The Herbie in Time Management

I’m writing an article that I’m submitting to the Harvard Business Review, and in the process I asked my subscribers for feedback on the latest draft.

In the process, I received a great response that was more than just a comment on what I had written.  Instead, it was a thesis of sorts, about the ways in which technology should be helping us to become more efficient.  The author argued that we need to figure out our true needs before looking for new technology. This is in contrast to buying technology and then figuring out how it can help… in a haphazard kind of way.

When it comes to smartphones, I agree.  For example, I’d argue that many people who bought smartphones are actually using them as “time-saving” devices, when I’m not sure that’s what they were intended to be.

For example, a small device that allows you to get email wherever you go could be either a laptop, iPad or smartphone.  However, the particular advantages of smartphone design have lead to professionals using them in unlikely and unproductive ways, all in order to save time.

Obviously, the inventors at Apple, Palm and RIM did not intend to invent devices that would lead to habits such as:
– dangerous distracted driving
– rude interruptions in mid-conversation
– holidays spent working instead of relaxing
– 3:00am games of email ping-pong
– people checking messages hundreds of time per day just in case something interesting has come in that they missed

– employees who believe that their management is forcing them into overtime work that intrudes on personal space

These new widespread practices are smartphone-specific.  The technology itself calls forth new and different habit patterns.  It’s clear that the technology needs to be evaluated in a unique way, especially as it’s not too hard to predict a time when all employees are either expected or mandated to carry these devices at all times.

The author of the comment, however, went further than that and made the point that a proper evaluation of one’s time management system needs to be made before technology is contemplated.  This made me think of the book “The Goal” by Eli Goldratt.

In this business fable which is about optimizing the ways in which factories operate, the main takeaway is that it’s best to find the single, greatest point of weakness and work to improve it.  Goldratt calls this his “Theory of Constraints.”

I believe that the same idea applies to individual time management systems.  As Goldratt illustrates in his book, in complex system it’s easy to improve the wrong thing, leading to no overall improvement.

In an early paper I wrote after starting this blog, I made this point.  In ”The New Time Management – Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals” I argued that people were barking up the wrong tree by chasing down the latest list of “Top 10 Time Management Tips!!”  Instead, they should be focusing on practicing the fundamentals of time management with a view to making incremental improvements.

The comment on my article went further, and made me think that the 2Time system of 11 components can be used as a method to find “Herbie’s” – Goldratt’s name for bottlenecks, or weak points.  For example, if you learn that you have a Yellow Belt in 9 disciplines and a White Belt in 2, it probably makes sense to focus on improving the 2… rather than buying an iPad because ”they are just so cool!”

As cool as new devices are, they might do nothing for your fundamentals.

In fact, they might do some damage.

If the average person who upgrades to a smartphone ends up engaging in new, unproductive habits 6 months later then we are right to ask – “what’s the point?”

The fact is, smartphones are not all bad.  In a prior post, I described the process I’m undertaking to decide whether or not to upgrade from my bottom-of-the-line, monochrome cell phone.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards the upgrade, but I have developed 2 principles –
Principle #1 – Do No harm
I want to make sure that I don’t pick up any nasty habits that are obviously unproductive.  For example, I have made myself a promise to never use the device while driving (or in the bathroom, movie theater, while cycling, etc.)
I am simply barring myself from these habits.  (Wish me luck!)

Principle #2 – Real Upgrades
So far, I haven’t been successful in finding real ways that the device will add to my productivity in terms of the fundamentals.

There are other some gains to be made by having a convenient way to access mobile email, instant messages and web browsing but these still don’t impact any of the fundamentals in a profound way.

However, I am confident that new innovations, apps and add-ons are coming that will make impact the fundamentals, and I do want to take advantage of them as they arise… and perhaps make a suggestion or two.  This means that I have to get into the game at some point… but it’s hardly an urgent need on my part.

I might have to make some adjustments, however.  For example, my primary manual capture point is currently a paper pad.  Migrating to capturing on a Blackberry would be a major change, and I still haven’t found a Blackberry wallet that allows a paper pad to be carried within it.  I am quite wary of entrusting my capturing to a tool that requires a battery and a charger, but I am thinking that if I can find a paper solution, that I could always take a picture of what I have captured.

More to come on this…!