Public Forums Launched!

I have just take the step to expand the forums for discussing all matters related to 2Time Management.

Prior to this, they were only available to those who had taken the early versions of NewHabits-NewGoals (my live program) and MyTimeDesign (my online program.)

Now, I have simply created private forums for program graduates, and opened up the discussion forums to anyone who would like to be part of a community of people who are designing their own time management systems.

So, you are invited to join in, and introduce yourself, and tell us how you are progressing in your journey of creating your own time management system!  Simply click on the tab above to be taken to the forums.


Downloading Email — Caution!

email-icon.jpgA critical strategy in achieving the goal of a Zero-Inbox is to gain control over the flow of email into one’s Inbox.  This is accomplished by turning off the auto download feature, and scheduling times in the day to review email.

That makes sense.

But when should a user decide to download his/her email?  Should it happen when the Inbox is empty?  Or should it happen before?

From my experience, what I have noticed is that making the request to download email is a significant act to take.  That insignificant-looking click leads to a number of things happening very quickly, that leads me to think that it should only be taken when the time management system is stable, if at all possible.

When the Send/Receive button is clicked, here is what happens.

Time demands from all over one’s life come tumbling into one’s consciousness.  Right alongside the junk mail is a message from the friend who is undergoing chemo, the request for early payment on the invoice, a bill from your credit card company, an interesting newsletter, a request for information you think you already sent and your itinerary for your next business trip that contains two errors that need to be fixed before you fly out tomorrow.

Downloading email is like going to a meeting and passing around a blank sheet of paper, asking people to write down stuff for you to do once the meeting is over. It is an action that is essentially a request for new time demands.

One thing we learned from grade school is that it’s  a good idea to finish what you are doing before starting anything new.  In other words, while it may be impossible to complete all time demands residing on your lists and on your calendar before downloading email, it is possible to delay the download until your time management system is in a “steady state.”

What does a “steady state” mean?

This is that very temporary state in which all your time demands have been processed and placed exactly where you want them.  Some are on lists.  Others are in schedules. A few have been tossed.  Several have been stored.

The point here is that none of them is sitting around in place it shouldn’t be — namely, in one of your capture points, waiting to be emptied.

It’s a mistake to put more items in your capture points while it still has items to be processed. While new email is convenient to download, and only a click away, it has the potential to disrupt a user’s peace of mind with each click when their time management system simply isn’t ready to receive the email.

The next thing that happens depends on us.  Before requesting the download, do we set enough time aside to process each of the time demands?  (This isn’t the same as completing them.)

Peace of mind comes when time is set aside after the act of downloading to process each item, in the practice of what is called “Emptying” in 2Time.

When a user decides to download email, for example, just before leaving the office, they possibly deal their peace of mind a  blow.  The act of pulling down new time demands throws their time management system off-kilter by placing new items in their Inbox,  and their decision to leave it with items sitting and waiting to be emptied could get them in trouble.

The result is that their mind is likely to be thinking about the email they received later that evening, when they either cannot or should not be doing anything about it.

It’s important in the goal of maintaining a Zero-Inbox to see the act of downloading as inseparable from the next step of processing each and every item, and returning the Inbox to zero. The user starts with it empty, and after the sequence is complete, they return it to the null state.

If this sounds like “batch-processing” then it should, because that is exactly what it is.

Our minds, we learn from the experts, are quite weak at switching from one task to another if both require deep thought.  The flow state that is needed takes some 15-20 minutes to enter after a disruption or switch.

The habit of jumping from one task to another in order to check email, answer the cell phone and reply to an instant message destroys peace of mind and wreaks havoc with our productivity.  In other words, it’s far better for us to set aside time that is dedicated to not just reading email, but processing each time demand until the Inbox is empty.

The fact is, the process of emptying an Inbox is one that requires devoted, concentration effort.  The act of “Emptying” is a practice that many users execute poorly, leading to Inboxes that are overflowing and increasingly burdensome.

A user must appreciate that their peace of mind and productivity is deeply affected by the state of their time management system, and that their habits are the key to making sure it’s being run well.


The Problem of Capturing (without Tossing)

I just read an article that describes the “problem” of capturing everything, in which I think, by the end, the solution turns out to be worse than the original issue.

The article can be found at Merlin Mann’s site — 43 folders —  under the title: The Problem of Ubiquitous Capture.

The author, Matt Wood,  makes the point that his capture points end up with a lot of crap in them.  Right alongside the important actions like “remember my wife’s birthday” are other unimportant ones like “build a server farm in my closet.”

His issue does not seem to be that these items don’t belong together in his capture points.  Instead, the problem is that some useless items end up making their way onto his todo lists, where he admits they don’t belong.  He says that “a lot of us do have issues dropping something once it’s reached that level of commitment. So we keep it on the list, taking up space and adding to the cumulative dread of a to-do list bloated with junk.”

Instead, he suggests that users not try to write everything down, and instead trust that good ideas will find their way back into the mind once again, if they are any good.  He reports that his to-do list has shortened considerably.

I think that his analysis is flawed, and it’s because he’s working on the wrong time management fundamental.  Here is how I would advise him if I were his coach (I know, that’s pretty presumptuous of me…!) Here, I am using 4 of the 11 fundamentals of time management.

It’s the Emptying, not the Capturing

If items are on lists that should not be there, and capture points are being carried around with too many dead items on them, then the problem is in the  fundamental — Emptying, not in Capturing.  Either one of two things is happening — he is not Emptying often enough, leading his capture points to overflow, OR he is not Emptying rigorously, and failing to make a decision about what should happen next with each time demand.  Instead of making a tough decision about how to dispose of a time demand, he is simply adding it to a list.

It’s an easier action to take, but when each item is added to a list, the integrity of his time management system is weakened by just a small amount.  These small amounts add up to the point where he eventually loses respect for his own system because he knows it’s full… of crap.

The problem is not that his mind came up with the bad idea to begin with, or that he captured it in the moment he believed it to be useful.  Instead, it’s his faulty Emptying that results in him putting it in a List, instead of Tossing it away.

My experience is that I have little or no control over the quality of my thoughts.  Instead, they have a life of their own, and the good ones flow just as fast as the bad ones do.

The problem is that they don’t come tagged with good and bad tags, and it’s often inconvenient to evaluate and weigh each thought in the moment it occurs, due to the fact that I am often otherwise occupied… thank God they don’t make waterproof PDA’s (or do they?)

The time to evaluate and process the thought/time demand comes later, when I am good and ready to Empty.  At that point, each and every time demand should be removed from all capture points.

Letting Ideas Flow and Flow

Furthermore, I have noticed that when I don’t capture ideas (of unknown quality,) they simply keep coming back again and again until I acknowledge their existence.  The author takes this to be a sign of idea quality, and suggests not writing them down, because the good ones are most likely to return.

I don’t have that particular experience,  especially when I can’t tell whether an idea is good or not because I haven’t actually spent the time to evaluate its value. I have found that thoughts keep coming back until they are recorded in a trustworthy place, and only then does my mind relax and open itself up to the next thought.

It’s like making a mental list of stuff to buy at the grocery store, and working hard to remember it for the next 30 minutes until one is walking  down the first aisle of the supermarket.  All of that work to remember the contents of the list could have been saved by making a list, and the mind could have devoted itself to doing something else more worthwhile during that same 30 minutes.

I have discovered that the throughput of good ideas in my mind increases when I treat each one with respect, and store it in a safe place even if it is to be Tossed upon future consideration.

The problem, once again, is not in the step of Capturing.

Upgrading Scheduling Means Better Listing

The biggest problem I think that the author faces, however, is one that is not mentioned directly.  The challenge that people who are White and Yellow Belts in Scheduling often have is that they add time demands to lists in a way that excuses them from having to account for the fact that each time demand requires time.

In other words, it’s all to easy for someone to make a list of items to be done in the next day/week/month/year that simply is impossible to do because the time required is not being accounted for.  This fact would be obvious to them if they were practicing Scheduling at a higher skill level, and were filling out an actual agenda of items to be completed. Many who do so for the first time are sobered to discover that they are simply not able to do as much as they thought they could, and it’s not because they are lazy.  It’s just that their  lack of skill at Scheduling has kept them in the dark.

By the same token, while the item is on a list, it’s “time commitment” is hidden, as it simply lacks any relationship to the reality of a schedule.

In this way, lists can become bottomless, timeless voids into which anything can be thrown, without consequences.  Their use needs to be carefully balanced with how the schedule is used, according  to the user’s particular needs.

I can’t say definitively whether the author’s situation has anything in common with what I am saying here, but I do know that it applied to me before I was forced to schedule with greater skill.

The benefit of knowing the fundamentals lies in the fact that a user can better target their analyses of their own time management systems.  Like a decent mechanic, they have an in-depth appreciation of how the system works, and can move quickly from symptoms to cure in a matter of minutes.


Something Outlook Needs

outlook-reminders.jpgIn prior posts on the topic of Microsoft Outlook, I complained that the program was not really written for users, and instead suffers from the creativity of programmers who have added in feature after feature without really understanding how users work.

The result is a bloated program with too many small, irrelevant things, and not enough of the right things.

One of the things it needs, for example is a log of the events that happen in a calendar of what actually happens in real time.  The one log I truly would benefit from, for example, is  one that captures the activities of the Reminder Window in the calendar.

If I had this, I would be able  track my time more easily, by knowing how and when I disposed of  items in my calendar.  As a consultant, I track my time closely using an online program, and often when I look back at my calendar it simply doesn’t tell me what I was working on at what point in time — all it shows me is what I actually intended to do according to my plan.

My little programming knowledge leads me to think that this would not be a big deal, but I could be quite wrong about this.

I think this is just one of the ways in which Outlook could be redesigned around the way users actually get information and process it into time demands of different kinds.

I’m still looking out for a way to give Microsoft feedback on Outlook’s design, or someplace where they are discussing the way in which Outlook impedes good time management.  Please… give me a hint someone!


Age Activated Attention Disorder or “Multitasking Gone Mad”

A friend of mine sent the following article that gave me a chuckle…

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Recently, I was diagnosed with A.A.A.D.D.Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder.

This is how it manifests itself:

I decide to water my garden.  As I turn on the hose in the driveway, I look over at my car in the garage and decide it needs washing.

As I start toward the garage, I notice mail on the porch table that I brought up from the mail box earlier.

I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.

I lay my car keys on the table, put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table, and notice that the can is full.

So, I decide to put the bills back on the table and take out the garbage first.

But then I think, since I’m going to be near the mailbox when I take out the garbage anyway, I may as well pay the bills first.

I take my check book off the table, and see that there is only one check left. My extra checks are in my desk in the study, so I go inside the house to my desk where I find the can of Pepsi I’d been drinking.

I’m going to look for my checks, but first I need to push the Pepsi aside so that I don’t accidentally knock it over.

The Pepsi is getting warm, and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Pepsi, a vase of flowers on the counter catches my eye–they need water.

I put the Pepsi on the counter and discover my reading glasses that I’ve been searching for all morning.

I decide I better put them back on my desk, but first I’m going to water the flowers.

I set the glasses back down on the counter, fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote. Someone left it on the kitchen table.

I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV, I’ll be looking for the remote, but I won’t remember that it’s on the kitchen table, so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs, but first I’ll water the flowers.

I pour some water in the flowers, but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.

So, I set the remote back on the table, get some towels and wipe up the spill.

Then, I head down the hall trying to remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:

  • the garden isn’t watered
  • the car isn’t washed
  • the trash can isn’t emptied
  • the bills aren’t paid
  • there is a warm can of Pepsi sitting on the counter
  • the flowers don’t have enough water,
  • there is still only 1 check in my check book,
  • I can’t find the remote,
  • I can’t find my glasses,
  • and I don’t remember what I did with the car keys.


Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today, I’m really baffled because I know I was busy all damn day, and I’m really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem, and I’ll try to get some help for it,
but first I’ll check my e-mail….

Do me a favor.  Forward this message to everyone you know, because I don’t remember who the hell I’ve sent it to.


Taking Responsibility for a Design Revolution

revolution_home.jpgI have been reading a few blogs lately that have been critical of GTD®, Franklin Covey and other popular time management systems.

A few of the articles include Beyond GTD: How to Keep Productivity Simple, 9 Reasons Why GTD Sucks and GTD – The Backlash.

They are all interesting, and make valid points in terms of how difficult many people find it to implement GTD in particular, especially after “learning” it in 1-3 days  in a seminar or whizzing through the book in a few hours.  They point out the fact some of the specific techniques used by the author were developed over a period of years, before they were packaged into a single set of new practices that many (and probably most) just cannot digest in anything less than several months.

The cure is not to toss these systems away wholesale, or to defend one and attack the other.

Instead, there is revolution in the air.  A shift is occurring from the widespread use of time management systems designed by someone else, to systems designed by ME… the user.

Some would say that this is what has been happening all this time, and I agree.  I know that thousands of people have been sitting through time management classes pretending to agree with everything, but quietly knowing that there are some things they know they’ll never do. Instructors have played along, presenting complex systems that they know their students could not possibly use in full.

It’s just that there is a big difference between something happening  quietly and unconsciously, and the same thing happening overtly and explicitly.

That’s the revolutionary part.

The shift is taking place:


  • time management systems designed by someone else TO time management systems designed by me (the user)


  •  a focus on following the rules TO a focus on individual experimentation


  • feelings of guilt at not “doing something the right way” TO a knowledge that there is no right way


  • a sense of failure TO a sense of ownership


  •  trying to change my habits all at once TO changing the habits in my system gracefully and peacefully


  • criticism of GTD, Covey and other systems TO a search for the underlying principles that can be learned and adapted from each of these systems


  •  feeling bad because we are different from others TO an acceptance of what makes us different, and using that as a starting point for designing our own time management system

The revolution is coming just in time to assist us in dealing with the fallout of the financial crisis taking place in the major global economies.  Clearly, trusting in the advice of others when it comes to investments has proven to be a mistake for some.  I imagine that people will work harder to craft their own approach to their investment strategies in the future.

We also might be looking for ways to take control of our productivity, starting with our time management systems. And straining to follow someone else’s system in total just won’t work for us anymore.

Instead, the revolution is on, and the impetus to self-design has begun.  Is anyone up for writing a Declaration of Independence?

P.S. See my  article  written after this post — Time Management 2.0


Now, Everyone’s a Surgeon

surgeon-guy-dowling-surgeon-8.jpgThere used to be a time when only surgeons had cell phones and beepers.

Because  their jobs required quick responses that involved matters of life or death, it seemed to make sense.  After all, a couple of hours spent at the golf course could cost someone their life if they could not be contacted during a round.

We have come a long way since then.

Now, there are companies that are pressuring their employees to carry Blackberries, and to be available to answer email on a 12/18/24 hour basis.   And these companies aren’t hospitals, army barracks or police stations.

Instead, they are employers of accountants, lawyers, bankers and other business-people of all kinds.

Without any planning or foresight, companies are using the Blackberry to change the way professionals use their time.  Today, Blackberry users are answering their email, instead of doing less important things like participating in meetings, exercising, listening to their kids, giving their spouses their full attention and other such apparently unimportant activities.

These companies are causing professionals to continuously interrupt what they are doing in order to check and respond to a blind piece of email (it’s blind because they have no idea who it’s from or what it says.)  In other words, they are responding like surgeons… except, the truth is, no-one’s life is on the line.

Try telling that to someone who is pretending to listen to you while they are checking their email on their Blackberry.

The reaction is often one of irritation, anger and even hostility.   Their blind piece of email is obviously more important than the conversation that they are having with you, which is why checking it gains such immediate priority.

Their productivity (and yours)  plummets at that very moment.

But what is it, poor manners aside, that causes a Blackberry user to grab their Curve in spite of what else they might be engaged in at the moment?

It’s not confidence, or skilled execution.  Instead, the look in  a Blackberry users eyes tell it all.  The unit vibrates, rings or flashes, and they are gripped in that moment by a fear, or even a panic that “they might be missing something important.”

The panic, and its subsequent response, becomes a  habit over time, until they get to the point where they cannot stop themselves from impulsively grabbing for their PDA.  They cannot help themselves, and their behavior appears the have all the compulsion of an addiction.

But it’s not email that is the drug of choice.  Instead, it’ s the driver behind the email — the “need to know” or, the fear of not knowing.

This is what wakes them up at 3:00am “just to check,”  and to smuggle their device on vacations where they promised to leave it at home.  This is what interrupts meals, conversations, projects, exercise, cooking and even “quality time.”

It’s a habit that a professional who finds themselves addicted would need some concentrated effort to break.  one excellent  course of action would be to use 2TIme approach to build their own time management and productivity systm.

With a greater degree of awareness, the Blackberry can return to its rightful place as a productivity enabler, rather than an unconscious  dis-abler.  We can all focus on developing habits that make knowledge workers really successful, and drop the surgeon-like, faux-urgency that we have developed.


Financial Upheavals and Better Time Management

wall_street.JPGThe recent financial upheavals have many, many people in the US scared about the future.

There is a feeling that things are spiraling out of the control of the average citizen, and that deeper, more chaotic forces have taken over.   They appear to be well outside of the influence of everyday Americans.

At times like this, people often focus on the things they can control, if only to have the experience of being able to influence their immediate world.

In a recent movie (28 Days,) I heard some excellent advice given by a pro-baseball player given to one of the patients in a rehab center.

The essence of his advice was that a pitcher needs to focus on the part of the pitch that he/she can control.  This equates to the sum of the moments that occur before the ball leaves the hand of the pitcher, and includes ensuring that their weight is balanced and that their eyes are looking at the target.

At times like these, people naturally turn to those things over which they have some control.  For example, their money management, relationships, qualifications for work, travel plans and health all come up for scrutiny.

Their time management habits are no exception, as they become more conscious of where they are unhappy with how their daily time is being used.  They look back at a typical day or week and determine that they could have used the time in a much better manner.

They also know deep down that they can’t get control of other aspects of their life if they are not able to manage their time differently.  Taking control of their health, for example, could mean making time for exercise.

It’s at this point that a user would do well to take an inventory of their current time management system.  In the 2Time approach, this is an easy step to take because of how  the 11 fundamentals and the belt system work together.

When used together, they give excellent insight into the gaps that exist in a user’s time management system.  They also provide the user with an opportunity to think about what kind, and volume of time demands they would like their time management system to handle.

If they realize that they want to take charge of their financial future by starting their own business in their spare time, for example, they could decide that their habits would have to change to handle this new challenge.

What is most exciting however, is what might not be mentioned — the fact that they are taking control of their time management system for the first time in their careers.  It dawns on them that they have been using “something” to manage their time that they have ignored for much of their professional lives.

The experience of taking control, for the first time, of something that’s so important is one that’s quite empowering.  Those that benefit the most are those that are determined to come out of the upcoming financial crisis stronger than when it started.

This goal is within everyone’s reach, and requires us to be willing to take advantage of the down-time, instead of merely “hunkering down” and retreating into our shells.


Where Did the Day Go?

On yesterday’s “Obama post” the article mentions what it’s like to get to the end of a day wondering what the heck just happened.

I didn’t make the connection until now, but it’s exactly what happens when we complete a day without what I called “Awakeness” in this post from last week.

It’s the kind of busy-headedness that we can fall into in which all we are focused on is the task in front of us, at the cost of the bigger picture that really should be a part of our consciousness at all times.

I read an article a few months ago about the power of being able to maintain2 or more opposing thoughts in one’s mind at the same time.  The article can be found here.

It strikes me that this quality of Awakeness has something to do with being able to maintain a focus on the small and big picture at the very same time.  If we were to do so, we would never get to the end of the day and wonder what happened — we would know that happened.


Obama Gets it

obama.jpgI just read an interesting article that looks at the time management and productivity tactics being used by the presidential candidates.

I am happy (as an Obama supporter from the moment I read his first book) to say that “he gets it.”  According to the article, he made the following plans back in August…

Obama’s solution was to set aside time to let his brain work during his mid-August vacation. “The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking,” he said, repeating advice he’d gotten from a Clinton administration veteran.

This struck me as critically important advice, and the article describes how difficult it is to actually implement it, given the demands from all sides to respond as if everything is a crisis of national proportions.

Someone once said that if you want to get rid of your problems, tackle even bigger problems.  This matches my experience — the big ones make the small ones fade into meaningless insignificance.

This truism can  be used to put campaigning into context somewhat.  The demands on one’s time during a campaign are nothing compared to the pressures of being Commander in Chief.  I have a feeling that George Bush is discovering that whatever problems he thought he had 2 weeks ago are nothing compared to the financial problems he finds the country, and the world, in after the announcements of the past few weeks.

In other words, the pressure of saying the right things in the upcoming debate are pretty minor compared to the decision about how to address the country in the middle of a crisis.

Which takes me back to the advice Obama was given.

It might seem impossible to keep to the advice, given the upcoming debates, speeches, strategy sessions, etc. but it seems that he realizes that it’s a good idea to develop the habit of carving out “thinking time” now, before it’s too late.   That would mean taking control of his schedule, and ensuring that when a real crisis hits he has the brain-space to deal with it.

The article can be found here: