Solving the Paper Problem

20070227overload.jpgThere are a number of ways that time demands can enter a user’s time management system, but those that enter on hard copy, or paper, are probably the most annoying for professionals.

Some people’s offices are visual testimonies to the fact that they have a problem.

Piles of magazines, letters, bills and memos lay in piles on any available horizontal surface, creating a clutter that is overwhelming to the occasional visitor.  In 2Time language, the problem might be one of Storing or Tossing, and the solution might involve the use of scanners, secretaries and dumpsters.

In most cases, however,  the piles are a symptom of an underlying problem of Emptying.

Emptying involves more than just the “cleaning out” of different capture points.   Instead, it also includes, perhaps, the most difficult practice to master in a user’s time management system — the point at which they must make a definitive decision about how best to handle a time demand.

To Empty well, a user must make time and space in their day to route each and every time demand to its proper destination in their system, and in many cases the decision is not a simple one.  Sometimes, a decision cannot be made in the moment because it involves other people.  In other cases, it requires research or deeper thinking.

When the time demand presents itself on paper, a different problem arises.  Paper is difficult to work with because of its sheer physicality.

It takes up space, and unless it is sorted and filed away, the information that is on paper in all the different forms mentioned before is likely to be hidden between the pages.  As a result, the information is difficult to find, plus time-consuming to recover.

Each piece of paper in a pile on a desk, on the ground, in a book, on a bill, etc. represents a small decision by the user to “attend to this later.”  By making this decision, a user creates a time demand that essentially consumes a small piece of their future schedule.

At first, walking into an office with lots of paper in piles feel overwhelming, but many users train themselves to be immune to that feeling — they become numb.

Their productivity suffers  as their peace of mind dwindles.

Some believe that the solution lies in refusing to accept paper into their lives, but I think that this is a bit of a red herring.

So are other strategies like buying a filing cabinet, scanner or hiring a personal assistant.

Instead, the solution lies is becoming better at Emptying, perhaps by improving a Belt Level, and elevating the act of Emptying to a place of importance in a daily schedule.

Users that grant themselves time and space to make high quality decisions about paper that enters their lives simply don’t have the problem that paper causes most of us.

Signs of a White Belt

white-belt.jpgIn 2Time, a While Belt has the honor of being the “lowest” belt, in the sense that a user at this level is just starting out on the journey of developing their own time management system, and still has the habit of trying to rely on their memory, versus using a conscious system.

Most of the professionals who have taken the NewHabits-NewGoals and MyTimeDesign programs based on 2Time discover that they are White Belts, due in part to the rigorous standard that must be accomplished to attain the higer belts.  In these programmes, there is an important idea — that each of 11 fundamental practices can be evaluated separately.  A composite picture can be created by pulling together the scores that a user gives himself in each discipline.

It’s not too different from looking at the composite scores of a baseball player who can be evaluated by their RBI’s, Home Runs, Batting Percentage, etc.  A batter might be great in one statistic but lousy in the others, reducing their overall effectiveness.
In 2Time, professionals are advised to give themselves the lowest belt level they find when they do their personal evaluation.

At the same time, there some easy ways to tell that a  professional is operating at a white belt, or novice level,
instead of analyzing the disciplines.

White Belts have one or more of the following: A high number of unread items in Email Inboxes

  1. Missed appointments
  2. Often having to say “Sorry, I didn’t remember”
  3. A Voice-mail Inbox that is consistently full
  4. Frequent mad scrambles to find lost information stored on paper
  5. Key information that is stored electronically is not consistently backed up

A White Belt is not someone who lacks for willpower or good intentions.  As a professional, they may have a simple job that
requires no more than White Belt skills.

However, White Belt users need to be aware that their skills may not allow them to progress to bigger projects, greater
responsibilities and promotions up the corporate ladder.  They might not have the capacity to start a business in their spare time or conduct an effective exercise program.

It’s not an indictment on them per se, but it is indicative of what is needed to accomplish higher performance.

After all, Little League baseball is not Major League baseball, and it shouldn’t be.  In like manner, time management for hourly workers is not the same as time management for executives, and anyone who aspires to high performance in their career will be faced with those moments when their time management system needs an upgrade.  For those who are successful, it will probably happen several times in their careers – an occasion that requires them to develop a new time management system  in order to accomplish their new goals.

30 Days of MyTimeDesign for $1.00

The signs of the recession are everywhere, and there are many people who are without jobs and are looking for ways to cope.  After some thought, I think I have found a way to make it easier for anyone who comes to this blog to get their hands on great value, for only $1.00.

Starting next week, I am going to offer the first 30 days of MyTimeDesign to the public for only a buck.

What will a participant who registers receive?

I have found that the majority of people who take either my 12-week online program – MyTimeDesign  – or my 2 day  live program – NewHabits-NewGoals – get the most value from the first few topics that are covered.

While this isn’t true for all who have taken the course by any means, the first few concepts and practices that are learned are enough to change anyone’s time management system for a lifetime. During the first thirty days, participants come to grips with the fact that they have already designed and are using some kind of system, usually ad hoc, and are now entering the realm of consciously carving out a system they want.

They also cover practices such as Capturing, Tossing and Storing, which are some of the conerstones of all time management systems, and they fine-tune their own system to their own precise needs.

While MyTimeDesign is a 12 week program, the first 30 days are perhaps the most important to most users.

And, there are some who will not stop after 30 days, and will instead choose to complete the entire program.  The truth is, it depends on their particular needs.

So, stay tuned — for those who have been waiting for the right time to do MyTimeDesign, this just might be it!

Taking the Measure of Your Time Management System

Recently, I had the first graduate of the NewHabits programme here in Kingston ask to be certified at a new belt level, and it made me wonder whether or not I have the right set of measures set up to graduate a user from a White Belt in time management to a Black Belt.

The “test” took the form of a quick interview over the phone in which I quizzed him about his practices in each of the 11 fundamentals.  He easily “passed,” and we had an interesting chat after which I prepared his Yellow Belt for delivery.

Afterwards, I wondered to myself if I measured the right thing, and it took me to a bigger question.

I don’t know whether the quality of a time management system should be determined by the way in which a user engages the critical practices, or the objective results that they are able to accomplish.

In the past, as noted in this blog, I have firmly adhered to the idea that a Green Belt in time management, for example, should have accomplished a particular level of skill in each of the 11 fundamentals the underlie all time management systems.  The ladder of belts that I created is an easy way for a user to measure his/her progress overall.

But is that the best, or only measure?I realized that there are others that could be used that could just as useful, such as:

  • the average number of unprocessed emails in his inbox / voicemail inbox /etc.
  • the average number of unread emails in his inbox / voicemail inbox /etc.
  • the amount of time it takes to reply to an email on average
  • the number of appointments that were missed during a week
  • how fresh /stale the items are in various lists
  • how many activities are determined by a schedule

These are also valid measures that can be used to evaluate the quality of a time management system that seem to deserve a place, but the problem is that the tools don’t exist to measure any of them.

The closest I have found was a recent discovery that  Xobni, the Outlook add-on, does measure a few interesting facts about an individual’s email usage.  (I re-installed the program this week after a few months hiatus, due to a system crash.) Here is an idea of what it measures: