This critical piece of information is one that remains a mystery, it seems, and there hasn’t been any research that I can find to answer the the question.
(For a definition of the term “time demand” see this post located on the 2Time website. The rest of this article relies on your understanding the definition. Also, I’ll write this post as if time demands can be found outside the mind. The truth is more subtle than that… time demands are created by individual minds in response to some outside stimulus, but I’ll write this article as if they can be found in the stimuli themselves, so I’ll say things like “a piece of email has no new time demands” when what I really mean is “a piece of email has no stimulus for any new time demands.” I have taken the liberty to speak imprecisely in order to enable the larger point to be understood.)
The only research that I have found is simplistic – it measures the number of emails that come in each day. This is an almost useless estimate, as any given email might have absolutely no time demands whatsoever. Email spam, or one that closes out a discussion e.g. “Thanks” are both examples of email that do not include time demands. The message is read and then immediately tossed, or thrown away.
Another piece of email might include multiple time demands in just a few sentences. For example, a one-line email (e.g. “O.K.”) might affirm a prior request to receive the authorization necessary to execute a huge project involving thousands of people and millions of person-hours. Therefore, just counting the amount of email that one receives means little or nothing.
At the same time, email arriving in one’s inbox is only on source of new demands. Here are some others that fall neatly into different categories, depending on the circumstance:
– in a meeting, during a shower or while driving, you have a brainstorm and decide to take a complex series of actions. You capture these new time demands on a paper pad
– while watching television, you decide to take advantage of a weekend sale, and you make a mental note to stop by the store on Saturday morning with some cash in hand
– when you check your voice-mail, you receive a request for someone to send you additional information on a product your company is selling. You leave the message, promising yourself to come back later
– you wake up in the morning with a mysterious back-pain. You call the doctor’s office to make an appointment later that day
– you chat with your sister, a real estate agent, and decide to buy your first house
All these time demands are created in the moment the decision is made, but there doesn’t exist any easy way to measure their total number. Furthermore, all time demands are not created equally as they vary in length, and presumably have their own start and end times. Some may be complex, and are actually made up of many smaller time demands that can be scheduled into a calendar.
In the mind of the creator, the consequences of failing to complete one time demand are very different from another. This gives rise to a feeling that they might have very different priorities.
The fact that there is little research, however, doesn’t stop employees from making assumptions each day about how volumes of time demands vary in volume. Some may seem to be commonsensical, but I believe that we can make tremendous daily mistakes, based on incorrect conclusions. Consider the following hypotheses:
– managers receive more time demands each day than their subordinates, and taken together, they require more total time to complete
– employees create fewer time demands on weekends than on weekdays
– the more time demands are created in memory, the greater one’s stress level
– the amount of email in one’s Inbox is correlated with ones’ stress level
– the number of time demands that we enter our lives each day has been rising steadily
– retirees have fewer time demands than active employees
– meeting quality is correlated with the number of time demands that are created
– new channels of communication (such as BBM) generate new time demands
– Facebook generates new time demands, in keeping with the number of one’s friends
– the number of time demands that slip through the cracks and are lost or forgotten is an indicator of time management skill
– it is impossible to complete all time demands successfully
– as the number of time demands in one’s life escalates, new techniques are needed to cope
– smartphones enable the creation of an increased number of time demands
We probably each have our individual opinions on these items, and the quality of our lives is probably dependent on the way we each answer them. The fact that we don’t have solid answers reveads a gaping hole in time management research, and I’m not optimistic that it will be filled anytime soon.
One positive note is that skillful managers who don’t use memory (i.e. Green Belts in the 2Time terminology) do track each of the major time demands that enter their system faithfully, and could be studied to answer some of the questions above. Unfortunately, the tools to capture this information doesn’t exist today, but I believe it’s only a matter of time before they are invented… perhaps in our lifetime!