.  I especially liked the section on obstacles, which she divides into technical errors (things like your home or office is disorganized or you tend to miscalculate how long tasks will take), external realities (like you have a job or life where you are frequently interrupted), and psychological obstacles (like a fear of success or that you thrive on being busy and in crisis mode). One thing that really appealed to me about this book right from the beginning was that one of the external realities Morgenstern includes here is “Health Problems Limit Your Energy.” That is definitely true of my own life, since I have a chronic illness, and I am often frustrated by time management advice that assumes I have unlimited energy and plenty of time.

Additional sections of the book deal with how you currently spend your time (a topic I was well-prepared after doing the time-tracking outlined in Vanderkam’s book), learning how to estimate how long a task will take (something I have learned I am very bad at!), defining goals (something I am almost too good at already – I probably have too many goals), and getting organized. Since Morgenstern wrote an earlier book called Organizing from the Inside Out (which I also purchased), her sections on organization and clutter were especially good. She also introduces her WADE formula:
  • Write it down (in one place)
  • Add it up (estimate time required)
  • Decide what you will actually do
  • Execute Your Plan 
I have already implemented several pieces of the advice offered in this book. I have been working on time estimation, which as I mentioned, is not a natural skill for me! I am always underestimating how much time something will take and overestimating how many tasks I can manage in a day or a week. Another chapter, Where Paper Meets Time, included a quick-start process for quickly getting rid of paper piles. I applied this process to the ever-present piles on my kitchen counter, and it worked like magic! Within an hour, I had weeded the multiple piles into one small pile, and with time estimates written on each one, I quickly got through several simple tasks that I had been putting off.

I am still using the book, which is filled with dog-eared pages and Post-it notes, and am still working on several of the action items she outlines. I wouldn’t say that my life has been miraculously changed, but I am definitely making progress, a little at a time, in reducing my stress and making my to-do lists more manageable. I am excited to keep working on the advice she provides and also to read her book on organizing so that I can tackle some of the clutter in the house! All in all, I’ve found Time Management from the Inside Out to provide helpful guidance that I will continue to use.

262 pages, St. Martin’s Griffin



  1. Sounds like one I need to check out. Especially as it takes into account health issues that limit energy. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I read this years ago and could use a refresher about now -- especially with getting back in the habit of making time estimates. I still habitually write three days worth of tasks on my daily to do list and then wonder why I feel so stressed at the end of the day. I love her Organizing book, too.

    1. ha ha Joy - that is exactly my problem, too!! I like to think of it as over-optimism :)

      A few years ago, I switched to writing my daily to-dos on a colored index card that I could carry with me. I figured that would limit how much I could list for one day, but I found I can fit a lot on an index card ;) Still working on that...


  3. Anonymous4:01 PM

    That sounds like a good book! I love books like that. I'm pretty good with to-do lists but I let time slip sometimes...