It might be my training in industrial engineering and operations research, or just my love of factory environments, but I am still tinkering with the idea that the basic unit of time management is something called a Time Demand.
I just re-read a post I wrote back in 2007 on Time Demands and realized that there are some new concepts I need to add in that have become more clear as I’ve shared them in classes and here online. I think of them as the widgets of time management, drawing on the times when I studied manufacturing, and the product being created was always a widget.
Time demands are invisible, and intangible, and are silently created by an individual when he/she decides to devote future time to accomplish some result. In the 2007 post, I provide lots of examples.
For the purposes of this post, let’s imagine that you want to do some early work on your Christmas gift-list.
What prompted the decision is not very important, but the fact that you have created it means that you have placed a subtle pressure on yourself to get it done.
At that moment, all that exists is a mental commitment. If you don’t write it down, or record it in some way outside your memory, then you will recall it at some future point when you happen to remember it, perhaps prompted by some event related to the season such as an advertisement on television.
Many people, however, choose to record their commitment in some way so that it enters their time management system in a manner that ups the odds that it won’t fall through the cracks.
What I have said so far can be summarized in the following:
Characteristic #1: Time Demands are always and only created by the individual
Characteristic #2: Time Demands are comprised of a commitment to take action in the future
Characteristic #3: Time Demands disappear when they are not managed, and may never re-appear
Characteristic #4: Time Demands have a finite life-cycle from creation to disappearance
When Time Demands are reliably recorded for future use, they may be embodied in one or more more different ways. Here are some examples:
- A note is written with a marker on a piece of paper and stuck to your fridge
- An email that describes a Time Demand is kept in an Inbox or moved to a folder
- A Post-It Note that mentions the Time Demand is stuck on your monitor
- A letter you need to reply to is placed on your desk, where you won’t forget it
- A string is tied around your finger
- Your secretary is told to remind you of a Time Demand
- You add a Time Demand to your To-Do List
- In your calendar, you schedule a Time Demand
- You leave an unfinished project in your garage to remind yourself to complete it
- Before going to bed at night, you lay out your gym clothes where you can’t miss them so that you work out tomorrow morning
- Today’s tweets are printed out and placed in a file
These are just some of the ways in which we give Time Demands some tangible reality, to prevent them from falling through the cracks.
After a Time Demand is created, it must be manipulated in order to move it from creation to completion.
After it’s created and stored, the next moment in its life-cycle occurs when it gets removed from its place of temporary storage. On your fridge, you may have a reminder to yourself to make that Christmas list, and you decide to take the next step before the paper disappears.
This is a critical moment of decision, as the future of the Time Demand depends entirely on your next move. You actually have some options at this point.
Option 1: You decide to forget about making a list this year. The recession is impacting your budget, and you throw the piece of paper away, never to think about it again. A nice clear spot on the fridge now appears, awaiting your next Time Demand
Option 2: You decide to make the list immediately. Once you are done, the Time Demand disappears
Option 3: Your note to yourself had included a website that helps people make gift-lists. You store that site in your list of favorites for later use
Option 4: You add the Time Demand to a To-Do list
Option 5: In your calendar, you block out dedicated time to complete the Time Demand
Those are the 5 ways in which Time Demands can be handled, until they are brought to completion. They help us to understand the other 4 characteristics.
Characteristic #5: Individual Time Demands can easily become lost in the clutter of other Time Demands
Characteristic #6: Time Demands can be manipulated and moved around a time management system at will
Characteristic #7: When a Time Demand has begun its journey within a time management system it can be safely forgotten, or dropped from active memory
Characteristic #8: Once Time Demands are completed, they disappear and cease to exist
Part of what I am attempting to do here is to catalog the universal nature of Time Demands so that those who have an interest in this area can start talking with a common language and concept. In this sense, I am also saying that the 8 Characteristics are inescapable, and essential to an understanding of time management, much in the way that an understanding of the elements of an atom are necessary in order to do physics.
Once Time Demands are well understood, it becomes much easier to do other kinds of work related to the field of time management, such as:
- helping a working professional carve out her own system
- assisting designers of products that recommend specific habit patterns, such as those described by David Allen, Mark Forster, Sally McGhee, Neal Fiore and others
- redesigning programs like Outlook and Gmail so that they do a better job of assisting users to manipulate time demands that enter their lives via email
- coaching individuals who want to improve their personal productivity
- writing better articles and books – fewer lists of simplistic tips and more solid insight into the way that time demands can be managed
- creating apps for smartphones, and even reshaping their design, so that they promote productivity (rather than game-playing and other distractions)
- researching the flow of time demands through an individual’s time management system with more precision using tools like digital simulation and
The fact is, there is not a single employee in the world who is not constrained by the 8 Characteristics of Time Demands. These characteristics are a simple fact of working life, and it’s better to understand how they work than it is to be unaware.
With greater understanding comes an ability to achieve more of the goals that we set for ourselves in our lives.
To illustrate the point, here are some slides from one of my live programs that I use to describe the idea that Time Demands make their way through our lives in a very structured way. In the video, I use the language of the 2Time fundamentals — described elsewhere on this website.