Outside and Slightly Elevated

istock_000006151593xsmall.jpgIn the book Work the System, author Sam Carpenter makes an observation about business systems that I think applies perfectly to time management systems.

Carpenter’s entire book represents a strong plea to business owners to step outside of their companies and manage them from a distance by identifying, understanding, and improving them. He makes the point, using his own experience, that business owners get lost in running their own companies, playing the game of “Whack a Mole” as each problem comes up.

In other words, Carpenter asks them to step out of the addiction of problem solving and into the world of systematic improvement. There’s more of a hint of Deming, Juran, and Taguchi in the air.

The result of this stepping out is a vantage point that’s “outside and slightly elevated.”

Carpenter’s book is an improvement on The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, which also advocates the same kind of systemic understanding. But Carpenter doesn’t step over the line to prescribe which systems comprise the typical business.

One of the weaknesses of Gerber’s book is that he does take that step, with mixed results.

The example given in Gerber’s book is that of a bakery, and the examples and system that Gerber describes are those of a typical retail store. Nothing wrong with that — unless you own a consulting firm, like I do. It’s impossible to use his template in whole, and instead users are left on their own, trying to figure out what principles Gerber used to come up with the essential systems. I was forced to do the same, modifying some systems and dropping others in an attempt to create a set of systems that fit my circumstances.

Carpenter doesn’t try to go that far. Instead, he focuses on teaching the principles that everyone can use to build their own systems.  His emphasis on taking a point of view that’s “outside and slightly elevated” is critical to this effort.

It’s also critical to building good time management systems.

When I tried to apply Covey, GTD®, DayTimer, and other systems when I moved to Jamaica, I found that none of them applied.  Like Gerber, they just went too far in trying to tell me which words to use, which files to create, which tools to use, etc.

Time Management 2.0 echoes Carpenter’s point of view: you must create, own, manage, and understand your own systems in order to effectively improve them. To do so, professionals must step outside of their day-to-day frenzy and ask themselves the following questions with respect to their time management systems that echo those from Carpenter’s book:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What are the principles I should use in my time management system?
  • What practices and habits do I need to implement?

These are critical questions in the Time Management 2.0 approach, and they’re essential to producing a true breakthrough in time management for each professional, regardless of his or her job, industry, age, or country of residence.

Time Management 1.0 supposed that there could be a “one size fits all” approach to time management. I believe that the failure of so many people to implement prepackaged time management programs is due, in part, to the fact that new habits are hard to implement. I also think that when they’re prescribed by a guru who hasn’t taken the “outside and slightly elevated” point of view of an individual professional’s life, it’s impossible for most.

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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.

Top 10 Ways to Use Your Down Time More Effectively

istock_000010092262xsmall.jpgBy Emily Thomas

If you feel pretty confident with your time management skills, you may already use to-do lists, calendars, goal-tracking charts and alerts or alarms to keep you focused and driven during your work or school day.

But what about your down time?

If you leave your productivity skills at the door as soon as you check out of the office each day, you’re not maximizing your personal time. And while staying productive after hours when you’re supposed to be relaxing may seem counterintuitive, there are ways that you can use your down time more effectively without giving up the fun.
1.    Watch the clock. One of the easiest ways to manage time, especially if you’re not worried about deadlines, is to keep track of what time it is. You’ll be less likely to spend hours in front of the TV if you’re aware of the time that’s slipping away.
2.    Stick to a regular sleeping schedule. Avoid oversleeping and napping when you don’t really need it by sticking to a regular sleeping schedule, even on weekends. You can sleep in an extra hour or so, but don’t stay up all night and then sleep until lunchtime the next day if you want to use your time effectively.
3.    Multi-task. The next time you settle down to watch a movie, go down your to-do list and find a task that you can accomplish while sitting in front of the TV, like wrapping birthday presents, sending thank-you cards, or cooking dinner.
4.    Make the most of your commute. If you use public transportation or a van pool, use your commute to catch up on reading, e-mails or sleep.
5.    Stay plugged in. Just because you’re not at work doesn’t mean you have to turn into a vegetable. Staying plugged in to the world around you means that your creativity, memory and intellect or still operating, even if it’s just in the background.
6.    Visit friends. Being social keeps you “checked in” emotionally and mentally and helps you stay in a good mood, which also leads to better productivity.
7.    Eat right. Weekends usually mean that diets witness a little leniency, but remember to eat healthy so that you can keep your energy up.
8.    Dream. Daydreaming usually seems like a bad idea if you want to manage your time more effectively, but it encourages your mind to be creative and set new goals for yourself.
9.    Get a hobby. If you’re not fully satisfied with your job, get a hobby that stimulates your creativity and intellect, and could even turn into a second job or new career in the future.
10.    Exercise your brain. Help your body prevent cognitive decline by playing crossword puzzles, reading the newspaper and mixing things up.
This post was contributed by Emily Thomas, who writes about the best online universities. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected] yahoo.com

A New Goal for Time Management

In the delivery of my different time management programs, I have come to realize that professionals might need a new way to think about success.

The very old way of thinking used to be that it was all about getting more stuff done.

On this blog I have maintained that it has to do with peace of mind and productivity.

Now, I am starting to think that it really has more to do with closing the frustration gap between reality and expectations.

What this means is quite simple.  It arises when a professional has a picture in his mind of how well he should be managing his time, and then finds evidence that there is a mismatch between the two.  It’s a frequent feeling that people complain about all the time.

As an example, here are a few expectations that I have of myself and my time management system:

– my inbox should never have more than 5 items unless I am processing its contents

– I should not be late for any appointment, unless an emergency arises

– I should return all phone calls and emails that I deem to be important

– I should never fall into the habit of saying that “I need more time,” or “don’t have enough time”

These expectations are a few that are more or less in line with a full Orange Belt in time management, working towards a Green.

At the moment, I can say that my time management system delivers on these particular expectations, so I don’t have that feeling of frustration. This has not come easily, as I have been taking an intense look at my time management system for the past 3 years, taught courses and written articles and ebooks, all the while using my own example as a case study.

There are however, some Green Belt practices that I have no idea how to execute, and at least one of them  requires software that apparently has not been invented.  In this case, I don’t have the expectation of operating as a full Green Belt, simply because I can’t.

There are some, I know, who are completely satisfied with whatever belt they have, and given that most people operate at a White Belt level, most of them are not too effective, but have found a way to alter their expectations so that they are satisfied with lows levels of productivity.

In the 2Time approach to time management, I have taken the following approach:

1. to help professionals to change their expectations to realistic ones

2. to show professionals how to improve their skills so that they can accomplish their goals.

For example, a user who wished to “get everything done” learns early on that that goal is an impossible one.  Not even small children get everything done, simply because their mind is creating more stuff to do than a body can do in 24 hours.

As another example, a user who gets promoted to management based on solid performance in their prior job, may very quickly discover that  the bar has been raised, and that in order to keep the job, they need to raise their own expectations of themselves. However, they often find that that’s easier said than done, as they don’t know how to improve their time management skills to the point where they can operate as a manager.  At this point, many take a course of read a book in search of improvement techniques.

In both examples, the user takes positive action to reduce the gap, and take away the frustration.

What I like about this “gap” is that it’s entirely user-dependent, and unique to each person.

It’s also somewhat empirical,  as there are a certain number of times in the day when a user experiences the gap, and the frustration from having it unfilled.  They either have a thought or utter a statement that reveals their true feelings.

Hopefully, this new way of thinking about the goal of time management systems might add a new dimension that captures the feeling that people want to have about themselves, and what they have created to get by each day.

I’d love to  hear what you think of this particular line of reasoning!

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An Interesting Experiment?

experiment.jpgI came across a post entitled: An Experiment with Time Management that describes an entrepreneur’s decision  to track his time each day, to see how he could improve his time management.

I have seen different software programs that help users to do the same thing, but I fear that there is not much to be gained from this approach, and certainly nothing that will lead to a fundamental shift in behaviour.

The reason is simple – entrepreneurs don’t work in a job in which each day is like any other.  On any given day, they are faced with all sorts of emergencies, projects and opportunities that make it impossible to compare one day to another, in order to determine whether or not Friday was a more productive day than Monday.

The best that can came out of the exercise is some after-the-fact self-criticism, such as “I shouldn’t have taken such a long break after I checked my email last Wednesday” or “I should have focused more on the accounting I was doing in order to get it done faster on Monday.”

Most knowledge professionals are performing jobs with a high creative content in which success is not easily measured.

What a time review can help to tell this blogger, however, is what habits he is lacking in his repertoire, given that he has an interest in improving his time management skills. He can see where he checks his email before doing anything else each day, and how that habit might be destroying his productivity.

But to what end?

He’d have to come to understand that good time management is ultimately about peace of mind, which exists only when there is a match between  a user’s intentions, and actual outcomes.  In other words, he’s trying to have days in which there is no frustration at wanting more time in the day, no missed appointments, no skipped commitments and and no forgetten promises.

That’s very different than “getting more stuff done” which is the goal that most professionals maintain when they do a survey of their time management expenditures.

Unfortunately, there are only a few jobs left in the world in which “getting more stuff done” is the single goal, and I doubt that any of them are held by knowledge workers.  Trying to narrow the game down to this simple variable might work in baseball (i.e. score more runs) but it’s not useful in real life, for real workers.

As Stephen Covey says, you might be climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.  In like manner, it makes no sense to  get more done, and to sacrifice the peace of mind that’s ultimately the real goal.

Download WorktheSystem Now!

In a prior post I mentioned that I was so impressed by a new book I read called Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less, that I read it in only 2 sittings.

It’s available on Amazon and in book stores, but with my special arrangement with the author, Sam Carpenter, until August 20th you can download the pdf version for free from the author’s website.

To receive the pdf, visit the website workthesystem.com, find the “Special Book Promotion” window, and use the pass word 2Timepromo

Enjoy – and let me know what you think!

Francis

P.S. This link is good only through Aug 20th, and if you miss this 7 day window, you may not be able to download it again for free. Please let your friends know.

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Ritual Building

ritual.jpgI came across an article on the Harvard Business Review website entitled “An 18-Minute Plan for starting Your Day.”

It’s an interesting take on the value of rituals, and how they build competence over time.

Here on the 2Time blog, I have written a great deal about the essential nature of habits, and how they are the building blocks of all time management systems.  In fact, someone who is skilled at developing new habits and shedding old ones is one who might have a tremendous skill at upgrading their time management skills whenever they want — the “Holy Grail” of Time Management 2.0.

I like the use of the word “ritual”, because it implies some degree of  conscious effort, whereas the word “habit” makes me think of something that might well be unconscious.

“Time Management Habits” might therefore be seen as one’s already existing repetitive actions, while the phase “Time Management Rituals” can be seen as a set of carefully crafted practices.

The article makes the point that experiments have shown that people who specify a time and a place to get something done are more likely to be successful.

In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.

In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.

This small example seems to be pointing out the difference between what I describe as White Belt, and Orange Belt Scheduling skills.  The Orange Belt approach is obviously more effective, or in other words it increases the odds that the action will actually take place.

Obviously, it takes some effort to turn the good ideas mentioned in the article into rituals, and then habits.  As I mentioned in a prior article, that may be the most difficult challenge of all.

Perfect Time Management

perfect-cover-v1.jpgI have come up with a working title for my book — “Perfect Time Management.

Where did that particular name come from?

I have been scratching my head for a few weeks thinking about this as I work on it, trying to imagine what the ultimate and ideal result might be for someone who reads the book.

I finally decided that a user who takes the steps to design their own system would design one that is “perfect.”

It can’t be bought off the shelf and be copied from others, any more than a dream home or a custom hot-rod can come from anywhere else other than the mind of the creator.

However, like a home or a car, it must follow certain design principles or it just might not work.  Hence the need for a certain kind of guidance, but not a prescription on what the system should look like.

It would be “perfect” because  it would match the lives that they live, versus someone else’ life.

My goal is to give readers a way of thinking about their time management systems that will provide a new level of empowering awareness.  The ultimate result I want is that a lot more professionals take charge of this important part of their lives, using the advice of many, but never relinquishing the ultimate responsibility.

Once published, this book will provide the help I was looking for when I started writing about time management 3 years ago, after I was dumbstruck at the books and blogs I read that made the implicit assumption that systems designed in Denver or Cambridge could work here in Kingston.

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Escalating Interrupters

check.jpgOnce I was late for a call with former coach.

What made it more significant  than just ordinary lateness was the fact that this was the first call we had arranged.

Her response was even more drastic, to my mind.  She put a clause in our contract that stated that if I were late for another call, the rate I as paying her would go up by 50%, and if I were late again, it would go up by 100%.

Needless to say, I was never late again!

This simple system of escalating reinforcement got me thinking.

Lots of people try to motivate themselves to develop new habits, but fail to create mechanisms that are designed to kick in when their commitment fails.  I’m not sure how this would work for getting rid of bad habits like smoking, but here is an idea of what it would look like for someone who wants to commit to exercise, for example.

Write a series of checks to a work-out partner (e.g. for US$50 each.)  Tell them that for each week that you keep your commitment to turn up at the gym, they are allowed to destroy one check.

If you don’t keep your commitment for a week, they are allowed to cash the check and spend the money in any way they decide.

Then, the game continues, except that the stakes are raised to US$100 per week instead.

The wonderful thing about this is that there is an actual cost for not showing up at the gym — the cost to one’s personal health.  So, in a way it’s just a vivid reminder that skipping a workout does not take place without a cost.

I think that many people would refuse to agree to this kind of self-reinforcement, simply because they are not serious, and would prefer to keep up a pretense of being committed.  If that were to happen, I think it would be a good thing, as it would separate serious commitments from casual, feel-good promises that we often make to ourselves.

What do you think?

Inspiration from Total Immersion

total-immersion.jpgIt’s funny, but over the past week or so I have been picking up the original threads of thought that inspired me to think that there was a better way to think about time management.

The first indication occurred when I read the book “Work the System” by Sam Carpenter.  I discovered how much I had been influenced by Michael Gerber’s books, starting with “The e-Myth Revisited.”

The second indication came as I started to prepare for my next triathlon, which is some four months away.  I am only a proficient swimmer because of the work I have done over the years on my freestyle stroke, based on the work of Terry Laughlin at Total Immersion.

I picked up his book for triathlon swimmers once again,  so that I can begin to work on my stroke and efficiency.  I was quite surprised to see how much of his ideas had seeped into my subconscious, at a few levels.

One level is related to the actual content of the book, which has presents a whole new way of thinking about swimming that flies in the faces of conventional  wisdom.

The other level has to do with the emphasis on continuous practice, in order to eke out small gains and improvements over time.  Terry encourages swimmers to change their thinking from “doing laps,”  and instead to think about their time in the water as “practice time” — an opportunity to ingrain into their bodies a specific new movement, position or tweak.  Each session must have a plan, and the swimmer shouldn’t end the session without being a better swimmer in some small way.

This focus on developing small, seemingly inconsequential habits is the key to becoming a better swimmer who is more streamlined in the water, uses less energy and therefore performs better on the bike and the run, which together take up much more time than the swim.

My hope in developing this blog, and the thinking behind 2Time is that users will come to see that it’s possible to improve their time management skills by taking a similar approach.

If they are able to figure out the simple changes in practice that are needed to happen, then it’s possible to make them a reality with a focus on changing small habits, or practices.

A top swimmer  cannot escape the requirement of ongoing practice, if they hope to improve.  A professional is no different. It’s crazy to think that there is some way to implement new habits of time management without practicing them over and over again until they become second nature, and greater productivity and peace of mind is the result.

The one thing that I wish I could recommend to each professional is a way to practice the skills each day.

Going to the pool to work out before a competition is obviously the time that a swimmer sets aside to get better.

Where or what is the equivalent time for a professional?

When do they get the opportunity each day to practice new skills?

What would be an easy to structure to add to one’s life in order to try out some new approaches?

I have an idea that there could be time set aside each day to do the following:

1. look back at the previous day to see what can be learned

2. decide which new habit to implement that day

3. set up any supports that are required to ensure that the new habit is fully supported

This practice could be repeated each day, until a new habit has become second nature, and does not require conscious attention.

This is a pretty simple example, but as far as I can tell, it’s the only way to ensure that the time is spent actually practicing the new habit.

Now that I look at it, I realize that  I have been using this process each day myself for over a year, but my focus has been on building my scaffold for the day.

While there are a few gifted swimmers who can immediately implement a new suggestion, most need to invest hours of pool time to gain a fraction of a second here, and a fraction of a second there.  Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps spend months of practice to do just that, and they are perhaps the most gifted athletes of all in their disciplines.

The same applies to working professionals. A few might be able to instantly apply the “top 100 tips,” but for most there is a yawning gap between understanding any given tip and turning it into a new habit.

Thanks to Terry Laughlin for not just making it clear that there is only one way to get better, but also for making the path clear for those (like me) that look at Phelps and have no idea, or the wrong idea, of how to climb the learning curve.

I hope this blog, and the products I produce, do the same.