Jumping from a Yellow to Orange Belt in Scheduling/Listing

In the 2Time system, there is a critical point that must be crossed to make the jump from a Yellow Belt to an Orange Belt. At this point, a professional must change two major habits at once, doing much less Listing and more Scheduling.

This is no mean feat.

I’ll be covering this switch and all that it means in a series of posts, but let me start off by giving the reasons why someone would want to make such a major change.

Most adults who grew up without computing resources learned how to make lists somewhere in their teens or early twenties. These were paper and pen lists that were intended as memory joggers. They easily and cheaply expanded individual effectiveness, and allowed one to work on a greater number of time demands than their memories could manage. The results were easy to see: homework that would have been forgotten was remembered, phone numbers that would have been lost forever were stored later and the skimmed milk made it to the fridge at home as a result of a trip to the corner store.

At some point, they also learned to use a calendar as a method for scheduling meetings and appointments. The first appointment calendars were modeled after the ones used in doctors’ offices, and only included a few items. These were also built with paper and pens or pencils.

Most time management books stop at this point, and advocate this approach, with only minor variations. Some emphasize the way in which the lists must be categorized and sorted. Others say that the key list needs to be limited to only what can be done on that day, and other lists should be kept of future time demands.

There are a few systems, however, who advocate the upgrade to Orange Belt Scheduling, and it’s a shift that’s ctually being driven by today’s college students.

Smartphone, laptop and iPad penetration in tertiary institutions have placed powerful productivity tools at the hands of millions of smart kids. They aren’t limited to paper and pen like their parents were. Instead, they have a choice of using electronic calendars in a variety of devices.

For example, their classes are scheduled on their electronic calendars, and not on paper.  When they sign up for a class, their schedule is instantly updated.  Once that happens, many go the extra step and schedule other important activities that must be done if they are to be successful.

Most of who are effective will also create a study schedule at the same time, and if they are realistic they’ll also set time aside for life’s other essentials such as meals, exercise social time and leisure. Here is an example of a Darden School of Business student who has done just that.

He hasn’t scheduled all his meals, or exercise, and he hasn’t included all his study time, but you can imagine that this is an important part of his plan for doing well that  semester.

The reason that a schedule like this works so well is that students have a tremendous number of time demands to manage in any given week, and any item that falls through the cracks is likely to produce an immediate impact on their grades or some other part of their lives.

At the same time, it’s not too hard to see that managing an electronic schedule of time demands is more efficient than the alternative: keeping a list of these same items to be done each week.

Listing is a very efficient method for tracking a low number of time demands, and it was a decent tool to use before the advent of internet communication.  Now, life is different, with the average professional facing hundreds of time demands each day.

The old method of keeping a list on paper no longer works at higher volumes, for practical reasons.  Updating a paper list with more than 10-20 items is time consuming.  Also, paper lists don’t have backups. It’s a practice that can only be afforded by entry-level employees with light workloads, or someone who works part-time.

Electronic lists are better, but they become a mental burden.  Let’s use the example of the Darden student.  If he were to create a list instead of a schedule, he’d end up with a physical list and a mental schedule.

The reason is simple.  When anyone makes a to-do list of any kind, they automatically make a calculation, and need to store some information in their memories.

For example, the item: “Learning Team” appears on the student’s schedule five times.  If he weren’t using a schedule, and instead had the item on a list it might look like this:

  • Football practice
  • Learning Team
  • Dinner
  • Cold Call

As he glances down the list and his attention rests on “Learning Team” he instantly makes a calculation:

  • On what days will I perform this action?
  • What times will it start each day?
  • What time will it end?
  • How far ahead do I need to prepare for it?

Once he answers each of these questions, he’d store the results in his memory.  If you multiply these actions of calculating and memorizing by the number of items in his schedule, you could see that he has now given himself the difficult task of remembering a great deal of his schedule, rather than having it plotted out in front of him.

When someone asks him if he’s free on Friday night, he has nothing to consult but his memory at that moment, and he’s likely to make a mistake.

It’s obvious that an attempt to remember all these items for every item in the list is likely to fail.  It’s just not possible to manage a great number of time demands using memory.

This is precisely the challenge that many working professionals face today.  They have a large and growing number of time demands, that simply cannot be managed with a long list and a basic schedule of appointments.  When they try to do so they end up feeling overwhelmed, burdened and stressed out, with lots of time demands slipping through the cracks.  They spend inordinate amounts of time reviewing their lists each day, making sure that nothing has popped to the surface when they weren’t looking.

They need to perform the upgrade that will take them to a different blend:  short lists used infrequently, and a deeper schedule that includes all the time demands they are likely to forget, overlook or under/over estimate in terms of their duration.

(If you’re a fan of project management techniques, you’ll undoubtedly recognize some best practices taken from that discipline, and applied to individual time management practices.  The most recent mobile latest technology makes this translation a feasible option for the first time on a large scale. )

In future posts I’ll address other questions related to this upgrade, such as when it should be undertaken, how it should be initiated and who would gain the most from making the switch.