MyTimeDesign Online Program to be Launched Soon

Over the past few months I have been running a free trial for friends of mine to test my 12-week program — MyTimeDesign.

The results have been  good, according to my group of “testers.” With the help of the 2-day programs I have been running in Kingston and Port of Spain, I have developed and refined some ways to help users in crafting  their own time management systems.

I plan to  launch the program in mid-September as a limited launch at a modest price.   Stay tuned for further developments in this regard.

P.S.  The best way to be notified of the exact date of opening is to sign up for my free e-book at top left – “An Introduction to the 2Time Management System.”

When Will the Email Explosion End?

I recently realized that every single email user on the planet is heading towards a problem of the exact same kind.  We are all going to have the problem of email inboxes that challenge our time management skills, and threaten us with becoming overloaded.

Here’s why.

It’s likely that with the deepening of social networking that email use (plus other kinds of messaging) will only increase.  Also, as more people migrate to portable email systems, we’ll all get used to sending email at hours of the night and weekend, and will become more comfortable with sending an off-hours response.

These trends serve to encourage the use of email as a communications device, thereby increasing the volume of email that we each receive.

There is some talk, however, of creating intelligent  autoresponders that tell a sender the likelihood that a sent email will be read and responded to.  These tools will scan a receiver’s inbox and send back an immediate estimate.

While this kind of tool may reduce the volume of email, I doubt it will have much of an effect.  I imagine that email users will merely turn the feature off, once it starts to broadcast a message to the world that indicates “how poor a time manager I am.”

It’s more likely, I think that there will be some that manage email well, and the majority that don’t.  Perhaps there will be a revolution in the way we manage email in which we all learn a set of habits (such as the 11 fundamentals presented in 2Time) that help us to deal with the upcoming deluge.  Perhaps methods of managing email will be taught in schools and time management will be understood as a critical skill to any kind of success, much in the way that math is seen as essential.

I hope!

The Right Set of (11) Fundamentals

Are the 11 Fundamentals (or Components) in 2Time the right ones?

It’s hard to say, and the truth is that I am not sure.  After all, it’s quite likely that an astute reader will look at my list of 11 Fundamentals and suggest that I either add a new one in or remove one or two, and that they’ll make more sense than I have made up until now.

All I think I have to do is to make sure that I stick to the criteria I used to determine whether or not a particular practice should be thought of as a Fundamental or not.

The criteria I used is as follows:  must every professional include the fundamental in their daily time management, and is it unavoidable?

It seems to me that once a time demand is understood as an essential “atom” of productivity, then this “atom” that must be included in every time management system that exists, regardless of the knowledge and awareness of the user.

The underlying assumption behind this thinking is that all time management systems are designed to process “time demands.” One  sign of success of such a system is that time demands don’t fall through the cracks. In other words, the system does what it is intended to do.

Another assumption is that every user has a commitment to fulfill time demands, and another is that they try to do so in a world limited by distance, form and time.
If any readers of this blog can see other time demands, I am willing to consider them, given the definition I have created above.

This is not just some theoretical conversation.  Professionals all over the world are flying blind at the moment, unable to design time management system for themselves that work, simply because they have no grasp of these fundamentals. The cost in man-hours, peace of mind and dollars is no small matter.

An Article on E-mail Etiquette

A humorous article from the New York Times of June 26th caught my eye for some interesting points that it made about handling emails.

While the main point of the article was to deliver some email advice to someone who is entering public life, I think that some of the advice was mistaken.

While I agree with some of the advice (especially when it comes to dealing with “wackos” who send email) I think the advice about handling email was built on a faulty premise.

The author makes the point that he does not keep an empty inbox, but instead treats his inbox as a rolling todo list.  He tried David Allen’s advice to return the inbox tozero (i.e. to empty it) at least once per week, but found that it didn’t work for him.  His reasoning was that merely moving the email to a folder didn’t make sense, as he was merely moving messages around from one folder to another, accomplishing little.

He missed the point that I believe Allen is trying to make, and in doing so sets himself for future failure.

The habit he has adopted involves him taking the following steps:

1) reading his email

2) making a mental decision to do something with it later .e.g  study it, share it, store it, act on it, etc.)

3) leaving it where he found it (in the inbox)

This might not be a problem for him today, when the number of incoming emails numbers around 150 after a typical spam removal operation.  However, if his email were to double or triple in number, his system would encounter difficulties as his inbox would become overwhelming.

What  he missed in Allen’s advice was something that many miss, which is the principle or practice underlying the tip thatAllen is giving.

The obscure principle in operation here is that an inbox is a temporary collector of incoming items that will be subject to later processing and immediate removal.  When too many items are are acted on with steps 1,2 and 3 above, the result is that items in the inbox become lost in a mountain of past and present messages.  This eventually ruins the peace of mind of the user,as the number of decisions that need to be made mushrooms and preys on the mind.  While we all have our breaking points, we all crumble when too many time demands are waiting to be processedby our already overloaded mental circuits.

Also, the more email the inbox contains, the more likely it is that information will be lost.  This is true for all of us.

He is wrong that merely moving an email to a different folder does nothing — the action by itself frees up the inbox to receive new, clearly viewable inputs.  It might not affect his productivity at the moment, simply because the number of time demands entering his life through his inbox is relatively low.

He mentions that he reads email all throughout theday, spending  perhaps an hour or so on the task in total. It’s even easie to see here that his current practice won’t scale well — if he were to be promoted and needed to manage a sudden increase in time demands, he could easily spend a half a day going through steps 1-3 for each email he wants to keep in his inbox.

Click here to read the article at the New York Times website.

Tech Firms Combine to Combat Email Overwhelm

istock_000003289601xsmall.jpgA most remarkable article in the June 14th New York Times entitled “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast” starts with the following quote:

The onslaught of cellphone calls and e-mail and instant messages is fracturing attention spans and hurting productivity. It is a common complaint. But now the very companies that helped create the flood are trying to mop it up.

The problem of email overload is described in detail, and cites a recent study that found that a typical information worker consults their email more than 50 times per day, and instant messaging some 77 times per day.

Also coming out of recent research is the finding that interruptions in an information worker’s day are costing U.S. corporations alone some $650 billion per year.  (The initial quote in the Times was corrected to change the word “millions” to “billions.”)

Companies are trying different strategies to limit the interruption.  Intel workers are trying to check email less frequently. A Google software engineer introduced a program called “E-Mail Addict, which blocks the user from accessing email for 15 minutes.

So far, so good.  These findings seem to corroborate most email users’ personal experience.  This is a real problem indeed.  New terms are being coined to address the issue like “email bankruptcy” and “email apnea” (what happens when a user unconsciously holds their breath when they see how many new items they have in ther inboxes.)

But is the problem one of email volume, poor email etiquette, badly designed software, or something else?

The answer seems to lie in an experiment that some Intel engineers began to announce “quiet time” to their colleagues.  In this way they limited their interruptions from other people, and also turned off access to their email.   In a survey following the experiment, three-quarters thought that the practice should be extended to the rest of the company.

I think that the idea that the problem lies in the software, or in etiquette is wrong.

Instead, I believe it resides in the poor time management habits of users.

The reasoning is simple.  An incoming email that is not immediately deleted is being kept by the user for a reason– they have made a very quick mental decision to perform an action on that message at some later time.

There is nothing wrong with that, except when it’s accompanied by the habit of leaving the email in the inbox.

That’s a little like putting something in your  mouth, liking the taste, and deciding to save some for later in one’s mouth.  It’s a gross concept, but an inbox is like a mouth — a place for temporary staging.  While food is staged in the mouth, normally a decision is made that is followed by an action.

Storage of food in the oral cavity is  generally detrimental to the welfare of the mouth (chewing tobacco and gum are notable exceptions to the rule.)

In the same way, storage of email in the inbox is a habit that leads to overwhelm.  A different habit of immediate removal is the initial practice that some are using to effectively deal with even hundreds of incoming email each day.

Also, working in an environment that is open to distractions from incoming email or other people or a cell phone or anything else is also a habit that contributes to overwhelm.

The point here is that email overwhelm is the result of using habits that were just not geared for the digital age.  Most working adults developed their productivity habits when paper was the norm, and the volume of incoming information and time demands was limited.  They in turn taught their techniques to the next generation, who were never taught new methods in school, or in the workplace.

The resulting overwhelm is only to be expected, as the sheer volume of time demands entering the mind-space of today’s knowledge worker through different channels has simply exploded.  Also exacerbating the problem is that fact that there is no proper research being done today in the area of time management. The result is that there is no agreement on the common set of practices that professionals should adopt.

Working professionals don’t need better software, although that would help a little.  Without a digitally-driven set of new habits, re-engineered software and classes etiquette will only contribute to the overwhelm.

 The original New York Times article can be found here.

The non-Problem of Procrastination

I think that the problem of procrastination is overblown, or at least poorly defined which allows it to create a problem.

The Thinking Problem

For many, the problem is simply one that is no more than an issue of thinking. In other words, a stressful thought appears in the mind — “I am a procrastinator, and I shouldn’t be.”

The thought is believed to be true, and the feelings that result are stressful and upsetting.

Until that original thought is questioned, and investigated, it continues to be a burden.

If it IS questioned, however, very often the game is up as it’s found to be untrue. A procrastinator is someone who does not act immediately, but in the 2Time management approach, the tactic of trying to act on everything immediately is one that is characteristic of users at lower belts. In other words, the more skilled users know that it’s crazy to try to act on everything all at once, especially without proper planning.

The only difference might be that they don’t call themselves procrastinators. They might instead call themselves smart planners.

In many cases, there is no objective reality to point to that differentiates the “guilty” from the “innocent.”

(For more details on the method used here to separate thoughts from beliefs about thoughts, read any of the books by Byron Katie, or visit

The Behaviour Problem

What about people who intend to do a task at a scheduled time, but when the moment comes they are unable to execute it at the appointed time for some reason?

They feel a sense of fear that prevents them from executing the task in the moment. It might be related to a fear of failing, or to guilt, but the net effect is the same. Some believed threat is taken seriously. Pain becomes associated with the task, which is then pushed off into the future, until it becomes urgent or critical.

The behaviour is quite a human one, but the practice of calling oneself a procrastinator doesn’t help. Instead, it’s better to look for the offending thought that is causing the fear, and to question that instead. Some examples of the thoughts that might be causing the problem might be:

— this is going to be unpleasant

— I hate doing this stuff

— I don’t know where to start

— I can’t possibly succeed

These thoughts are the kind that create stress and tension once they are believed, but we always have a choice about believing them. We can exercise the choice by simply asking ourselves whether or not the thoughts are true, as a starting point.

The good news is that “solving” the problem of procrastination involves more than simple changing a few habits around – it starts with questioning the thoughts that pop into our heads, and acting acting on the answers. This makes the label of “procrastination” a non-problem, and can direct us towards the real source of difficulty — our thinking.

Information on Using PDA’s for Productivity

Just curious… but is there a site on the internet that actually evaluates PDA’s in terms of their original intent – productivity?

I have looked around and there is a lot of information on the additional entertainment doo-dah’s, but nothing about the 11 fundamentals that are addressed here in 2Time.

I imagine that there is room for a product that is actually built around the way people capture time demands and then manage them.

Let me know if there is such a site, or if there is a PDA that is being designed in this way.

A Warning for Each Fundamental

In the last week I have been immersed in leading 2 NewHabits-NewGoals programmes here in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

These courses are the fastest way for me to learn what works and what doesn’t work in the entire 2Time approach, and especially in the programmes offered to  the public.

One insightful question that was put to me was whether or not there I would recommend a Warning system for each of the 11 fundamentals.

I thought about it for a while and thought that the idea would be a fantastic one, except that for a proper Warning system to exist, it must be automated and based on more than a gut feeling.

In each of the fundamentals, I got this far in my thinking in what would constitute a complete warning system:

Warning Signs

1. Capturing — too many items or pages remain in the capture point.  Another warning could be that the oldest item in the capture point is more than a certain number of days old.

2. Emptying —  this might be similar to the warning for Capturing.  One specific warning could be the number of days that have elapsed between bouts of “Emptying”

3. Tossing —  I would set my warning signal for tossing be related to the number of items that exist in my time management system in some way.  If the total number of items became too large, I would relate that to a possible lack of Tossing.

4. Acting Now — if my schedule became too packed with too many items, that might relate to a lack of “Acting Now.”   This would be easy to measure in Outlook if it measured the number of items that were disposed of, but this would mean that an incoming email would have to be tracked and tagged in some way.  This would be useful, but might add extra “bloat” to Outlook in addition to the fat that already exists.

5.  Storing — when I have too many items waiting to be filed or scanned, that is an instant warning that I need to  be doing more Storing.

6.  Scheduling —  I wish that Outlook could do some quick analysis of my schedule to tell me whether or not my schedule was unrealistic, using some criteria that  I could give.  If too many items are scheduled at the same time, or too close together, it should be able to tell me.

7.  Listing — I wish I could tell when lists are getting stale and need to be pruned

8.  Interrupting — this one leaves me a bit lost.  To have a good warning, Outlook would need to measure what happens when I dismiss a reminder.  Perhaps reminders would have to be re-thought completely, and the user should be given a choice of different ways of dismissing them.  One choice could be to “dismiss as complete,” and another could be to “dismiss as irrelevant.”  Then, perhaps the time it is dismissed could tell something about whether or not the reminder is actually working the way it should.

(I appreciate that if you are not a heavy Outlook user that this won’t make much sense to you.)

9.  Switching — this is getting more difficult with these advanced fundamentals… Maybe a valid warning in Switching might be  the number of ignored reminders, as a sort of rough guide as to whether or not the schedule is being consulted before action is taken

10.   Warning — the number of automated warnings that are consulted (or not ignored) can be used as a possible warning for Warning!

11.  Reviewing — If Outlook had something like a formal review that showed statistics telling me how my time management system is working, that would be a start.

These Warnings would be a good start, and if I were to rethink the programme I would do it along these lines.

Not To Do List

no_smoking.jpgOne of the major ideas in 2Time is that there are some lists that serve a psychological need, such as a “Not To Do” List.

For example, I have vowed never drink lots of sugary beverages, or to allow my email inbox to grow to contain tens of items.  These are habits I am eager not to include in my life again.

But a Not To Do List could include much more than  habits that need to be broken. It would also include things that happen in life that I would never allow to happen again. These include:

– To allow my mother-in-law to use guilt to get me to do anything

– To ever mow the lawn

– To wash my car again

– To visit Bob at this home, when his wife is there

– To attend a party that ends after 3am

– To allow my son to drive anywhere after 10:00pm

This is clearly an example of a “psychological list.” Its purpose is to give the user a break from doing things they don’t want to do, freeing up energy, time and mental space.

Here is the link to the post on the Productivity 501 blog.