Doing Nothing and Getting More Done

meditation1.jpgI recently read an interesting article written by Marc McGuinness over at the Lateral Action Blog.

In the post he describes how much he learned from spending several days in solitude and absolute quiet at a retreat, and what it did for his awareness, and also his productivity.

I agreed with everything he says wholeheartedly, and he has described my own experience better than I ever could.  I also recently spent a day in (mostly) silence as part of a 9-day retreat I attended in which being quiet played an important role.

He makes the important point that meditation’s purpose is not to become more productive, but that it IS a decent side-benefit.

For me, one way in which that’s true is that it boosts what I call awakeness, which is the ability to conduct any activity while maintaining a background understanding of its overall purpose.  Without this quality, we stray from living as human beings and act more like human “doings.”  Love, joy and peace of mind disappear, soon to be replaced by stress, worry and anxiety.

It’s a great article:   How Getting Nothing Done Can Make You More Productive

Practice Produces the Best Time Management System

gladwell.jpgAs I have mentioned in other places in this blog, there is a common belief that people who have good time management systems are naturally more organized than others.

However, recent research consistently shows that talent has little to do with it, and it has more to do with consistent, disciplined practice than anything else.

In his new book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell  makes the same point on this video:

Malcolm Gladwell’s video on practicing producing performance

New Employees and Their Time Management Systems

istock_000000214466xsmall.jpgIn my wildest imaginings I can picture a new employee who, in their orientation, is taught that they must develop their own time management system if they hope to get ahead in the company.

They could learn in just a few minutes that:
1.  the time management system they have been using up until now  has successfully gotten them to this place

2.  at some point in their career they will find that the practices that they are using are insufficient

3.  at that point, they will have to reinvent their system, and they should not be shy about using whatever resources they can find for assistance

4.  this evolution will not happen by accident, and they need to be proactive, and always be assessing how well their system matches their needs

This would help the employee to join in the forefront of the revolution that’s afoot — the personal design and implementation of custom time management systems.  While the practice will be old hat at some point,  the idea is a new one for employees as there is no point in their careers at which they would have been taught the fundamentals of time management.

It could be one of those career-changing discoveries that might not produce a behavior change in the moment, but could make a big difference in years to come.

New NewHabits Design

planning-culture.jpgI am considering a change to the way in which I conduct my live programs.

The current NewHabits-NewGoals programs that I offer in the Caribbean are 2-day affairs that give a user everything they need to design their own time management system.  The essential activity is a series of 12 design steps which they construct a custom system of their own, using their own habits as the starting point.

The challenge that many find is that it’s difficult to put together a plan for themselves that include this many elements, as they are forced to use a slightly advanced project management skill that is not taught in the class.

Also, it’s a lot of new data thrown at them all at once, even though  I believe it to be easier to work with than the average time management class.

This has lead me to think that I should cut the live content down to the 7 essential fundamentals, introduce them to the basic ideas behind  habit changing, and then take them straight into the MyTimeDesign program (a 12-week, online program.)

In that program they would have  an immediate choice:  repeat the info they learned in the course at a slower pace, or move onto the advanced fundamentals.

In this way, I could cut the price of the cost for customers, and more closely match their pace of learning with the materials that are presented.  In other words, they could ease themselves into the advanced fundamentals at their own pace, over several weeks, after they have already worked on putting together the essentials of their time management system.

This matches what I have observed in the class —  a certain loss of focus by the second day as participants start to feel a bit overwhelmed by too many new ideas.

To those of you who have completed NewHabits-NewGoals, I’d love to hear from you.

Unconscious Time Management Systems

time-management-20070522.jpgEvery single human being is using some kind of time management system, whether they are aware of it nor not.

The above statement is one of the core principles of Time Management 2.0, and I think I am on firm ground in saying that everyone who comes to this blog is using some kind of system at this very moment.

At some point in the average day, we consider a mental or written list of actions that we’d like to complete, and make some decisions about the amount of time we have at our disposal. We know intuitively that we must make choices, and in the average day we are unlikely to get “everything” done, unless we define “everything” to be the same as “nothing” or “close to nothing.”

The habits that we use to make these choices, execute them, and think about them afterwards comprise the elements of our time management system.

I have surmised from anecdotal evidence that most users develop their systems as teenagers. That they do so without guidance can be a problem. The problem comes when their life commitments overwhelm their systems, and they don’t know how to respond.

This can happen slowly, such as the case of a steady increase in job responsiblities. Or, it can happen suddenly with a big life change, such as a promotion, or getting married. Iin either case there is a palpable feeling of being overwhelmed and burdened. Some will bury their heads, others will complain and a few will try to escape their obligations by retreating in some way.

And perhaps most will simply take time away from other things such as their job, their family or their leisure-time, in order to get the most important things done.

In essence, they only have one way to do things, and often believe that the answer to the problem is to buckle down and do more of what they always do.

The “more” often takes the form of making decisions to procrastinate less, try harder, be more focused, get serious, apply themselves, etc. These approaches rarely work, because a time management system built for a 19 year old does not work for the same person at age 39 because the system is being mis-applied, rather than because of a character flaw. Feelings of guilt and frustration are the kind of feelings that come from these kinds of unworkable improvements.

When users understand a few basics of Time Management 2.0, however, life becomes much simpler.

  • Basic #1: I am using a time management system that I developed for a prior time in my life
  • Basic #2: I can upgrade my time management system to fit my current commitments and habit-style
  • Basic #3: Once I upgrade, I will only benefit if I manage the system on a continuous basis and revisit my design when the need arises

Users who becomes conscious, in other words, gives themselves a gift of expanded choices, so that they can escape the self-blame and guilt that is often experienced as their lives become increasingly complex.

Experimenting with Time Management Systems

I read a tremendous article recently that captures the importance of experimenting more eloquently than I ever could.

I found it in the April 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review and it is entitled “Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life,” and written by Stewart Friedman.

The authors divides a professional’s life into four separate areas  — work, home, community and self — and urges employees and leaders alike to undertake focused improvement projects in each area.  Each project is given a start and an end date, and only a few are to be attempted at any one time in order to ensure that one’s energy isn’t dissipated.

Also, by attempting these projects, he points out that people can take the leadership lessons learned from one area into all areas.  This is because we all live interconnected lives, and there is a non-linear magic that occurs in someone’s life when a true improvement takes place.

Imagine for instance someone who decides to partake in a community project, in order to help them try some new time management skills.  They could quite deliberately accept a leadership role in order to test themselves, to see what happens with their ability to manage a new volume of work.

If this idea sounds familiar to frequent readers of the blog, then it should.

2Time is built on the idea of continuous experimentation, and the truth is that building your own time management system can only be done well with the kind of focus the author describes.

In the old world of time management, the instructions were simple to give, but hard to follow.  Authors and gurus simply said:  “Follow me.” And, “if you have difficulty doing so, try harder.”

That was essentially it.

In Time Management 2.0 the reality is very different.  In order to design a time management system that works for you you need to constantly experiment with different approaches, in order to discover your default habit patterns.  Unless you are lucky enough to have a handbook somewhere that describes your habits in detail, you are likely to be venturing into new territory.

This is not a problem, as long as you have some tolerance for the trial and error process that comes with self-discovery.  Also, it’s important to know that this self-knowledge is only a means to an end — a personally customized time management system.

What I realized while reading this article is that a professional who takes the effort to design their own time management system is likely to see an improvement in all areas of their life at the same time.  This is likely to occur because people who undertake this kind of design end up creating systems that allow them to relax into the flow state for longer and longer periods of time.

This is true whether or not they are reading a book, talking to their children, replying to a tricky email or attending a meeting.  They are simply able to invent a method that allows themselves to give 100% more often than those who are stuck in unconscious time management systems.

The author gives a few tips on how to design the best experiments.  He advocates creating experiments that “feel like something of a stretch: not too easy, not too daunting.  It might be something quite mundane for someone else, but that doesn’t matter.  What’s critical is that you see it as a moderately difficult, challenge.”

Furthermore, he advises that once users have gotten started with a few projects, that they be open to constant adaptation.  In this way, there is no such thing as failure.  Whether goals are achieved or not, there is something important to be learned, and one’s life can be transformed in both cases.

Also, it turns out that there is no such thing as small or unimportant experiments.  They all make a contribution towards the greatest of changes.

I have found that users who are confronted by the idea of building a time management system for their own, benefit greatly when they take the approach of breaking the project down into small steps, and sequence the steps they are planning to take over time.  This prevents the overload that comes from taking the typical time management program in which hundreds of new habits are introduced in a torrent that drowns most participants.

It’s a great article, and it can be purchased from and searching for reprint R0804H.

Blackberry Slaves

Are companies forcing their employees to become slaves to their email devices?

At some point in the future it’s not too hard to imagine that employees will be expected to not only have a cell phone in their possession at all time, but also the ability to send and receive email.  After all, the iPhone and Blackberry are taking over hosts of companies as we speak.

Executives like the idea of sending email back and forth with their employees at 11:00 pm if the need arises, making sure that the urgent business needs of the company are being met.  In these challenging economic times, it’s one of those things that is required to gain the extra edge over the competition.

It starts simply enough, I imagine.  A company buys internet-enabled PDA’s for its executives who become addicted to their use.  After a while, they provide units  for their subordinates, the better to keep in touch with a convenient email.  Employees welcome the devices with their powerful capabilities.

Some might resist them at first, but it’s easy to predict that anyone who is serious about their corporate career can’t afford to be left out of the loop on critical conversations that are happening in the odd hours outside of 9-5.

In the face of peer pressure, it’s not hard to imagine a time when every single employee (and certainly those is management) will be expected to have a device in their possession.  It’s likely to become as ubiquitous as the personal computer.

What’s disturbing is not that we’ll all have the convenience of 24 hour email access at our fingertips, but the likelihood that the poor time management habits displayed by today’s Blackberry users will become widespread.

Today’s users have used the device to unwittingly cement into place some habits that destroy their own productivity and that of those around them.  As the percentage of employees in a company increase, there is likely to be a couple of developments — the first is a user’s “bill of rights” and the second is a new set of habits that must be taught to users in order to prevent the device from ruining their efficiency.

A user’s “bill of rights” might take form of a set of policies in companies that discourage the use of the device to some pre-agreed standards of engagement.  At the moment, peer pressure is turning holidays, weekends and vacations into further opportunities to check email just before going to bed and right after waking up in the morning.

This is not just a matter of setting arbitrary rules.  Even a bill user’s bill or rights would have to be implemented for a reason — the behaviors undermine top  performance when they are  allowed to proliferate.  This and other facts related to personal productivity would need to be taught to employees at all levels, rather than simply legislated without justification.

The second development would be solid training in Time Management 2.0, in which users are guided in the development of their own time management systems.  They could use the opportunity to build a system of new habits that incorporates their internet device, and  doesn’t simply rely on old habits that don’t work with the new technology.

Current-day device users who have never taken this step are well  known for their poor time management habits.

Interruption Madness:  Today’s Blackberry and iPhone users are known for the ability to interrupt _anything_ to check email.  From bodily functions, to weddings, dates, funerals, legal proceedings, speeches, meetings, phone conversations, driving, cycling… apparently the only places to be safe from email-device users is when they are swimming or taking a shower!

Look for the Blackberry users in the crowd at the presidential inauguration in January, too busy to pay attention to what’s happening in front of them.

The Glazed Look of Half-Attention
The device users of today have become expert at the glazed look of half-attention.  They pretend to be listening to the what is happening in front of them, but their attention is on the device and on the message they are sending to a recipient miles away.

The Sheepish Smile
Now and again the user gets busted.   Confronted by another person who is on the receiving end of their poor manners, they wake with a jump out of their email induced stupor with either an excuse  – “I am listening!” – or an embarassed smile on their faces.  It’s only at that moment they realize that have switched off the person they were interacting with as one would change a television channel.

These are hardly the signs of greater productivity.  In today’s complex business environment what’s required is greater focus and in-depth thinking, not rather than an epidemic of casual attention, short-attention spans and and superficial dialogue.

This is where companies need to be quite careful.  Buying these devices for all staff may indeed increase the convenience of sending and receiving email, and there might be 1 or 2 emails per year that benefit from a 2:00am response.  However, a company that unwittingly multiplies today’s poor time management habits manyfold with the purchase of portable email devices will only do itself a great disservice.

The predicted loss in productivity can be prevented by giving everyone the chance to design their own time management system afresh, because the presence of the device in their lives simply requires it.