iPhone Withdrawal

A journalist/blogger, Topher, is undergoing sever Tech withdrawal by not using his smartphone for (gasp) an entire week.

Follow jos journey back to the land of the techno-dinosaurs by reading his first account: Tech-Torture with Topher: Bye-Bye Smartphone, and follow his adventures on Twitter.

(I’ll break the suspense by revealing that he’ll still be checking email the old-fashioned way — outside of meetings, away from conversations, far from his car and between the hours of 6am and 12am.)

Check the comments…

Embedded video from <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/video”>CNN Video</a>

First to Receive a Yellow Belt…. Receives Orange


Michael Zajac completed my NewHabits-NewGoals 2-day workshop back in January 2008.

He recently returned to Australia from Kingston, Jamaica, but not without a newly minted Orange Belt in hand.

He was the first participant in the NewHabits programs to receive both the Yellow and Orange Belts over an 18 month period, passing both tests with flying colours.

Before he returned home, however, he sat down with me for a 34 minute interview to explain his motivations for going so far so quickly.

Click here to be taken to the podcast page for my interview with Michael Zajak on his growing time management  expertise.


The Pomodoro Over-Prescription

pomodoro.jpgAs I mentioned in a prior post, I was planning to review an e-book that describes the Pomodoro Technique.  A deeper read confirmed that the book is an interesting and well-written one, but it suffers from the challenge that all that books on time management face — that the readers are not the writer.

Before I explain what I mean by that, let me start by highlighting some of the strengths of the approach.

The foundation of the approach is actually a philosophical one, and looks to change the way time is perceived.  One of its goals is to convert time from an enemy to an ally.

I thought that this was pretty powerful way to start, even though I found what followed to be a bit hard to understand, and probably requiring an entire e-book of its own.

The e-book quite rightly zeros in on specific habits that, if implemented, would bring a tremendous amount of order to  the life of a professional who has a weak time management system.  It describes a pretty rigorous method for dealing with time demands, mostly using paper, and using a modified form of ToDo lists as a way to marshall all the activities to be done in the day.

It presents a clear process of planning, monitoring, measuring and improving, which seems to follow the Plan-Do-Check- Act cycle popularized by W.E. Deming, the quality guru.  At the end of each day, the user is encouraged to review the day and determine how well it was planned and executed.

This habit of continuous improvement would make Deming proud.

The name “Pomodoro” comes from the Italian word for tomato, and refers to 25 minute slots that the user is told are the essential building block for each day. Tasks should be started, and scheduled to be completed with 1, 2, 3 or more Pomodoro’s … but never 3.5 or 5.2 — fractional time-slots are forbidden.

This technique is a sound one, as it keeps the user’s focus on the activity at hand, and the fact that a certain amount of time has been budgeted for the activity. Once the 25 minutes are up, the user is taught to take a 5 minute break, before starting a new Pomodoro, which make involve a new task, or the continuation of an old task.

All this activity is tracked on paper, which means that there is a fair amount of recording happening at all times, but it also means that some high quality physical habits are continously being developed.

As time management systems go, it’s not a bad one, from my point of voew, and would take a user to a Yellow Belt, according to the 2Time method of evaluation.  That’s because, it doesn’t allow for scheduling time in the day, but instead requires the user to make a prioritized list, and simply start working on the item with the highest priority first.

This is all good for a day that has a low number of simple time demands.  It would fail where allToDo list based systems fail — when there are too many items to be viewed on a single list, and when multipe tasks are needed to accomplish a complex objective, for example.

But it IS better than the time management systems that most people invent on their own, without any assistance or understanding of what they are doing.

The major issue I have with the Pomodoro technique is that it probably works best for one person – Francesco Cirillo, its creator.  Essentially, he has shared a time management system that he uses, but makes no allowance for the fact that his sauce for the goose might not be sauce for the gander.

In other words, there are probably not too many people that can pick up his system wholesale and implement it, as is.  The vast majority would have to make modifications to fit their own habit patterns,  idiosyncracies and preferences.

For example, I have started trying out a program called  BubbleTimer, which allows me to track how my time is being used. It would replace one of the sheets in the Pomodoro technique, and as far as  I can tell, it would do the same thing more elegantly.

However, if I were a Pomodoro user, I’d be on my own in making this innovation.  This is true because the author hasn’t tried to do anything more than describe the details of the system as implemented, instead of the principles behind each of its elements.

That’s a little like saying “use only white sugar from Domino’s in this recipe because that’s what works.”

Here in Jamaica, Domino’s is not sold.

Instead, we have other brands of white sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, Sweet n Lo and other substitutes.  To determine whether or not they are acceptable, I’d need to know something about the chef’s reason for using “Domino’s white sugar.”

When the reason, or principle, behind the choice isn’t shared, I am left on my own either having  to take a guess, or abandon the recipe.

Is BubbleTimer a suitable substitute to the specific forms the author recommends?

I can only guess.  Or abandon the recipe.

In this sense, the Pomodoro technique over-reaches, and over-prescribes the particular elements of the overall solution that the author uses.

It’s a good approach, but to make it Time Management 2.0-ready, we’d have to be able to understand what principles it’s based on, so that when we want to make our own time management systems to fit our lives, we are able to use the sound principles underlying this approach, and all others that work for their creators.

Unfortunately, the readers are not the writer, but I sense that there is something behind the technique that could be useful to all.

The Pomodoro Technique

I just came across an interesting technique for time management, which takes its name from the Italian word for “tomato.”

I briefly glanced through the pdf and decided to post it online to encourage others to read it and provide feedback here.  In the next week or so, I’ll also read it, and post up a follow-up article.

The45 page pdf can be downloaded at the following link:  The Pomodoro Technique

Steve Ballmer – an Orange Belt in Scheduling?

In an earlier post on the apparent skills of Richard Branson at Capturing, what I didn’t think of doing is estimating the belt level at which he is performing this particular Fundamental.

In retrospect, it seems as if he’s operating as an Orange Belt.

Today, I was checking the recent tweets on time management, and heard this fascinating clip from Steve Ballmer, which makes me think that he’s also operating at an Orange Belt level, but he’s doing it in Scheduling.

I’d love to hear your opinion — what do you think?

Notice that he’s not using Outlook to build his time budget. In the recent series of posts I wrote criticizing Outlook, I should also have included that it’s a poor tool for time demand budgeting.

I happen to use my schedule in Outlook for that purpose, even though it’s not built for that purpose.  Clearly, he agrees.

Signs of a Good Time Management System

good-design.gifIn other parts of this blog, I have mentioned that every single professional is using a time management system of their own making.

This is not a problem.

The issue arises when they don’t realize that they are doing so, and the number of time demands rises to a level that overwhelms their system. Then, they don’t know what to do to return to the peace of mind and sense of productivity they had before.

Going on vacation doesn’t help.  Neither does working harder, or spending longer hours at the office.

Some will change jobs, or companies,  in the hope that they can find a position with fewer time demands that their time management system can handle.

However, professionals who take responsibility for their time management systems have another option — they can re-design their systems, and accept that they have to manage how well it runs.

Here are some design criteria that can be used to tell whether or not there is a good match between the volume of time demands, and a user’s time management system.

The first requirement for a good time management system is that the user employ practices that are scalable.  In time management terms, this means that the practice can still be used even if when the number of time demands increases.

For example, the practice of using bits and pieces of paper as capture points does not scale well, as it quickly becomes a problem when the number of time demands to be captured increases in importance or in number.

Another practice that does not scale well is the act of putting paper on your desk to be reminded to work on it in the future.

Both of these practices might work well for a high school student who has homework to remember to do and little else.

However, ten years later, when the student becomes a professional who is managing 5 people, the practice no longer works.  The tremendous number of paper that must be managed on a weekly basis means that paper might mean that neither practice works well.

Another similar practice that worked well when email was a rarity, was the have the computer announce “You’ve got mail” when a new piece of email enters the inbox.  AOL used to use a perky voice to advice a user that something good had just happened, and email had arrived.

In today’s environment, with hundreds of messages being received each day, that practice of announcing the arrival of each email would be enough to drive any professional crazy.

As a time management system is being built, a user must ensure that the practices being put in place can grow with the increase in time demands.  This might take  little imagination, as changes in technology that are happening everyday are likely to disrupt even the best laid plans.  Nevertheless, the principle is still a sound one, even if it can’t be implemented perfectly.

A time management system must have the capacity to do the same thing over and over again.  A hit or miss system that works now and again is sometimes worse than no system at all.

For example, a system that is built on the use of personal memory is one that likely  to be unreliable, as our ability to remember is subject to fatigue, motivation, stress, the pressure of deadlines, the time of day it’s encountered, our emotional state, and numerous other factors.

While the practice of trying to remember to do things later might be popular, it’s hardly reliable and shouldn’t be a regular part of any professional’s time management system.

The rule of thumb is, the less a system relies on personal memory and the more it relies on electronics or paper, the more reliable it is likely to be.

A time management system that works well is one that enables a user to execute time demands precisely. It allows a user to keep enough detail regarding time demands to prevent conflicts, disappearing promises, overflowing email inboxes, etc.

For example, the system would help the user to start meetings, appointments and activities on time, helping the user to never be late.

A system that has only a rudimentary calendar with no spaces for specific time-slots is probably going to be a obstacle to a user that has multiple meetings in a given day, all of which are important.

All in all, a time management system should be designed with these goals in mind, and as new practices are introduced or replaced, they need to be implemented in a way that gives the peace of mind of knowing that they scalable, reliable and precise, and therefore unlikely to fail.

It would give users ways to live their daily lives without the failures that most people take for granted.