Comments on Bit Literacy

bit-literacy-cvr-175.gifI recently completed an essential book for those with a serious interest in productivity:  Bit Literacy by Michael Hurst.

While I can’t say that I agree with everything in the book, it was a provocative read that went deeper than anything I have ever read in some essential topics. At the same time, I thought that with respect to time management, he made a similar error to other writers in the field — sticking too much to a time management 1.0 mindset.

His overall idea is a sound one – the latest technologies are being mis-used by the majority of professionals who are applying old thinking and therefore stale practices to workplaces that have been revolutionized by email, iPhones and other technologies.  For example, the person who prints out every piece of email in order to “save it in a safe place” is confused by technology, and thinking in very old ways about data.  This makes them very inefficient, and causes them to not just waste paper and space, but also to create a level of paper-clutter that is inefficient.

He makes the point that we make here on 2Time, which is that you can’t apply old practices to the ever increasing mountain of information that is coming at the average user.  Most of the increase in information is not coming printed on paper, as it used to, but instead is coming in the form of bits and bytes, requiring new practices in the form of what he calls “bit literacy.”

As a minor aside, I found the term “literacy” to be a misleading one, as it only makes sense when compared to the way we use the phrase “computer literacy.”  I think a better phrase would be something like “bit capable” which is really what his book is about — the ability to skillfully process the flow of bits that a professional must face each day.

I’ll continue to share what I learned in future posts, but his overall thesis is a powerful one — things have changed, and a user’s practices must also change if professionals are interesting in even maintaining their current level of productivity.

Not Time Management, Habit Management!

istock_000002003024xsmall.jpgIt’s a difficult case to make — time management is the result of well-executed habits, and people who find themselves stuck in a rut when it comes to this part of their lives will never be able to improve their systems unless they learn to teach themselves new habits.

This is a tough lesson to learn and I am finding that it’s also a tough one to teach.

When we are late for an appointment, or an important task falls through the cracks, some of the typical things that we say to ourselves are as follows:

  • “I need to do a better job of remembering these things”
  • “I have too much stuff going on”
  • “I need an extra hour in the day”

While these sentiments are common ones that millions of professionals utter each day in frustration, there is a good reason why they are likely to keep saying them over and over again whenever they fail to respond to an email in time to hit a deadline.

To put it simply, saying these things are a waste of time.

Developing a better memory, changing situations and magically having an extra hour in the day don’t make a difference.

There is only one thing that makes a difference to the things that users say they really want in time management.

That something is new habits, and a user’s ability to create them at will.

Millions of people look in the mirror each morning and say to themselves “I wish I could lose a few pounds.”

The reason that they are unable to do so, is that they don’t know how to take a good idea, and turn it into a regular habit.  The result is predictable — the weight stays on in spite of the best  running shoes,  gym memberships and supplements that money can buy.

In time management, there are lots of lists floating around with seductive titles such as “101 Time Management Tips.”  The tips themselves may be world-class, but they are entirely useless to someone who does not know how to implement new habits in their lives.

To compound the difficulty,  each person’s habit-pattern is different, and one cannot simply copy another person’s approach to changing habits and hope to be successful.  We each have unique habit patterns, and getting rid of old habits and learning new ones takes a certain degree of self-knowledge to be successful more often than not.

For example, I have found that I respond well to a daily checklist that I do each morning.  I don’t respond well to a post-it note attached to my computer monitor.  About a year ago I switched to becoming a regular flosser by tying my floss to my razor with a rubber band, and I learned that I could physically tie one action to another and teach myself a new habit.

On the other hand, someone who nags me each day to learn a new habit is not an effective method for me.

You may respond well to piece of string tied on to your finger, or to the support of a good friend who is also starting the same or similar habit.

Others may respond well to being part of a live support group that gathers each week to discuss progress and receive coaching.

There is no perfect formula.

Knowing the right formula for you, however, makes all the difference in the world between having a knowledge of 101 tips while implementing none, and successfully creating a new practice that continues unstopped for several years.

All this makes me think that writing a blog on time management is a bit misleading, because good time management at Yellow, Orange and Green belts is all a matter of the habits that one practices, and little else.  I’d probably do anyone who wanted to improve their time management skills a favor by telling them to forget about the topic, until they discovered a way to change their habitual practices at will.

This is personal-mastery at its best, and an essential aspect to every time management program that exists.  Whether a user picks up a new time management book, or takes the MyTimeDesign program online or a live program for 2 days it doesn’t matter.   They simply cannot succeed in changing their lives without having an effective way to work on themselves.


The Problem with Time Management

grape-np_46ozorganic.jpgAn interesting article caught my eye the other day entitled “The Problem with Time Management.”

Given my own interests, I grabbed it up, thinking that I could finally retire the entire 2Time effort because, finally, someone else had come up with something better.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the problem with time management turns out to be a poor working relationship with one’s boss.

The author makes the case that most people are focusing on the wrong thing — i.e. their personal productivity — and should instead be trying to better align themselves with the implicit and explicit goals of their immediate manager.

Here’s a quote:

Time management programs usually focus on your personal productivity, analyzing how you choose to spend your time. This is all fine and dandy, but it misses one essential truth: In an organization that’s devoted to banging pots, you better bang pots or have a damn good reason for not banging them.

That’s why, after the PowerPoint presentation had ended and the trainer went home, you fell back into your old, unproductive rhythms — not because you didn’t agree with the time management expert’s analysis, but because you returned to normal life in the world of The Middle . . . which means doing what you think your boss wants you to do. Bang! Bang! Bang!

So, it turns out that time management problems have nothing to do with one’s habits, or de-facto time management system.

And probably there are religious roots also.  And I should think that our mothers are to blame too.

I don’t want to become too sarcastic, but it hardly seems that THE problem with time management can be traced back to this particular source.

It seems to me that the author has simply over-reached in his thinking, or in other words has collapsed two separate frames of thinking into one, producing a messy, illogical argument, but also a neat, snappy headline.

After all, it caught my attention, got my hopes up and got me to read through it twice (to make sure I wasn’t missing something…)

I do, however, think that one of the real problems with time management is the sin of over-reaching that I am accusing this particular writer of committing.

I also happen to have just read the book, “Bit Literacy,” by Mark Hurst, which as some great ideas in it that work for him.  Unfortunately, I found the same tendency to over-reach, and to prescribe too many specifics to too-broad an audience.

It’s a little like discovering that drinking Welsh’s grape juice is a healthy habit, and then recommending that everyone buy the same product and drink it in the same quantities.

The cure to over-reaching is deeper analysis. There is a more subtle reason why drinking Welsh’s can be found to be beneficial, and it could be true that the same benefit might come to a greater number from drinking plain water.

Getting to the more subtle reasons takes hard work, however, and it’s simply easier to talk and write about “Welsh’s” than it is “hydration.”

Unfortunately, when time management writers prescribe too much there is a cost to the reader, in that he/she tries to follow the prescription but finds themselves failing, and cannot discern the reasons why.  When they find themselves unable to enjoy Welsh’s, they end up giving up on hydration altogether.

For example:

“Everyone else seems to be using their Blackberry Pearl to improve their productivity… why can’t I?”

The answer lies not in the writers, however, but “in ourselves.”  Each of us must come to own the fact that we are using time management systems that were consciously or unconsciously designed by us, and we need to find ways to improve the design, or face being buried by the onslaught of digital information that Bit Literacy so rightly predicts.

Click here to be taken to the article: The Problem with Time Management


Low Adoption Rate of Time Management Techniques

I came across the following post from the Success Making Machine website that refers to a podcast by David Allen in which he describes the low adoption rate of time management.  It’s titled (in part) David Allen on GTD®’s Low Adoption Rate.

In the podcast, Allen admits that there’s a very low adoptation rate of people who start with GTD and end up using it. They include:

Not easy to get started- Try to put yourself in an environment where the GTD language is spoken.

Getting more dimensions– Keep learning. Keep rereading. One answer he gives is GTD connect.
High level issues (20,000 & 30,000 & 40,000- feet)- if you don’t address your high level goals “your system will become flat”.

Here is the actual quote: “My first book sold over 1 million copies in 28 languages.. I have never had one piece of feedback that anything in … GTD is inaccurate, or that didn’t work.  I have had a zillion people tell me – It works… I don’t work it.”

This is pretty interesting to me.

I think that all prescribed time management systems have a fatal flaw — they are built on the assumption that users are able to apply the ideas in the way that the author intended.  This is quite different from the notion that users are actually developing their own time management systems, using bits and pieces of systems, in a haphazard manner.  The results are therefore unpredictable.

However, even those users that desire to follow someone else’s system are no more successful, and it’s not because GTD, Covey and other systems don’t work. As Allen imples, he has never had anyone tell him that there is anything wrong with his system.

The problem in this case is the major problem — people have a hard time creating new habits, and when the habits are foreign to their everyday practices, it gets even harder.

Allen and others offer users and readers entire systems of habits, and they have a hard time changing their behavior for the same reasons that they don’t follow their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.

They simply have an inadequate approach to implementing new habits.

The latest research on quitting habits such as smoking advocates a level of self-knowledge that people don’t have. To be effective, they must be come to know and understand how they change habits.

In others words, they need a custom set of supports that will ensure that the new habit gets created.

Without this knowledge, it’s an uphill battle.

I have tried to understand what I need to include in the mix to get my habits to change, and while I haven’t made tremendous progress, I have used a simple Habit Tracker to implement the same new habits each day.

This has worked wonders for me, as I start each day by going through the list and ticking off each of the habits I did in the last 24 hours.

I have also used to help me change my eating habits.  Two years ago, I did the test and discovered I had a real age of 33.  That was when I was 41.

Now, I have a real age of 30.3.

Talk about motivation — I am doing all the things I know I should do in terms of eating, flossing etc. just because it’s kinda cool to see my real ageactually go down based on the changes I am making in my life.

So, I now know 2 important things about what it takes for me to change a habit.  I need some kind of daily or regular tracking mechanism, and I also need a measurable goal that I believe I can change over time.

I believe that each person’s “habit changing blueprint” is different, and that there is no way to implement the new habits that a changed time management system requires  without being able to alter the underlying habits.

GTD and others systems would benefit if they also taught this all-important skill.


P.S.  The Habit Tracker I now use was adapted from the form developed by  The picture at left is just an example.