Is HR Doing Enough to Protect Worker Productivity?

istock_000000217921small.jpgStart with managerial anxiety.  Add in some new technology in the form of smartphones.  Toss in some employees that don’t know how to say no.

Watch as bad habits develop around email, text messages, voice calls and IM’s.

Or… perhaps… do something about it , as I suggest in this article targeted at Human Resource professionals.

Here is the link to my article:  “Is HR Standing By While Corporate Culture Changes?”

It describes a new challenge for human resource departments, who have never quite been held accountable for worker productivity.  Now, the time is right to speak up against the bad habits that are helping to create corporate cultures of un-productivity.

Why I Love Time Management

Now and then I ask myself “Why?”

Why do I have this blog devoted to time management and productivity?  Why do I spend time coming up with new  ideas every now and then, so that I can share them and hopefully turn them into ideas that make it into a class, a webinar or my consulting work?

I struggle a bit with the explanation, partly out of a fear of sounding too Pollyana-ish.  If I could put together a trite explanation… that’s it all about becoming dirty, filthy rich…. if I could leave it at that, I suppose many would nod and understand.  But then, I’d look foolish for giving away most of what I do for free.

I took a couple of MBA classes while I was at Cornell, and this just isn’t a great strategy, according to that kind of thinkingh.  I have been giving away almost everything for free, long before the book “Free” came about, and while the book helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, or crazy, it’s only added some capitalist logic to the fun I was already having tinkering with time management concepts.

At the moment, for example, I have nothing for sale on my website at all, and in 2010 I have only had a single product for sale for about 2 weeks (MyTimeDesign2.0.Professional.)

Not that that troubles me.

While I sometimes wish that I could make a living from this peculiar pursuit, it’s not what gets me up in the morning.

Instead, I think I like three things about what I do here on the 2Time blog, in the NewHabits-NewGoals programs and in MyTimeDesign.

The Challenge

I don’t know exactly why, but I am convinced that millions of working people around the world are trying to be more productive than they already are, not because the boss demands it necessarily, but because their aspirations require it.  For example, many people are trying to lost weight, start their own small business, get more education or spend more quality time with their families and they know that a simple improvement in how they manage their time will give them “more.”

They also know that time is one of those commodities that cannot be reclaimed, and that the older they get, the more this rings true in their experience.

As far as I can tell, these concerns transcend nationality, race, gender or any of the categories that we use to distinguish human beings from each other.  The idea that  I could solve it for so many people thrills me each and every day — after all, I am working to solve a problem that my colleagues here in Kingston, Jamaica, and my fellow human beings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are all struggling with.

What’s at stake is nothing more than our quality of life.

What pisses me off is that all the books/websites I have read on the topic don’t deal with some basic truths:

  • we all have (and need) unique approaches to managing our time
  • we each have something that is working for us right now (to some degree)
  • time management is all about habits, and it’s hard for humans to change habits
  • to expect someone to toss out their current habits and adopt a bunch of new ones -in an instant – is unrealistic
  • the vast majority fail to implement new systems even when they try very, very hard
  • no-one knows how to measure the quality of an individual’s time management system

These truths might be called the “hidden secrets” of the time management industry, and they must be the starting point of everyone who is serious about helping people to become more productive.  To my mind, they are inescapable.

To add fuel to the fire, time management as an academic topic doesn’t have a proper home, and has, tragically, fallen through the cracks.  It’s a severely under-researched topic, and while it impacts every single working person on the planet in a profound way, there isn’t a single conference, journal or academic department in a major university that focuses on it (that I am aware of.)

Four years ago when I went looking to upgrade my own productivity system, I was appalled to find such a lack of depth in such a critical topic that impacts so many people.  As far as I can tell, little has changed since then.


As an 18 year old looking for a field of study, I was attracted to Industrial Engineering/Operations Research because of its dual emphasis on people and logical, fact based thinking.  Today, I love to tinker with technology, but not at the “lines of code” and “circuit board layout” levels.  Instead, I like to solve human problems with good technology.

This might be the reason why I have been so focused lately on the ways in which smart-phones have actually been destroying productivity.

But I should be more rigorous… smart-phones are great, but there is something weird (and un-hygienic) about the fact that some 50% of Americans have no problem using their smart-phones in the bathroom.

It’s a case of technology actually enabling us to hurt ourselves, via the bad habits that we adopt.

Today I spent some time tinkering with Microsoft Outlook, the most popular program of its kind by far.  Back in the 1990’s, it was born as an email program, and it’s evolved over the years  into an almost-ubiquitous productivity program.

This doesn’t seem to have happened by design, but instead, by accident.  Outlook is being used for a purpose that far exceeds its original design and over the years, little has changed.

Tinkering with Outlook’s is something that I would simply LOVE to do!

Now I know that that is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have dreamed of reshaping Outlook’s design so that users see it as a productivity center that pulls them into a powerful day each day, rather than “a place to check their email.”  (Gmail, Yahoo and AOL Mail are also good candidates for complete re-design.)

I fully expect that in the future someone will bring some high quality, Apple-like design to this particular problem — I’d enjoy being a part of an effort like that.  (Unfortunately, so far I can’t find anyone interested in solving this particular problem.)

The Result

At the end of the day, however, I like to see results, even if someone else produces them, or gets the credit.  The kind of results I have in mind are a world in which:

  • each person has their own way of managing their time
  • their time management approach works for them, and they know how to fix it or upgrade it when it stops working
  • technology tools are useful, and new technologies are built around users’ needs, and are adapted by users with good insight on how to use it to enhance their time management systems
  • there is an easy way to measure the progress of each person’s productivity
  • time management is a body of knowledge that is taught to 10 year old’s

Like most people, I want to know that what I’m working on makes a solid contribution, and I truly believe that most of the things I focus on in the 2Time blog are unavoidable.  For example, there must come a time when we realize en masse that it’s crazy to expect that people will teach themselves the fundamentals of time management.  It’s just as crazy to think that there is one perfect system for everyone, now and for all the years to come.  It’s also crazy to think that people can change a number of ingrained habits in an instant, when all the research tells us otherwise.

I think that people will come to understand these truths for themselves, and start to pass them on to younger generations, so that they can benefit earlier in their careers.

I guess I’m hoping that I’ll be able to help to make that day come just a little bit quicker.

The Productive Moron

I just published a provocative article over at the Stepcase Lifehack blog entitled “Are You Becoming a Productive Moron?”

In the article I make a tongue-in-cheek prediction based on some of the behaviors I see today… the most simple-minded employees will come to be seen as the most productive, simply because they reply to their email quicker than anyone else.

It’s a bit of fun, with a serious side.

You can see the article here: A You Becoming a Productive Moron?


Escaping Your Unproductive Boss’ Bad Habits

istock_000000796578xsmall.jpgWhen I joined the corporate world back in 1988, there seemed to be only a few managers that were crazy-making.

Nowadays, their numbers seem to have increased, aided with new technology that helps them get their way in the short term, while ruining the  productivity of their companies.

These bad bosses isn’t necessarily malicious.  In fact, they are quite  well-intentioned, but they are unable to see the impact of their  actions on a large scale.  Unfortunately for them, technology has  served as a tremendous amplifier of unproductive habits, turning  bad individual habits into organization-wide headaches.

For example, the boss who got into a letter writing feud with another manager and started off a volley of paper letters in the 1980’s created little damage.  Letters, after all, took a long time to write and disseminate, and copies only found their way to their recipients slowly.

With the advent of email, however, a similar feud in the 1990’s could easily escalate into a public war of messages involving every single member of staff, who could watch from the ringside as  several messages were sent within the hour, tying up thousands of  dollars of valuable employee time.

It was one of the early examples of a way in which a boss’ bad habits could become everyone’s nightmare, and time-waster.

Fast-forward to 2010, and the games continue, with a twist.

Now, managers give employees the gift of Blackberrys with the full knowledge that they are gaining something powerful — 24/7 access the employee’s time (or something quite close to it.)

Smartphones give users access to a phone, email, instant  messaging and voice mail.  Managers quickly learn that there is  a difference between those employees who are equipped, versus those  who are not.

More specifically, those with smartphones are far more likely to: – respond to urgent 4:00am emails – reply to a text message while driving on I95 – interrupt their vacation to edit that pesky client document – join a conference call on Sunday morning – answer instant messages in the middle of meetings

Any boss, good or bad, would rush to give the gift of a Blackberry or iPhone  to most employees, given the obvious benefits listed above.

However, the increasing number of employees who are in the know understand that the above list of “beneficial behaviors” are a  recipe for corporate disaster.

When all managers develop the smartphone driven practice of  interrupting their employees at will, it guarantees that very few will get any work done.  I remember in the early 1990’s, when  my colleagues and I would stay home, come in early, leave late or  visit the office on weekends in order to “get some work done.”

In other words, we did our real work outside work hours, because the work day was so filled with unplanned and unproductive interruptions.

Now, with the advent of smartphones, there is no escape.  None of  these strategies work — the only reprieve from the smartphone  leash occurs when one is either swimming or bathing… for now.

What are employees to do?

I doubt that much can change by griping — instead, someone must  take a stand.  These corporate habits are quite difficult to  break because they are unconsciously practiced by those who are  the most powerful in the company.  In most companies, there are no policies governing their use (with the recent exception of  driving restrictions.)

An employee who takes a stand can do so for practical reasons,  vs. moral reasons.  They can look for hard evidence that a company that has its employees chained to email is driving itself into an  unproductive state (unless they are some kind of customer care  unit whose job it is to email.)

They can start to check email only at certain hours, and let those around them know that they are un-tethering themselves from the 24/7 electronic leash.  At the same time, they must play the tricky game of convincing executives and line managers that the change in tactics  will annoy some of them in the short term, but ultimately benefit  everyone in the long term.

After all, who wants a company filed with employees who are  enjoy their chains jerked from one moment to the next, as they get pulled from one crisis to another?  I have seen highly-paid  executives who operate like this, and the truth is that they hate it.

Some burn out and leave.  Other knuckle under and become the worst perpetrators, with their own employees becoming the fresh victims.

As I mentioned before, what makes this problem a tough one to solve is the fact that the habits are unconscious, and widespread among  those who are the most powerful in most companies.  Turning the ship around is ultimately a group activity, but it must start  with at east one person who is willing to convince others that  the change is a necessary one to make.

Whistle-blower laws have worked well to empower employees who are  committed to end criminal wrongdoing.  For many, it’s a matter of  professional ethics and standards.

The boss’ bad habits may not be crimes, but they do have a negative effect. It’s the rare employees who are willing to adhere to a  higher personal standard of productivity that companies will come to rely on to lead them out of the “monkey on a leash”  behavior that we are now calling “productivity.”