Productivity Pronouncements

Do you struggle with time management? Do you feel like you’re renting your 24 hours each day, rather than owning them? In Time Management Manifesto, Thomas Dowd proposes a series of principles and practices to dramatically improve your productivity as well as your work-life balance.

Who Is This?

Thomas Dowd is a speaker, author, trainer, and coach. He owns and runs Thomas Dowd Professional Development & Coaching, LLC.

What’s the Big Idea?

It took me longer than I expect to boil down the advice given in Time Management Manifesto into a manageable format. However, I finally got it down to three major principles:

Be Proactive. Block off time for recurring tasks, new habits, and work you know you need to get done. Always take notes during meetings and immediately transfer action items and thoughts to your calendar. Schedule time to follow up if you’re asked a question or assigned a task. Don’t forget to allot time in your schedule for distractions, conversation, and fire drills!

Be Thoughtful. Make people, not just tasks, a priority. Get the right people involved in your projects. Stay curious. Ask questions like ‘why are we still having this meeting’ or ‘what happens if we miss this deadline’. Craft communications (yes, even work emails) carefully; consider your intended audience’s needs and preferences.

Be Strategic. Get up early. Under-promise and over-deliver. Invest in your own learning and growth. Identify the key items you must complete each day – understand the least amount of work you’d need to do to consider the day a success. Identify your key priorities, make the hard decisions on what to do about them, and get to work!

My Take

My initial reaction to this book was extremely positive. But on second thought, I was probably being nicer to this book than it strictly deserves.

In terms of pure content, it’s roughly on-par with 9 Secrets for Time Management. You’re getting a lot of basics – no big surprises here. Also, like 9 Secrets, the structure is not as clear as I’d like. In fact, both books are the structural equivalent of turkey stuffing; their ingredients are neither clearly distinct nor fully homogenized.

Apple-Walnut stuffing

Pictured: the food equivalent of this book’s structure. There ARE different ideas, but they’re all kind of jumbled together randomly. “Apple-Walnut Stuffing” by veganbaking.net is licensed under CC BY 2.0

But there’s where the similarities end. While 9 Secrets is all about Key! Tips! For! Success!, Down says flat-out in the introduction, “the word ‘secret’ doesn’t appear anywhere in my book”.

Time Management Manifesto feels like the book equivalent of having some meetings with a mentor. If you have a more experienced coworker who has been successful in time management, and you invited him to coffee where he shared suggestions about his approach, you’d get something quite like this book. For that reason, the structure doesn’t bother me – it’s slightly stream-of-consciousness, but in the same way that a good conversation is. The topics flow naturally into each other as you’re reading; it’s only when you step back to summarize the ideas to yourself that you realize the presentation of principles has been scattershot.

This is not what I’d term an actionable book, for that same reason. Dowd is not interested in giving you a list of steps to follow or items to check off. Instead, he wants to give you a framework for thinking about time management that has worked for him. While he does provide some concrete suggestions in terms of types of behaviors that flow from that framework, the principles are the key. This approach will frustrate those who want more detailed instructions, but I rather like it. I think productivity literature can get particularly bogged down in overly specific processes, so taking a more abstract approach is a nice change.

I should note that, while the subtitle references “work-life balance”, Dowd is primarily concerned with productivity at work. I’m childless myself, so I can’t fairly evaluate whether his tips would help the average, oh, working single parent. Still, it’s undeniable that he just doesn’t have much to say about balancing work demands with truly competing family or personal time demands.

Meant For

Relative newbies to time management and productivity literature, who want an approach that balances practicality and abstract principles.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a basic grounding in practical time management practices, sure, check it out. But if you already know the basics and want to get into more advanced considerations, you’re not going to find a lot of value in this book.

Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance by Thomas B. Dowd – 88 pages – published 2014

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