The Making of an Expert in Time Management

I just finished  reading a paper that echoes a great deal of what has motivated me to develop the 2Time approach:  The Making of an Expert published in the July-August 2007 edition of the Harvard Business review by K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely.

I have always been struck by people who tell me that they are “bad” at time management.  They suffer from the usual ills:
– being late for appointments
– feeling burdened by all they have to do, and believing that they have too much
– falling behind on critical tasks such as emptying their Inbox
– feeling haunted by stuff they think they might have forgotten
– seeing time demands fall through the cracks, due to what they think is a faulty memory
– becoming someone who cannot be trusted by others

However, they have convinced themselves that they have as much time management skill as they can develop in this lifetime.  They see time management expertise as a talent, rather than a skill.

Here in 2Time, I disagree wholeheartedly.  My experience tells me that time management capacity is built on habits that are picked up over time, and that for most people this happens in a haphazard way.

Apart from the lack of a systematic process and decent coaching, they are taught that time management is something that you gain once, and never need to work on again.  One reason that the belt system is such an integral part of the Time Management 2.0 approach is that we all need to see that an increase in time demands brought on my most workplaces, and the evolution of technology both mean that if we stay stuck in one place for too long, we’ll quickly become stale.

I run into many people who compare their time management skills with others around them and conclude that they aren’t that bad, simply because they happen to be better.  They quickly become defensive… as if the challenge to their current skill-level is an insult of sorts that doesn’t acknowledge their current expertise.  Even those who have learned their skills from a book or class fall into the trap of thinking that they need not look any further — their current skills are all they need.

What “The Making of an Expert” makes clear is that experts are the ones who are willing to put a lot of time and hard effort in continually improving their skills … some 10,000 hours worth in fact… or ten years.  They don’t just practice the skills they already have either.  Instead, they put themselves into the zone of discomfort in order to develop new skills, and they work with teachers and coaches who help them hang out in that zone until new skills are learned.

In Time Management 2.0 terms, it means that they are able to improve their belt level by practicing the unfamiliar skills of higher belts.

Not that this is an easy path to take.  To quote the article:

“The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice-practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.”

I don’t know how long on average it takes a White Belt to become a Green Belt, but my sense is that it can be done in less than 2 years.  I know of one person who made a jump in 2 belts within 18 months, and a Green Belt shouldn’t be an impossible task to accomplish.

It’s the kind of improvement that experts apparently relish.  What’s clear is they aren’t afraid of the hard work required.  The article continues:
“(Sam) Snead, who died in 2002, held the record for winning the most PGA Tour events and was famous for having one of the most beautiful swings in the sport (of golf.) Deliberate practice was a key to his success. “Practice puts brains in your muscles,” he said.

What a brilliant way to describe what we as professionals have stopped doing in this critical area of our development.