Hurricanes and Time Management in Jamaica

gustav.jpgI am sitting here in Kingston where Tropical Storm Gustav has wreaked havoc on our island, disrupting life as we know it with a day and a half of torrential rainfall.

What’s remarkable is that  when we went to bed on Wednesday night, the storm seemed to be heading away from the island, crossing the eastern section of Haiti on its way to Cuba.  The projections had it merely brushing the north coast of Jamaica with its outer bands giving us some rainfall, but not much… so they said.

When we woke up on Thursday morning the map showed that Gustav had made a U-turn, and come back South, before heading WestNorthWest once again, putting Jamaica squarely in its tracks.  Overnight, the prediction had changed from 4 inches of rain to 30 inches.

Thursday morning was a bright and sunny day,  and we experienced the proverbial calm before the storm.  Now it’s Friday night, and Gustav has left the island, but not before killing, harming, robbing, scaring, wetting, destroying and flooding.

It’s not how I thought  the last two days would go.  It’s not what I had planned in my calendar.  During the storm, lights came and went, as did television service and internet access.  Businesses closed early, and the island came to a halt.

I have remarked in this blog that my return to live in Jamaica led me to decide that the time management methods I had learned from living for 20 years in New York, New Jersey and Florida simply didn’t work when I came back.  The hectic nature of life here, and the exposure to powerful elements — sun, wind and rain –introduce a kind of chaos and unpredictability that  my system (and my head) could not handle.

I remember  leading a time management course many years ago in which it was important to have the discipline to follow one’s schedule for the day, regardless of the circumstances. Now, I laugh, epecially at times like this.  Life here in the Caribbean just doesn’t work like that.

Instead, I have learned to make schedules that are more a matter of an intention, and an indication of what I would like to get done each day.   It’s a way to give myself peace of mind, knowing that I have put down on paper a working model of the day that may or may not be executed according to plan.

Obviously, the schedules I had set for Thursday and Friday became moot… a bit of a joke really, as the 85 mph winds brought water leaking from the roof the windows and the sliding doors into the hallway and bathrooms.

The gift in all this chaos is this blog, and the 2Time Mgt system.   Twop years ago when I realized that the methods I was using were simply too rigid, I went looking for new ones, but quickly noticed that there was almost no assistance I could find in building “a time management system for the tropics.”

Instead, all I found were books and seminars with the same message:  “Here is what I do… follow me!”  I noticed that none of the creators came from these parts… and wrote their systems with an implict assumption that their readers led lives that were much like theirs.

But the more I looked, the more I realized that there was no help for anyone who wanted to create a customtime management system that would fit the unique circumstances at home or on the job that we all face.  It was time consuming and risky to do what we were all doing — cherry-picking from different approaches to create something that would work better than the “follow me” systems.  What we ALL need is a way to guide us in creating and managing the systems that we end up creating.  Something like a “How to Manual” for designing time management systems.

After all, I reasoned, the guys who put together hot rods have manuals to make sure that their creations don’t fall apart at 60mph… working professionals need the very same kind of assistance.

I stumbled around and re-discovered some old engineering techniques I had  learned in college and “discovered” 2Time — a way for me to create a time management system for myself here in Jamaica that covered all the basic components — the fundamentals.

I reasoned that a good all-around gymnast must be good at the fundamentals on each apparatus in order to win a medal.  Those professionals who are better at time management might also be more skilled at the fundamentals than those who aren’t.  It isn’t that they are using the right “follow me” system, although that might help.  Instead, by luck, or by hook or by crook, they end up practicing the fundamentals until they became habits.

Good habits yield skillful time management, whether the user is in Ithaca or Kingston, and whether or not there are snow-storms or tropical storms that are disrupting the day’s best laid plans.

Article: Are You a Multitasking Guru?

Michael, the author of Black Belt Productivity, make a compelling case to read the new book by Dave Crenshaw entitled “The Myth of Multi-Tasking.”

He interviews the author, who shares the gist of the ideas contained in the book.  Essentially, he argues that multi-tasking is something that humans are incapable of doing well, and in our age of cell-phones and Blackberry’s, it’s something we should strive not to do.  Instead, we should create environments that help us to focus as much of our attention on what we are doing in the moment.

At first blush, it appears to confirm my own observations in this area, so I am open to reading the book, but I’ll look at some more of the reviews before deciding to invest the time.  2Time is built on this very same notion of creating an uninterrupted flow of activity.

 Here is the  link to the article.

Using Your Inbox as a List of To-Do’s

I came across the following quote which is taken from an article in the New York Times from June 26th entitled “E-Mail Etiquette for Public Figures.”

I once read a popular book called “Getting Things Done” (you can read about its philosophy on Wikipedia), ( in which author David Allen maintains that you should empty your Inbox at least once a week. An Inbox with zero messages, he implies, is important for maintaining your sanity. Reply to everything you can deal with in under two minutes, he says, and file the rest into mail folders (or delete them if you can).

You know what? It sounded so great, so satisfying, that I gave it a try. And I couldn’t do it. I just could not get my Inbox empty. I’m in the habit of treating my Inbox as a “to do” file; whenever I get time, I work through some more of the items there. It occurred to me that all you’re doing in Mr. Allen’s system, really, is hiding your unprocessed Inbox items by shuffling them around. What’s the difference between using my Inbox as a “to do” folder and just putting its contents into a “To Do” folder?

This gave me pause for thought.

If you are reader of my blog you might be familiar with the idea I have that:

— while a user should design a time management system that works for them, users with more advanced skills do more scheduling than users who don’t, and are therefore able to carry less information in their heads, be more productive and enjoy greater peace of mind  than they would otherwise experience (whew… long sentence…)  Click here for the post entitled More on Scheduling.

I think the author of this piece, David Pogue, has made a point that reinforces my observation.

His current system works fine for him as long as the number of emails remains manageable.  In the future, I expect that the number of emails he receives will increase, following the trend that we all have experienced since email was popularized in the early 1990’s.

His current process is as follows, I imagine:

1.  Read email

2.  Make a decision to keep it in order to act on it later

3.  Mentally assign it to a time-frame (e.g. by 2pm today, by Friday net week, etc.)

4.   Move on to another task

Time elapses…

5.  Re-open email (hopefully within the mentally assigned time-frame)

6.   Revisit initial decision after perhaps re-reading it

7.  Act on it, or  go back to step 2.

Nothing wrong with this process, as long as the number of new emails each day is relatively small, and the user has a good memory.

For all of us, however, there is a limit to what we can remember, and over time our memory is likely to get worse, even as the number of email increases.

Then, the user would experience the creeping feeling of being overwhelmed as the following take place, in no particular order:

  • get mental calendar confused in some way, perhaps under stress
  • revisit email when the mentally assigned time-frame has past  (too late!)
  • scramble to fix the problem, if possible
  • mentally commit to “doing a better job of remembering stuff”
  • get mental calendar further confused because of recent “scrambles”
  • complain of overwhelm, having too much to do and getting too many emails to anyone who will listen

The source of this problem, of course, lies in the user’s habits.  The alternative at this point is not to try to remember better, but it might have something to do with using an electronic schedule effectively.

In 2Time, one of the underlying ideas is that users must be careful to notice when their habits start to fail — they might indicate that their habits are simply inadequate for a new, greater number of time demands.  Some practices and habits just do not “scale up” — in other words, they start to become a part of the problem, rather than the solution and trying to intensify them only makes things worse.


(The rest of the New York Times article is interesting, but not related to this particular topic.  It’s a good read!)

Time Management and Jamaica’s Olympic Success

Here in Jamaica, as you can imagine, we are glued to our television sets watching our countrymen win an unprecedented number of medals.

We are a famously proud people, and right about now we are ready to burst with pride!

Traffic halts, television sets appear in offices and phones buzz across the world as productivity in Jamaica drops a notch or two (or ten) — first things first, after all.

As a recreational runner in Jamaica, and as a triathlete I am reminded of a lesson I learned when  I completed an  Iron-distance triathlon a few years ago (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, 26.2 mile run.)

Looking back at the  months that it took to lose 20 pounds, work on several disciplines at once and research the demands of the race and its effects on the body, I think that the most critical factor that separates those who are successful from those who are not  is simply one thing.

Time management.

Or to put it more accurately, habit management that results in good time management.

Becoming an ironman has more to do with the months that precede the event than anything else, and there are only a handful of athletes who can devote unlimited time to the pursuit.  Most people who attempt the race have a spouse, children, jobs, friends and other real obligations that must be maintained while the madness of completing a race of this distance is entertained.

Somehow, 15-20 hours per week of training need to be carved out, at minimum,  in order to be able to finish the race.  That’s no small feat — you might be thinking that it would be “impossible” to find that kind of time in your own life, so no ironman for you.

Someone training for the race must create a 10-12 week schedule that describes which training is done on each day.   A tremendous amount of organizing must take take place in order to practice the three sports (plus do the necessary weight-lifting) in addition to changing one’s diet, which is often necessary.  The training typically follows a 3+1 rhythm, based on 3 hard weeks followed by 1 easy week, which is necessary for the body to recover from the stress it’s being put under.

A bicycle must be maintained and transported, at times.  A pool must be visited during the right hours.  The stores that sell the nutritional aids need to be open at the right time.

Many find that their sleep patterns must change in order to accommodate  an early morning workout.  I used an alarm on my watch to remind me each night that it was time to get to bed (this helped me become a firm believer in the fundamental component – “Interrupting” – described elsewhere in this blog.)

In short, an entirely new set of habits must be adapted in order to become better at time management.  Also, a new set of habits must be learned in order to accomplish improved weight management, work management, money management, race management, etc.

The irony is that almost no time is spent in any of the training books I have read on the topic of time management.  Yet, it’s exactly what stops most people from even attempting this particular goal that happens to demand so many new time demands.

My recommendation for users who are interested in improving their skills in time management is to create the need to practice better skills in a way that doesn’t threaten their jobs or their marriages.  The trick is an easy one — pick something like a marathon or triathlon that would ordinarily be impossible using the old skills, and learn the new skills while undertaking the new challenge.

Whether the goal is accomplished or not, it’s possible to produce an improvement in time management skills, in addition to those of swimming, cycling and running.

To become top-class in their sport, our Jamaican Olympians had to learn these skills, particularly as  I heard that the most successful coach in Jamaica (an ex-accountant with an MBA who is a school-mate of mine) insists that all team-members must be on time – no matter what.  In the Jamaican culture, that runs very much against the norm and I imagine that there have been thousands of young athletes over the years that failed to make to grade.

They simply failed to develop the time management skills necessary to accomplish the bigger goals of winning a medal in the Olympics, or completing an ironman triathlon.

More on Scheduling

shed.jpgAndre over at The Tools for Thought blog has made some fine points about moving from using a calendar to do more than schedule “hard-edged appointments.”  These are called “hard-edged” because they simply must be conducted at the prescribed time — such as a dental appointment.  (Here is the link to Andre’s article entitled Reclaim Time by Unscheduling Arbitrary Tasks.)

Reading over the post led me to do some deeper thinking about exactly what happens in the 2Time system when users develop new habits and practices in the area of scheduling.

In the 2TimeManagement system, one of the basic ideas is that there is not a single time management system that works for all users.  This applies in the area of Scheduling, as it does in all of the other 11 fundamentals.  Click here to be taken to the original set of ideas on the topic of “Scheduling.”

(In this context, a “time management system” comprises the total of habits and practices  that impact a user’s productivity.   In the 2Time system, the belt system is used to show that progression from one skill level to the next.)

Perhaps the most difficult change to make is the one that Tools for Thought outlines — from being a Yellow Belt to becoming an Orange Belt in the fundamental: Scheduling.  Essentially, a Yellow Belt uses a schedule to manage only hard-edged items, while an Orange Belt uses their calendar to manage many more time demands that require calendar time.

Important to remember:  there is no requirement for anyone to be at one belt level or another. The only question for a user is…. “What system of scheduling will provide me with the greatest peace of mind?”

Users that intend to move from the Yellow to Orange Belt levels face a variety of challenges, many of which Andre outlines.  They all involve unlearning old habits, and learning new habits, which of course is not an easy task for practices that have become ingrained over time.

1.  Trying to Schedule Too Much

Each user must make a choice about the quantity and quality of activities to schedule.  For example, take the complex task of doing one’s taxes.  At the very end, let’s say, there is the task of mailing the return.  I may decide to do so between 4-5pm on April 15th.  (I am expecting long lines at the post office!)

A White Belt would simply commit the task to memory.

A Yellow Belt would schedule the following appointment:  “Taxes — 4-5pm — April 15”

However, regardless of the belt level I am at, I do know that in addition to the time I spend at the post office, I will also consume time driving to the post office and back.  Let’s say that includes time on the road driving 30 minutes each way.

If I were an Orange Belt, I’d go the next step, and use the schedule to account for the following items that are needed to make that April 15th date at the post office.

Before mailing it, I know I need to schedule a few items combined into one:  reviewing it, printing it and signing it, and packaging it along with the required back up documents.  That might take 2 hours on April 14th from 3-5 pm

A 1 hour conversation with my accountant on April 10th from 9-10 am would help me to understand how he arrived at the end-results he calculated.

Back on February 15th and 20th I also would schedule 2 – 4 hour slots to gather the information that I needed to send him, after scheduling multiple time slots in January to close my books out for 2007, balancing all the accounts and updating all pertinent information through December 31, 2007.

The typical Orange Belt would not schedule all these time slots ahead of time — but a look back in the calendar would reveal that they were used in order to get the job done.

For some Orange Belts, the above set of scheduled items would be the right level of detail.  Others might need to schedule even further appointments, such as appointments to:

—  balance the books one account at a time, in separate steps, at separate times
e.g. “balance asset a/c #0001 from 3-4pm on January 9th” and “balance expense a/c #0002 from 5-6pm on January 9th”
— retrieve bank statements from their online sources, one at a time
—  schedule time to search for each and every document needed

Other Orange Belts would see this an burdensome, and would prefer to schedule a single time slot, for example, to “balance the books on January 9th,” and use a list in conjunction with thattime slot that might look like this:

  • balance asset a/c #0001
  • balance expense a/c #0002
  • find expense reports for expense a/c #434

The combination of a single time slot and a related list would be enough for some.

There is no right way — it all depends on the preferences of the user, and each user must develop habits that assure them the greatest dose
of peace of mind.

2.  Using Guilt in Conjunction with their Schedule

Many users find a great challenge in setting a schedule in the morning that they need to change within minutes when the first emergency
pops up.  They feel a sense of guilt that they are not accomplishing their schedule, and even a sense of failure.  This comes in part
from an onslaught of thoughts and feelings of obligation — “if I schedule it, then I MUST do it.”

The negative feelings that result are quite common, and a user that experiences them will only feel burdened by an activity that
is designed to bring peace of mind.

The truth is that any schedule is liable to be completely disrupted by life’s ups and downs, and users must prepare themselves for the times when that happens.  One of their greatest obstacles is the thoughts that pop into their heads, telling them that” I should be doing something else” or that “I am too lazy” or that “I need to stop this procrastinating.”

(I recommend the Work of Byron Katie — as an effective method for dealing with these thoughts.)

3. Trying to Maintain an Inflexible Schedule
The purpose of scheduling as an Orange Belt is not to maintain discipline, or to optimize how time is spent or to minimize
down-time.  Instead, the goal is to boost peace of mind.

How does having an Orange Belt-style schedule boost peace of mind?

First of all, it doesn’t — at least, not for everyone.  For some users, a White or Yellow Belt schedule is all that’s needed, and trying to implement Orange Belt skills when they are not needed can also ruin one’s peace of mind!

For those who decide to master the skills of a Orange Belt, the decision should be made after some consideration, as the habits
needed are quite different from those at lower levels.

Second, those who decide to upgrade from Yellow to Orange Belts are  are often users who must deal a high volume of time demands.

They follow the Yellow Belt system of scheduling only the hard-edged appointments.  In the typical 12 hour day, let’s imagine that
they schedule an hour or two per day of activity.

The remaining 10 hours in the day are also scheduled… but only in the mind of the user.

The key difference between the Yellow and Orange Belts is that the Orange Belt takes the extra step and translates their mental
schedule into one that is kept in writing, usually in Outlook or some other similar software.

In taking this extra step, they are able to do a variety of useful things, such as:
— ensure that it is indeed possible to accomplish their plans for the day
— plan in enough down time, and non-scheduled time to regroup and allow for interruptions
— pick up unfinished tasks that are left over from earlier days
— start activities that won’t be complete for months or years
— balance out the day’s activities to assure themselves that they can maximize their peace of mind

Yellow Belts who decide to move to Orange often do so when they have so many time demands that they find themselves unable to manage them all in their minds.  Their ability to plan their schedule mentally is simply unable to keep up, and their peace of mind suffers.

In particular, managers of other people who experience many interruptions each day often reach the end of the day wondering where the day went, and what happened to the plans they had made for themselves. Because their schedule is kept mentally, they are forced to make any necessary changes in their memory, and the result is that it’s often difficult to give 100% of their attention to whatever they
are doing, because they must be continually making adjustments to their plans.

As an Orange Belt however, once their schedule has been created, it becomes their single point of reference when everyday disruptions

For example, an Orange Belt has learned that they must change their schedule when it’s necessary.  They see it as completely flexible,
and will sit down at any point and simply move time slots around as needed, without any negative feelings.

Also, Orange Belts deal with interruptions very differently than Yellow.  Both might receive a call asking for an immediate meeting.
The White Belt would scan their memory before deciding to accept or reject the meeting.  The scan would probably be a partial one,
and given the pressure of the call, might make a poor decision.  A Yellow Belt would look to see what hard-edged appointments they have set before making the decision.

Orange Belts know to refer to their schedule before making changes whenever they can.  As one Orange Belt put it me — “when
my Vice President comes around as he often does with the emergency du jour, I simply show him my schedule of activities for the day
and what I planned to accomplish and ask him what he thinks I should reschedule in order to tackle the emergency.  It’s amazing how many emergencies turn out to be not as important as the items I already have planned, all of which involve projects that he cares deeply about…

The fact is, every user at every level must make quick decisions in the course of the day about what to do, and what not to do at any time.  Much of what comes up is unanticipated.  White Belts and Yellow Belts make decisions based on very limited information.  An Orange Belt can make a better decision simply because he/she has already planned how to use their time.

To use a simple analogy, while it’s possible to build a small shed using nothing but a decent memory, a more complex building that requires thousands of manhours, tonnes of material and millions of dollars of spending cannot be managed using the memory of a single individual.  Gantt charts, work breakdown structure (WBS) and other methods have been developed to handle more complex tasks.

While shed building might not require such sophisticated tools, the builder who attempts to use a mental schedule to build his new customer’s 5 story office complex would probably give himself more than a few sleepless nights.  It would be a better idea to upgrade his tools and skills to be able to handle the complex time demands that are part and parcel of complex projects.


There is much more to becoming an Orange Belt than I have indicated here, and the habits that must be mastered simple, but the change in habits that must be made is not easy.  Stay tuned for the release of the MyTimeDesign program which will help users to make the transition I have described above in a systematic way.

Toss Away (Some of) the Tips

Awhile back I wrote a manifesto for publication on the website that was entitled “The New Time Management: Simply Focus on the Fundamentals and Toss Away the Tips.”

I have not changed my mind about the value of the fundamentals, and the vapid nature of the tips, but as I have said elsewhere… some of these tips are kinda sexy.

So,  just in case you love empty calories, here is a link to a very interesting article that is full of tips… entitled The List to Beat All Lists: Top 20 Productivity Lists to Rock Your Tasks.  Enjoy, but don’t over-indulge!


I suggest that you not try to implement all these tips, and instead focus on perfecting the 11 fundamentals of the 2Time system.  There is no short-cut to higher levels of productivity, no fancy new software or nifty new PDA that will magicallytransform your habits.  Instead, the only way to get there is by hard work… in much the same way that people get to Carnegie Hall.

To download the manifesto that covers the 7 Essential fundamentals, visit  Incidentally the manifesto continues to make its way up the rankings and is now listed at #135 out of 270 in terms of downloads.  Thanks to readers who have downloaded a copy.

Review of AgileEra’s Software — Personal Motivation Calendar

Recently, I downloaded AgileEra’s Personal Motivation Calendar and tested it during their 30-day free trial.

Bottom-Line:  I rated this product a Don’t Buy / Don’t Download.

The home page seemed intriguing —  the company promotes itself as “Your Expert in Time and Productivity Management.”  The program looked to be simple enough, and I thought it might fill a real need I have which is to set up a simple counter that shows me how many days I have left in the year.

Instead, what this program offers is a compilation of information that I can’t imagine anyone finding motivating, especially when it’s presented in an unchanged format, floating above other windows on the desktop.

agileera.jpgThe first set of numbers is  permanently displayed for 12 months — it counts down the number of years that I have left to live, based on an estimate of 80 years.  (It’s good to learn and then to be reminded that I’m likely to die in 2046… I suppose…)

In the months and days section, it shows me today’s date… dramatized by the crossing out of the months of the year, and days of the month that have already been consumed in my unrelenting death-march to 2046.

It offers another count-down in the next window of how much of the day has been consumed.  At 10:01pm  I have used some 91% of the day.

Then, it allows the user to display the tasks  that he or she has to perform in the famous 4 quadrants popularized by Stephen Covey.  While I think this particular piece of analysis is sometimes interesting, it’s little like my horoscope in my experience.  Interesting, but hardly useful.

In the “Motivate Me” section there is some advice given on popular time management topics such as procrastination — “Procrastination is the most famous thief of time” — and Tiredness — “It is wrong to try to work until you get a headache.”

At a cost of US$30 I remain a bit underwhelmed, and have been clicking around the program to see if I am somehow missing the point.

Having searched around and satisfied myself that I have not missed a link, I think I understand that the program is attempting to push me and other users to act now by showing us that we are running out of hours in the day, days in the months, and years in the rest of our lives.

Hmmm…. I’d better hurry up and delete this program before I spend any more valuable time using it.

AgileEra’s Personal Motivation Calendar can be downloaded by clicking here.

Once again, my recommendation is “Don’t Buy / Don’t Download.”

Practicing New Habits

ropes-course.JPGI recently got a little too happy when I found a game on that claimed to be a “time management game.”

The reason for my premature celebration is that I have been trying to find a way to help participants in my 2-day and online programs to practice the 11 fundamentals in some way.  I initially imagined that this could be done through a simulation, in which I created an imaginary environment to manage a large number of time demands.

The game, which I played for an hour, was all about running a pet fish store, and required the owner to make split-second decisions about what fish to stock, what fish-food to use and what ornaments to place in the tank.  As the game progressed, things moved faster and faster, and at different levels, points could be accumulated  that could be exchanged for a bigger tank and better machines, among other upgrades.

As time went  on, I was indeed getting better at playing the game, and at making split-second decisions about how to manage my time in the game.

The only  problem is, the game lasted only 60 minutes, and I don’t plan to ever play it again.

So, my new-found skills are essentially useless  now that the game is over, as all I really learned to do was to play the game better.

It reminded me of a day I spent on a ropes course  with a team of which I was a member.  We performed all sorts of interesting tasks that required communication, teamwork, planning, etc.

However, it made not a shred of difference to the members of the team, once we returned to the office.

I suppose that with constant  practice that we could have become better at navigating ropes courses.  I also imagine that with more time I could have become a better player of the “pet-fish store game.”

However,  I would not have become a better team player, or have improved any time management skills by continuing in either direction.

This makes sense — I doubt that Michael Jordan spends too much time improving his basketball game by playing NBA Live on his Nintendo.  Also, I doubt that the kid who won the last   World of Warcraft contest would do too well fighting the insurgents in Afghanistan.

In the 2Time system, the core habits that I identified were only those that could be observed, and they all include some element of physical motion.  Mental habits  like ” focusing” or “prioritizing” were deliberately left out of the fundamentals.

I now see that playing a video game involves very different physical motion and practices than playing basketball.  Someone watching a game player from behind would not mistake them for a basketball player due to how differently they are using their bodies.

Someone watching a  team going through a session at the ropes course would not be mistake them for a team that is huddled over the sales results from last month trying to decide which strategy to follow.

Finally, playing a video game does not, alas, make me a better manager of my time, unless it causes me to engage in one or more of the 11 fundamentals  in some way.

I think that true practice comes from repeating actions until they become ingrained into our neuro-muscular systems, and if that’s not happening, then it’s not really practice.

So, I am back to where I started, still looking for a way to help users to practice the 11 fundamentals in a safe environment.

Click here to be taken to Jenny’s Fish-Shop – Time Management Game.

When To-Do Lists Don’t Work

fridge-gladiator_freezerator.jpegFor most professionals, To-Do Lists are woefully inadequate.

The reason is simple — they have gotten to the point where they have too many time demands to be handled by a single ToDo list.

In the 2Time system a user has the option of selecting the level at which they mange their lists.  From White belt to Green belt, a user can graduate up a ladder of increasingly skillful ways to improve the way they use lists.

At the very lowest levels, users don’t bother with lists. Instead, they try to use their memory to keep track of the stuff they have to do.  This mental list is not a problem, as long as the number of items they have to remember is small.  The habit of writing a list probably originates in high school, when some students were just not able to keep a mental track of the homework they had to do, and were forced to write things down in order to get them done later.  (A few gifted students might not have had this problem.)

At higher levels, users develop the discipline of making lists, and they notice a vast improvement over their prior habit of trying to remember the things they have to do.  When they become skillful at writing everything down, they notice a smaller but significant jump in their time management skills.

However, the habits that the typical user develops when using their ToDo list gets them into trouble when the number of time demands becomes too large to handle.  For some, this never becomes a problem, but for most, the advent of email has served to increase the number of time demands dramatically.

What are the habits that render a ToDo list unworkable when the number of items increases?

In 2Time terms, what happens is that a ToDo list fails when the entries on the list become a mottley bunch of items that shouldn’t be on one single list, but should be treated by very different actions, or  fundamentals.  The typical ToDo list becomes a grab-bag of different items that are actually serving different needs.  A partial analysis of the typical ToDo list reveals the following.

1. Some items on the list are the result of what is called Capturing.  They are on the ToDo list because they are being temporarily staged until a later moment when it’s more convenient.  The problem occurs for most users when they are weak in the skill of Emptying.  In other words, they fail to reduce the list back to its empty state often enough, or rigorously enough, causing items to be added faster than they are removed.  The result is that their ToDo list grows uncontrollably, and they are forced to start using their memory as a supplement.

While a lack of Emptying is the source of the problem, it’s also useful to see what happens to the ToDo list when other skills are weak.

2.  Some items on the list should be acted on immediately, simply because they are so short that they should be dispensed with at once.  This is called Acting Now.  A failure to do so leaves the item on the ToDo list, where the user hopes that it will not be forgotten.

3. Other items should be put into electronic or paper storage, such as a phone number or email address.  When Storing is not done properly, the item is left on the ToDo list so that the critical information is not lost i.e. for “safekeeping.”

4.  A few items should be written off the list, or Tossed, but instead end up getting lost in the clutter of the items on the ToDo list.  Some people have items on their ToDo list that last for years, which happens easily when the list is kept electronically.

5.   Other items need to be scheduled into a calendar, with an appropriate audible reminder.  Instead of Scheduling the item, however, it remains on the list mixed in with other items where it can also become lost.  Users keep items on a ToDo list in order to try to remind themselves to perform the action at a later time.  When the number is small, this practice works.  However, when the number of items grows to be too large (as it does for most knowledge professionals) the list cannot perform that function.  Instead, the skill of Scheduling is the answer to the problem.

6.  There are some entries in the ToDo list that belong on a separate list of their own, such as a list of items to pick up on the next trip to the market, or a list of topics to be covered in an upcoming meeting.  When they are separated into their own lists, they can then be used a t different times.

As you can see, the typical ToDo list has items that are actually serving very different purposes and need to be disposed of in very different ways.

This places a tremendous burden on the user for the following reason.

The typical item on a ToDo list actually signifies two pieces of critical information — a representation of the item (in writing,) and how it should be acted on (which is kept in memory.)

For example, the following items happen to be on a user’s list at 10:00 am on Friday morning:

Pick up dry cleaning

Mike – 999-555-1234

Remember to ask Burt about project start date

Get materials for Jones project

It’s clear what the items say, but what exactly should be done with the item next is not stated on paper, and instead must be remembered by the user.  Here is the information that must be stored in the user’s memory

Pick up dry cleaning  (5:15pm -6:00pm today after work, and make sure that the dinner date isn’t tonight, otherwise reschedule)

Mike – 999-555-1234 (This should be placed in Outlook and on my cell phone)

Remember to ask Burt about project start date  (Remind myself the next time I see him after his vacation to give me the date)

Get materials for Jones project  (This item is not needed as the project has been canceled, but the items was entered before the cancellation.)

This is hardly an unusual situation — the ToDo list is such a mixed bag that the sorting must be done mentally, and the results must be stored in personal memory for some later time in the future.

The ToDo list therefore forces the user to keep critical information in their head about each item, and this is one reason why the list becomes overwhelming — the user simply has to manage too many thoughts in their mind in total, even though each single item has only a small piece of information to be remembered.

When a refrigerator has too many unsorted items in it, the results are predictable — the left-over dinner rolls somehow drift out of sight and eventually go bad.  Recently, we moved to a new townhouse, and my wife is complaining that she is without a shoe-shelf for the first time.  Her many pairs of shoes have ended up in a single large bag, with the result being that she ends up wearing the same two pairs of shoes all the time.

The ToDo list becomes just like the full refrigerator and the bag of shoes — too hard to sort through.

The alternative is to master the 7 Essential 2Time fundamentals, and to improve one’s skill levels.  When a skill such as Scheduling is mastered at a high level, the ToDo item —   Pick up dry cleaning  —  would be simply placed in the calendar in the appropriate time-slot, and the challenge of ensuring that it doesn’t conflict with the dinner date would be handled immediately.  This is assuming that the dinner date is also scheduled into an appropriate time-slot on whatever date it pertains to.

The result here is simple — the fundamental skills of 2Time allow for greater peace of mind, because they rely less on the user’s memory than a ToDo list does.  At the higher belt levels, there is actually no need for a ToDo list.  Instead, it has been replaced by a more sophisticated set of skills and tools.

As mentioned before, the higher belt levels  are not necessary for everyone.  Each user must decide for themselves whether or not a ToDo list works adequately for them or not with respect to their productivity and peace of mind.  I have noticed, however, that users who experience an increase in time demands often find it necessary to graduate from a simple ToDo list to the skills and tools employed at the higher belt levels.

In the 2Time approach, all levels are acknowledged as valid, and it’s simply a matter of choosing a belt level that gives the individual user the peace of mind they require and desire, given their particular environment.