Time management as a field has suffered over the years from a problem of measurement. There is currently no single, easy, agreed upon way to measure one’s personal productivity. This is a big, gaping hole in this field of study, as it prevents us from clearly comparing one technique to another, and one person’s skills to another. It makes it difficult to do experiments with one’s habits, tools and technology and know whether they work or not.
Instead, we are left with anecdotes, feelings, impressions and opinions about what’s better, the same or worse.
It’s an awful state of affairs that allows the charlatans to promise that programs will “double your productivity,” “help you gain an extra hour each day” and “make lots more money” from improving your time management skills.
To make matters worse, there isn’t even a decent program that monitors and warns users about the defects of simple problems like email Inbox abuse, which becomes a problem when time isn’t being managed well.
But I recently found some hope.
In the Fast Company issue from December 13, 2010 I bumped into an article entitled: How Video Games are Infiltrating and Improving Every Part of Our Lives. I haven’t played a video game in a long time… probably too long as I think I have lost touch with the joy and learning that comes from being a player. I have had a hunch that improving one’s time management skills could be turned into a game that professionals play, which is part of the reason why I created the belt system here in 2Time, and in my training programs.
The article is based on a speech given by Jesse Schell, a professor and game designer, that is based on the premise that “a real-life game can be stacked on top of reality. You’d get points for well, everything you normally do in the course of 24 hours.” (Imagine getting points for every minute of the day you kept your Inbox empty!)
The key is to embed sensors in every part of your life, that together give you collective feedback on how you’re doing in whatever area of your life you choose to measure.
Have trouble waking up to your alarm? Get a sensor that will give you points for how quickly you leave the bed, and have it show you your score at the end of the week.
“Sensors,” he said, “have gotten so cheap that they are being embedded in all sorts of products. Pretty soon, every soda can and cereal box could have a built-in CPU, screen, and camera, along with Wi-Fi connectivity. And at that point, the gaming of life takes off. “You’ll get up in the morning to brush your teeth and the toothbrush can sense that you’re brushing,” Schell said. “So, ‘Hey, good job for you! Ten points’ ” from the toothpaste maker.
After work, you go shopping. Points. Your daughter gets good grades in school and practices the piano? More points. You plop down on your sofa for some television, and “it’s just points, points, points, points,” because eye sensors ensure that you actually watch the ads. In the meantime, you chat with other viewers, play games designed around the ads, and tally more points. Sure, it’s crass commercialization run amok, Schell conceded, but “this stuff is coming. Man, it’s gotta come. What’s going to stop it?”
Part of this is a bit scary, but I also found great hope. There must be better ways for us to measure time management skills with all the sensors that will be available to us.
What he’s saying has an inevitable air to it when you consider the stats he quoted: “Sure, 97% of 12- to 17-year-olds play computer games, but so do almost 70% of the heads of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The average gamer is 34 and has been at it a dozen years; 40% are women. One survey found that 35% of C-suite executives play video games.”
(Wow. I’d better buy a new joystick and sign up for some video games!)
He also says that many succcessful games are already in play that might not be thought of as such, such as Weight Watchers, and Hundred PushUps which is sold as an app on the iPhone and tracks your progress to that particular goal. Schell goes on to point out what he got from an early experience:” He was learning that a game is, at its root, a structured experience with clear goals, rules that force a player to overcome challenges, and instant feedback.”
This is a great outline for the ways in which games could be designed to help us manage our time better.
Back up a minute to the fact that time management is a misnomer, and what we are really looking at is habit management… or habit, practice and ritual management. Participants in MyTimeDesign and NewHabits (my training programs) are taught that each belt level consists of certain habits that are practiced at a particular level. For example, a Yellow Belt must practice each of the 11 fundamentals at the minimum of a Yellow Belt’s level. No mystery in that.
The thing I don’t like about this game I created, is that each person is left to be their own judge for the most part, unless they want to be “officially recognized” at a belt level, at which point they have to take a “test” with me, that’s essentially a phone call. they have to go through a verbal “test.” A lot of it is very subjective, and connected only to my judgment of their report, rather than hard data.
It would be much better if that weren’t the case, and if there were some sensors that would give the user immediate feedback on his/her performance, taking all the subjectivity out of the picture. As their evaluator, I would also use the feedback to award them a particular belt.
A good game, after all, must have “a structured experience with clear goals, rules that force a player to overcome challenges, and instant feedback” according to the article.
The problem with the current game I have set up is that there’s no instant, objective feedback which makes the goals a bit fuzzy.
To be more specific, let’s look at some simple games that could be played using the 2 fundamental skills of “Capturing” and “Emptying.”
Game #1 – how long do you spend dispensing email once it enters your inbox? Lose points for taking too long.
Game #2 – how many times do you check email per day? Lost points for checking too often
Game #3 – how often do you use your smartphone during a task that requires your full attention (like driving)? Lost points for checking
Game #4 – (this one requires an electronic pen such as livescribe) how long does it take for a manually captured item get emptied fom the pen/paper into your system – Win points for speed
Game #5 – how many time demands are in your capture points on average (lost points if the number is too high— or maybe even too low)
Here are some other games that I just made up on the fly…
Game #6 – how many times do you need to reschedule due to poor time estimation? Gain points for good estimates (this would need some good sensors)
Game #7 – how much time did you plan between scheduled activities? Gain points for proper spacing
Game #8 – how long are your lists? What’s the average sitting time for items on lists that are fast moving? Gain points for quality lists
Game #9 – a report each day/week on how well a user kep to the habits of their belt, and which areas need to be improved
Game #10 – An upgrad readiness report, which indicates whether or not the system is stable enough at the current belt level to contemplate an upgrade to the next
Then there could be a host of smartphone abuse games the measure the number of policy violations that a user incurs after promising himself not to do things like:
– text while driving
– check email in meetings
– send messages from the bathroom
– use the device on holidays
These could actually trigger a set of alarms, or in more extreme cases, actually shut down the smartphone for safety’s sake. A company might have smartphone exclusion zones such as meeting rooms which block all outside communication with the flick of a switch. There are, after all, some companies that are banning the devices from their meetings altogether, due to their employee’s inability to control their smartphone habits.
I imagine that apps, and even specific devices could be developed for each belt level, and given as tools for those who are at the appropriate belt level.
These are all games that are meant to encourage the right behaviours, and it’s conceivable that a belt could be rewarded to an individual based on completely measurable scores, or points. These could translate into designations (such as “Green Belt in Time Management 2.0) that someone puts on their resume, as a sign that they are able to handle a certain number or kind of time demands.
With the right sensors measuring the right data, this is a possibility. The only question is, who will turn it into a reality?