Does Comfort Kill Productivity?

Here on 2Time I advocate the idea that one can move from one level of skill in time management to another, once the pathway is known.

I also add that it’s fine to decide to stay exactly where one is at the moment, and not have any interest in improvement.

However, I’m not sure that I support the idea of getting stuck at any one level because comfort is one’s goal in life.

This interesting article clarifies something that’s bugged more for some time… ever since a friend of mine told me many years ago that is goal in life was “comfort.”

What do you think: “Why Comfort is a Productivity Killer.”

It reminds me of that passage in one of my favorite books;  The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

On Houses

Then a mason came forth and said, “Speak to us of Houses.”
And he answered and said:
Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
Your house is your larger body.
It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? And dreaming, leave the city for grove or hilltop?
Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow.
Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
But these things are not yet to be.
In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. And that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields.
And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?
Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down.
You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living.
And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.

How Good Can a Paper System Be?

I received an interesting email from a reader of 2Time site who felt a bit put off at my comments about paper systems.

She mentioned that in my video on “Permanently Fixing the Weekly Review” I said (in passing) that paper systems are from the 1950’s.  Well, of course, all paper systems are from the pre-1990s, because that’s just about all we had back then to work with!

But I have never addressed the main point she’s inquiring into — can a paper-based system be every bit as good as one that’s electronic?  Her last question was the most pointed:

If we truly believe in the “know the basics and make it your own” philosophy, then we must allow people to use the tools that speak to who they are. There cannot be a wrong way.

I humbly agree!  In fact, I do all my manual capturing on paper.  I also use a Palm PDA – they sit beside each other in a portable wallet that I carry everywhere.

However, using the 11 Habits as a tool for analyzing a time management system that uses only paper reveals that there is a limit to the number of time demands that can be handled using only paper.  Let’s look at each of the fundamentals and see why a paper system prevents a user from reaching the higher belts in some disciplines, and why.

(As you read this, bear in mind that the 2Time belt system is just something I made up… it’s not written in stone anyplace.  If you’d like to see a short summary of each of the fundamentals, simply do a search on this blog for the relevant keywords in bold and you’ll find my very first definitions.)

Capturing:  At the moment I prefer to use paper because it has the following characteristics…

  • it’s cheap
  • requires no charging
  • it can get wet or hot
  • it’s quick to use – I can write faster than I can type, or have my handwriting recognized

On the other hand, it also offers no backup capabilities, which actually helps me because it leads me to Empty more frequently.

When it comes to automatic capture points, however, those that are electronic win hands-down.  For example, at some point soon, letters and bills will be replaced by email entirely.

In the future, I fully expect that tools like LiveScribe will become easier to use, and that we’ll have paper and electronic combinations that give us some of the benefits of both media.

In 2Time terms, it’s possible to become a Green Belt in Capturing using either paper or electronic tools.

Emptying:  I think it’s equally easy to empty a paper capture point as it is to empty an electronic capture point.  However, there is something that feels good about  crossing an item off my pad that deleting doesn’t quite match.

Apart from that, most professionals’ time demands arrive via email and having a paper capture point alongside an electronic email Inbox is a little cumbersome as one needs to move between two different media.

But these are minor differences.  The act of Emptying can be mastered if only paper tools are used, so there is little difference between the two.

Tossing:  There are only some minor differences between Tossing using paper or electronic tools.  Green Belts are achievable regardless of the medium.

Acting Now:  Once again, there are very minor differences between the two media in this particular fundamental.

Storing:  The discipline/fundamental of storing is defined as indexing information that’s needed in the future so that it’s easy to find at the precise moment of need.  This is one fundamental that paper proves to be a limiting factor.

Important information that most professionals need in the future include:

  • contact information
  • saved messages
  • saved files
  • passwords
  • due dates

The problem with using a paper storage system is that it’s

  • bulky
  • liable to damage from extreme wet, heat, pilferage, hurricanes, tsunami’s, earthquakes, cyclones, vermin, etc.
  • costly to the bottom line and to the environment
  • difficult to make backups

In 2Time terms, it’s not possible to progress to the Green Belt stage without using electronic tools.  To put it another way, someone who uses electronic tools can effectively executive this fundamental for a greater number of items.

For example, trying to store passwords is a problem for anyone who has a great number of them, and tries to manage them using paper only.  Once they upgrade to an electronic storage system with automatic backups, and master the new habits needed, they become more effective.

Scheduling: This fundamental is one that clearly separates paper from electronic users in terms of the number of scheduled items they are able to manage.

A quick glance at the detailed posts on Scheduling reveals that it’s not possible to manage a complex, dynamic schedule on paper.    Again, this is strictly a matter of volume.

Users that want to manage a great number of time demands have greater success using a complete and dynamic schedule, alongside short lists.  This isn’t a problem at White and Yellow belts, where the number of time demands is low.  However, as the number increases, and it becomes harder to handle a mental schedule, then the techniques at Orange and Green Belt levels become necessary.

A dynamic schedule, by the way, is one that can be changed on the fly, when needed.  The power of portable electronic PDA’s and smartphones is that a schedule can be carried and accessed quickly.  Laptops aren’t quite as accessible, of course.

An electronic schedule can also be duplicated and synchronized in real time across multiple platforms, which makes it easy to recover from a catastrophic event.

Listing: The problems with paper-based Scheduling are similar to those of paper-based Listing.  With electronic lists come the safety of having good backups, easy updates from any geographic location plus platform synchronization.

At the White and Yellow Belt levels, where Listing is a prominent activity, using paper lists is risky because of the lack of backups.

Interrupting, Switching, Warning and Reviewing:  These Advanced fundamentals are tool independent — they don’t have much to do with using paper or something electronic.

As I performed the above analysis for the first time for this article, I realized that I should reinforce some of the important ideas behind Time Management 2.0, to explain why I created a system that requires electronic tools at the higher Belts.

  1. No-one needs to be at any particular Belt in time management.  My only recommendation is professionals should choose the Belt that fits their “style,” and allows them to manage their chosen volume of daily time demands.
  2. White Belts are not inferior or superior to Green Belts, any more than a huge pipe is better than a small pipe.  They are simply designed for different purposes.  At the same time, choosing the wrong pipe cam lead to chaos.  When it comes to a particular skill in any fundamentals, it’s important that the selection be made carefully, and in keeping with key metrics like “the number of emails I receive each day.”

There is a common belief that a time management system should be tool-neutral.  I think that a modern system includes one’s “choice” of:

  • habits
  • gadgets
  • software

Each person assembles a system that matches their life needs, and as such, the choice of gadget (which might range from a Franklin Planner to an Android) is very important.  I certainly am dealing with this issue as I plan my next upgrade to a Blackberry, as it will make some habits harder to execute, and others easier, simply because of its design.

Bottom Line:  as we upgrade and tinker with our time management systems we are free to use what we will, but there are “hard” consequences to our choices that we must account for, and simply can’t ignore.

P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  The great thing about writing a blog is that I’m not stuck with what I created even last week!

Microsoft Outlook: Reminder Enhancements Needed

I have a suggestion for the designers of Microsoft Outlook, which I have thought for some time, but was recently enhanced when I saw that it was actually implemented by the Smart Diary Suite.

There are an increasing number of Outlook users who are upgrading their Scheduling and Listing skills, and working directly with their calendars.  In prior posts, I spoke about this upgrade and how it allows professionals to deal with a greater number of time demands.

When you work directly with an Outlook Calendar, the Reminder function becomes quite useful as a tool for Interrupting.  You can set the reminder to go off a the moment a task is supposed to start, or for some time period before it’s due to commence.

However, Outlook only gives you a few methods of disposing of a Reminder.  It pops up in a list, and you can ignore the pop-up altogether and continue what you were doing.  To dispose of it, however, you need to either
a) click on Dismiss, which removes the reminder and leaves the item in your calendar, never to return to your awareness
b) delay the reminder for a few minutes
c) open the reminder and reschedule the task for a later time

What it doesn’t do that it should is allow you to mark the item as “completed.”

There should be an extra box that allows this option, much in the same way that it does in the Smart Diary Suite.  If the item could be marked as completed, it could then be crossed out in Outlook, showing that it was successfully done.

This would be a benefit in a few ways:

1. there’s a psychological boost that we get by crossing out items that are complete.  It simply feels good, and looking over a calendar of completed items that are crossed out would also feel good, as you can see in the diagram above

2. it would provide a record of what actually got completed, which would help people like me who keep track of their time each week.  If it also kept a record of when the item was marked as complete, that would be even better.

This would represent a small programming change, but as I have said before, this kind of upgrade is not simply a matter of adding another feature.  The truth is that Outlook, Gmail and every other email/calendar program is built around an underlying philosophy of time management, which is nothing more than an assumption about how people manage their time (or should manage their time.)

When the philosophy is not clear, then the features follow suit.  These programs have some nice doo-dahs, but they aren’t built around the fundamentals of time management, so they don’t fit the time management needs of many professionals.  Check out my series on articles on Outlook’s shortcomings, or do a search on the keyword Outlook for more.


Balancing Your Life

A interesting article over at the LifeHacker website.

Penelope Trunk is a great writer and in this article she talks about the power of creating a balanced schedule and sticking to it.  Also, she talks about the difference between working lots and lots of hours, and instead trying to put in high quality work at all time.

This is the very opposite of jumping to answer your cell-phone whenever it rings or checking email whenever it beeps because it just might be something more important than what you happen to doing at the moment (like reading my blog.)

Click here to read:  Find Time Your Personal and Get a Handle on Your Out-of-Control Work Schedule.”

Nothing New in Time Management

I sense that there is a certain fatigue around the topic of time management.

I remember a time in the early 1990’s when productivity tools were all the rage, and you wouldn’t be caught dead without a DayTimer, FiloFax or Dayrunner folder equipped with custom tabs from Staples or Office Depot.

These weren’t entertainment devices, communication gadgets or portable search engines.  They were designed for productivity… and that was it.

Nowadays, the buzz around smartphones has little to do with productivity and time management, and more to do with stuff like connecting with your friends using Facebook Places and upping your score in Cityville.

Sexy?  Absolutely.  Productive? Not really.

Most of the articles related to the topic of time management consist of “Quick and Easy Tips,” “Top 10 ShortCuts…” and “Simple ways to gain two extra hours each day.”  We want our time management like our fast food.  Quick. Cheap. Filling. Instant.

Unfortunately, for those who are really interested in improving their skills there is little of substance, and little that’s new.  The market for instant time management tips has been saturated with books and websites touting hundreds of instant, effortless tips.

The get-rich-quick mentality has infected time management with its promise of fast results with little or no investment, risk or effort.

It’s the reason why so many companies are giving out Blackberry’s as the solution to issues of productivity.   If your employees are complaining because you have each of them doing the work of three people, then “Let em eat cake!”  Buy them a Blackberry, and that will be enough to do the job.

Those who are serious about improving their time management skills are tired of the tips and tricks, and aren’t looking for another gadget to buy.  They are already weary of these “solutions,” even if the general public seems quite to be quite happy.

They are focused on the 11 fundamentals of time management, and improving their overall skill by practicing each one at progressively higher levels.  They are like professional athletes who isolate parts of their game, and spend hours eking out small improvements via structured practice, often with the help of a coach, but often by working just by themselves.

It’s what most people call “anal.”

But it’s just not like that if you are serious about improving.  Instead, ut’s the price that must be paid for sustained achievement in any field.

Tiger probably spends very little time scouring the internet for easy, instant tips, and a lot of time in practice sand-traps perfecting his methods for digging out half-buried balls.  In the sun, wind and rain.

The same applies to Grand Masters in chess, Grand Slam winners in tennis and top NASCAR drivers.

Time management is no different, and I see that part of my job in 2Time and MyTimeDesign is to provide a viable pathway for improvement for any professional who is serious, and willing to discover what habits they need to work on in order to take their game to the next level.

This is a trickier assignment for those who are already operating at high levels of accomplishment (i.e. Green Belts and above) but Zen speaks of a beginner’s mind that comes with superior achievement.  I believe that the same applies to professionals who are ultra-productive and can manage a huge number of time demands — they don’t believe they have reached as they can see more clearly than others how far they still have to go.

Crazy email ideas: Don’t read your email

This is one crazy article…

The idea is to simply read the email that you want to read, and ignore the rest.  Instead if the Zero Inbox, allow it to grow infinitely big.

It says:

don’t bother emptying your inbox. Don’t worry about reading every message. Don’t organize anything you don’t feel like organizing.

I guess every idea should have it’s opposing post someplace on the internet, but the very premise of the email is incorrect.  Zero Inbox doesn’t come from willpower, it comes from learning the right habits.  When they are mastered, it’s no harder than brushing your teeth.

Click here to read: Inbox Infinity:  the Passive Approach to Getting Things Done.

Maybe that should be changed to “a few things…”

If You Can’t Get Everything Done…

It’s tempting for people who are “into” time management to claim that getting everything done is a sign of being productive.

Instead, I think it’s a matter of stifling your creativity.  What’s the connection?

I have noticed over the years of leading time management programs that bright, creative people are always coming up with new things to do.  Their minds are working non-stop – not out of any compulsion, but from a love or passion for what they do.  Their penchant for continuous improvement means that they are always working on ways to make their life better, and the more clear their minds are, the more good ideas come to them, and the more time demands are crafted.

Creative, committed people never stop coming up with new time demands, and expect to be on their death-beds thinking about new stuff that they could be doing if they weren’t busy lying down dying!

The fact is, if your mind is free it will always be coming up with more stuff to do than you can possibly fit into a day, month, year or lifetime.  If it isn’t doing so, then you may want to take a look at what might be blocking it from the natural energy that wants to be expressed.

For some, it’s a sense of suppression.  Others are bitter and angry.  A few stifle their creativity and lose their childlike sense of wonder at the world.  Many are going to work every day feeling overwhelmed and burdened.

Once you are free to create, however, there are no limits, and you must learn to let go of the expectation that everything you think you want to do will ever get one.  In fact, once you accept that everything isn’t going to happen in the time that you want it to, then you realize that choosing what to work on next also means choosing what to ignore.

Your perspective shifts…. being productive now means making smart choices about work that empowers the direction you want to go in. That’s a lot different than scrambling to get stuff done each day, thinking that one day your plate will be empty.

I have met some professionals who check email as soon as they awaken from sleep in the morning, and spend the rest of the day chasing after the hottest item that is tossed to them in each moment.  At the end of the day, they have done a lot, but accomplished little of value, and they are left with a feeling of guilt… as if they should be good enough to get everything done each day.

The guilt is unnecessary… simply give up thinking that your mind is limited, and surrender to the fact that you are a source of infinite ideas, and that it’s a bad idea to pretend to be otherwise.