Instant Time Management Improvement! With No Effort!!!

freebies.gifI have become an avid, daily user of Twitter, and from TweetDeck  I have an ongoing search that updates itself continuously, letting me know when someone has tweeted using the phrase “time management.”

I just checked the results of the latest search, and found that 3 of the first 14 posts actually used the phrase “time management tips.”  This echoed a trend I have noticed lately — there is a great deal of interest in “tips” in the area of time management.

As I have said in earlier posts, there is nothing wrong with  tips per se.  According to Dictionary.com, a tip is:  “a useful hint or idea; a basic, practical fact.”

However, it seems to me that when someone is looking for a time management “tip” they are looking more for a “hint” than a solid “idea.”  In other words, they are looking for an easy-to-implement piece of advice that requires little effort on their part to implement.

For example, a simple-seeming enough tip could be “purchase iPhone.”  Seems easy enough, as long as the price isn’t an obstacle…  but as I point out in an earlier post, the choice of which technology to implement turns out to be quite an important and difficult one, when seen correctly.  When it’s just  a matter of logging on to Amazon and using a credit card to order a gadget, however, it looks very, very easy.

When I wrote the free e-book  offered on this website I used the following by-line: “Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals.  At the time, I had a sense that people were focusing on the wrong things, which was triggered by an article I saw listing “The Top 100 Time Management Tips.”

What I didn’t say in the ebook is that I think that we humans absolutely love to hear that something is easy, effortless and free.

We want to believe that greater productivity is simply a matter of putting into place a few tips here and there that require little or no effort.  In other words, the unspoken question is: “how can I get something for nothing?”

In time management, the answer is simple… you can’t.  Here’s why.

Each person on the planet who is aware of the concept of time uses different habits to manage themselves, in an effort to make the most of the time they have.  No two people are exactly the same, and no two habit- systems are the same either.

They were all learned after years of trial and error, most of which took place without conscious effort.  For some, what they have created and implemented works for them.  For many, it doesn’t.

The end-point is the same, however.  Each person has a set of routines or habits that are executed over and over again, and they are now baked into their muscle memory where they are executed without thinking.

However good these habits are, at the same time they are difficult for anyone to break, and therein lies the problem.

When someone makes a decision to become more productive, manage their time better or procrastinate less, they are doing more than asking for a few tips.

Instead, they are setting up an internal battle between their new intention, and their already ingrained habits.  Very few people are any good at willfully, deliberately changing habits, even when there is powerful external pressure to do so.

I once had a friend who was a constant smoker.  A few years ago, he literally smoked himself to an early death, unable to stop the habit that took him on a one-way death march to the grave.  Millions of others do the same each year – testimony to the power of ingrained habits.

The problem is that there is not a single time management system in the world that can be implemented without the development of new habits.  Even the smallest of tips are useless if they cannot be converted by the user into a new habit of some kind.

Given our weakness at “habit management”it’s no wonder that the failure rate is so high.

The problem is that it’s difficult to promote the idea of “hard-to-change habits” and it’s much easier to advertise “10 easy, effortless tips.” I know which option I’d sign up for!

What I have noticed is that developers of time management systems downplay the challenge that users have in making the necessary conversion, and few offer the kind of long-term support that is needed to craft new habits.Unfortunately, habit breaking and making is a time consuming business that requires lots of practice, months of repetition, plenty of emotional support, constant reinforcement of the costs of quitting – all until new some muscle memory begins to develop.

In the book, Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, he notes that it takes some 10,000 repetitions on average, to become good at something, and he uses Mozart as an example of someone who almost HAD to become a genius because of the time he devoted to practicing his music.

That is not good news for most of us.

But it’s the truth, even though it might not sell books, programs or workshops.

Also, I’d be shocked if lots of people started tweeting about changing “time management habits”.

If anything, I believe that there will be a gradual dawning of the fact that the constant pursuit of tips is a fool’s errand, and that real change will only come from a steady investment in incremental behavior change.

After all, it’s the only way to produce a top ballplayer, musician or chemist.  Why shouldn’t it be the only way to produce a top of the line, highly productive professional?

Brilliance in Systems Thinking

samcarpenter_186x305.jpgAs I mentioned in the prior post, I have just finished reading Sam Carpenter’s book — Work the System.

I am a bit in awe of what he’s written, and the fact that he’s written it as a business-owner, rather than a management theorist.

What has really got me excited, however, is that he perfectly echoes, in general terms, the essence of the 2Time approach.

It’s a bit uncanny, really, but if you are a reader of this blog, I invite you to draw your own conclusions about the general principles he has derived, and the ones I describe here on the blog.

He says, for example:

Here is the system-improvement concept in a nutshell:  For a given primary system, in order to ensure that the desired result occurs over and over again, the task is to adjust that primary system’s subsystems so the correct components are being used and they are sequenced properly.

In essence, this is the 2Time approach to Time Management stated a bit differently.  I discovered, to my astonishment, that I have basically followed the same steps he lays out in the book:

1. define the systems and subsystems (i.e. time management and it’s 11 inescapable fundamentals)

2. examine the subsystems, and analyze their components one by one, looking for opportunities for improvement(i.e. focus on building new habits one at a time)

3. make the system improvements, moving each system to peak efficiency.  Document the new procedures (i.e. in the system of Belts moving from white to green.)

Anyone who is familiar with Michael Gerber’s book, The eMyth, will recognize that his ground-breaking book says very similar things from a slightly different perspective, and without contradiction.

Carpenter spends a great deal of time in the book sharing his own experience of  trying to manage a company using the “Whack a Mole” approach to fighting fires on a daily basis. It was debilitating, addictive and ultimately un-sustainable until he had a moment of satori – enlightenment – and saw that his business was one large system that was being poorly managed.  The way to escape the rat race that was killing him was to work on the subsystems.

He argues against the kind of wishy-washy thinking that the focus away from solid, tangible mechanics, and urges company-owners to look for the tangible processes that are falling apart in front of their eyes, while they have been chasing after the fallout.

The problem with a lack of systems thinking is that when bad things happen, we chase after the results to try to correct them, without being able to see the causes correctly.

In a way, this is what people struggle with in their time management, also.

There is stress in their lives, broken promises and forgotten commitments, and they don’t know why.   They place the problem in the wrong mental category, thinking it has something to do with the kids, their own tendency to procrastinate, their ethnicity, the demands of their job, their need for a vacation, etc.

When the factor that they think is the cause changes either by luck or design, they are stunned to find out that peace of mind doesn’t come as they thought it should.

All that’s happened is that they don’t understand how time management systems work… how they ALL work, and that there’s certain inescapable, common design that they must follow in order to function.

Carpenter says virtually the same thing about companies, but he doesn’t go as far as Gerber or I do in suggesting what the subsystems are.

Not a problem, because the book is a compelling autobiography that makes it seem easy to make the journey he has made. He encourages business-owners to figure out their own sub-systems, launch their own improvement programs, come up with their own foundation documents and develop their own language to keep it all together.

At the most, this book is a brilliant business-book that every business owner should read, right before Gerber’s.

At the very least, it has helped me to see my own learning curve, from my degrees in operations research, through Peter Senge, via Michael Gerber and to this point where he echoes the underlying logic of 2Time.

What is clear is that he is elevating systems thinking and acting to a discipline in and of itself, and this is one of the book’s major contributions.  He has made a powerful addition to the work Peter Senge did in the 1990’s to bring “systems thinking”to the fore in his book The Fifth Discipline.

I recommend it wholeheartedly.  Download Work the System here.

Work the System – Now Free

work-the-system.jpgI had the unique fortune of visiting the Work the System website while the book is being offered for free.

While I write a review of the book, I want to invite you to “grab it while you can.”

According to the Work the System website, the book is available for download only until July 27th, 2009 — that’s tomorrow.  While it might very well be extended, this is an excellent book that’s well worth the five minutes it will take to download it.

Download the Work the System e-book here.

A Survey Question Coming Soon

hypothesis-test.gifI am planning to ask some questions in an upcoming time management survey, about whether or not users have an issue with learning new habits.

I recently read a shocking statistic — some 90% of Americans don’t get past the first chapter of the average book that they purchase.

Clearly, they don’t have in place the habits that they need to complete the book, and I imagine that the reason given has little to do with “interest in the book” and everything to do with “finding the time.”

In other words, they don’t have the habits, or the ability to create the habits, that support the completion of a book they wish they could finish.

I imagine that the same thing happens when someone attends a  2 day training program, hears a one hour webinar or downloads an ebook on time management tips.  They hear some good ideas that they come to believe are wortwhile, and then fail to implement them in their lives.

That’s not to disregard the handful who can create new habits at will.  They can learn a new practice and put it into place immediately.

The vast majority, however, have a great challenge.

They grasp the new ideas very quickly, and tell themselves to implement them, but simply fail.

One question I hope to ask is why they failed.

As a part of MyTimeDesign 2.0, I hope to use the internet to provide the kind of reinforcement that will improve the odds that a user will succeed in putting in place the habits they want, and continue them over time.

Some of the strategies I have used in MyTimeDesign 1.0 and in the live NewHabits programs do include these kinds of supports over a 2-3 month period, but I am now thinking that that might just not be enough.

I am starting to believe that a time management program that sets 4 hours apart for just assisting participants to teach themselves new habits would increase the implementation of new habits dramatically.

Hopefully, the survey will help to clarify this particular hypothesis.

Covey’s FTF vs. Allen’s GTD

istock_000003307226xsmall.jpgArticles like this one are interesting in their attempts to compare one time management system versus another.

But if you read carefully, you’ll probably find yourself liking a few things from each, and willing to discard some different things from each.

The only reasonable response, it seems to me, is to  create one’s own approach that uses the best that one can find from all sources.

 

 

Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.

Another Custom-Built Time Management System

Here is a link to a post in which a user describes a time management system that she created for herself: My “GTD®” Hacks

While I don’t know enough about her system to say much about it, she makes the point very clearly that this works for her at the present moment, and gives her the degree of peace of mind and productivity that she wants.

While her needs are likely to change in the future, and her paper-based system may prove to be too bulky,)  the point is that it fits the purpose she’s trying to accomplish now.

One innovation that she uses is a 24 hour calendar, and apparently she’s doing some pre-planning for each upcoming day based on her mid-term goals.

She’s done some good thinking to come up with a great example of Time Management 2.0.

 

Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.

Research on Interruptions

istock_000004136298xsmall.jpgIn other posts on this blog, I lament the lack of proper research in the entire field of time management, but recently I did come across the following paper that describes some empirical results in a study of interruptions.

The original article that quoted the study was  from the New York Times, and it’s entitled “When Texting Is Wrong.”

In the article, a paper was cited as a reference entitled “The Effects of Interruptions on Task Performance, Annoyance, and Anxiety in the User Interface.”  This, based on research conducted at the University of Minnesota.

The paper concludes the following:

 The key findings of this work are that (i) a user performs slower on an interrupted task than a
non-interrupted task, (ii) the level of annoyance experienced by a user depends on both the category of primary task being performed and the time at which a peripheral task is displayed, (iii) a user experiences a greater increase in anxiety when a peripheral task interrupts her primary task than when it does not, and (iv) a user perceives an interrupted task to be more difficult to complete than a noninterrupted task. The implication of these results is that we need to build systems, such as an attention manager, which help manage user attention among competing applications, thus mitigating the effects of unnecessarily interrupting a user.

Now, I have no idea what an “attention manager” is, and I suspect that the writers are looking at some piece of technology as a solution.

That struck me as a bit odd.  Imagine using one piece of technology, an attention manager, preventing a user from using another, such as a Blackberry.

How did we get to this point?

I think they’d be on firmer footing if they dealt with the face that individual habits create unwanted interruptions, and not the technology itself.

Blaming the technology is a little like blaming an alarm clock for ringing in the morning.  Alarms, Blackberries and iPhones do what they are programmed to do.  It’s crazy to blame them for performing functions that a user’s habits are making them perform.

But I guess that somewhere out there someone is selling an Attention Manager for US$19.95 and is about to make a few millions.

Ironically, buying the manager with a credit card, is a lot quicker than trying to change a habit if a user lacks the necessary skills.

New 2Time eZine on the Failure of Time Management Systems

2time-header.jpgI just wrote a new article for the 2Time eZine on the reasons why time management systems fail.

It’s something  that I haven’t seen any of the gurus talk about, and it may be because the explanation isn’t something they can do much about in a book or 2-day program.

If you haven’t subscribed, you can do so by requesting my free e-book using the free sign-up box at top left, or by sending email to [email protected]

Click here – The Reason Why New Time Management Systems Fail

[email_link]

An Argument for Time Management 1.0

While this blog is written to explore Time Management 2.0, I am starting to think that there is an argument for Time Management 1.0.

What’s the difference?

In Time Management 1.0, users were told to follow a prescription laid out by a guru.   The details were quite specific — follow this, do that, organize yourself this way, use these strange terms, follow the system, everything will work out.

In Time Management 2.0 the onus is on the user to create time management systems of their own that fit their personalities, habit patterns and needs.  Users come to realize that there is no way that someone can devise a system that works for everyone.  Instead of looking for the perfect system to adopt, they go looking for principles that they can use in their own time management systems, with a twist here and there to improve the odds of it working.

But what about the rank novice, or white belt?  They made it through grade school, which indicates that they have some kind of idea of how to manage their time.   However, they stumble along in life, forgetting appointments, being late, and experiencing the stress that comes from feeling overburdened.

At this point, they are not aware that they are  using a time management system, albeit one that was not intentionally developed.  The habits they are employing on a daily basis were not chosen, or practiced.  Some are good, and some are bad, but the novice remains blissfully unaware.

From what  I can tell, they continue until they hear a clear message that causes them to reflect on their situation that goes something like this: “Follow this new time management system and you will become much more effective, and have greater peace of mind.”

They do a quick comparison between their current situation, and the one described by the new time management system, and decide to learn all they can about the new one. They take a class, or read a book, but at the end of their period of learning, they are aware of some new things they are not doing, but are convinced they should.

They all face a similar challenge however, that few overcome — they now have a whole bunch of new habits that they need to implement, but they don’t know how.

A few are able to make some changes, but from what I can tell, most fail to implement what they have learned in a anything more than a cosmetic way.

Which brings me to the first question I posed at the top of this article — is it better for the novice to try to adopt someone else’s system, than it is for them to contemplate creating one of their own?  Is Time Management 2.0 an approach that is only for those who have “graduated” from 1.0?

I don’t know the answer — let me know your opinion on this one.