How a Green Belt Delegates

Delegating is a critical practice for all working professionals, and I’m sometimes asked how a Green Belt should undertake this critical task.

It’s a tricky topic, because Green Belts delegate differently depending on the person to whom the task is being delegated, and the nature of the task.

To illustrate, imagine for a moment that you have two employees, and two tasks.  Task A is a critical item while Task B is not.  Wally White and Greta Green are your two employees, and as their names imply, they are White and Green Belts respectively.

Delegating Task B to Greta Green might not require any action other than the initial conversation, due to the nature of the task and Gret’s reliability.

However, delegating Task A to Wally is a risky business. Like most White Belts, he may decide to commit the item to memory in the hope that he’ll remember to undertake the action at a later time.   The chances are high that he’ll simply forget and the item will fall through the cracks of Wally’s system.

A Green Belt manager who is delegating the item won’t sweat it.  He’ll simply place a segment in his schedule to follow-up with Wally.  It might be the day after the item it delegated, or perhaps a week.  Also, the manager who notices that Wally has not written the item down may also send him an email summarizing the action to be taken.  He’s simply upping the odds that Wally will get the task completed.

The manager understands who he’s dealing with in these two cases, and spends no time lamenting the fact that Wally isn’t more like Greta.  Instead, he works with each person at their current level of skill, and changes his actions accordingly.

This tactic clearly involves a judgment call, as life almost never delivers clear-cut examples like the ones I described above.

Does Email Volume Hit a Natural Limit?

While there are lots of people who complain about receiving too many emails per day, the complaint that “I get too much email” is a bit of a red herring.

While there is a certain amount of email that is written with poor quality (sometimes as high as 65% according to research by Burgess, Jackson and Ewards;  Email Overload: Tolerance Levels of Employees within the Workplace,) and a further amount is simply SPAM, there is a critical percentage of email that involves communication required to perform one’s job, career and profession.

In other words, it’s not an extra chore, it’s the very essence of the job of a knowledge worker: to craft skillful communication, manage time demands and make critical decisions that move projects to completion.  If there were no email, the communication would still have to be realized, albeit at a slower pace.

What does a professional have to complain about when it comes to email volumes?  If they are part and parcel of the job, then each valid message is to be expected and should be welcomed as it shows that necessary communication is taking place, as it should.  Email is an excellent medium for most kinds of communication, and cannot be effectively replaced by paper memos or face to face meetings.

It should be expected that with a promotion, a new project or an expansion in one’s accountabilities that email volume will increase.   Each step up in one’s career requires further communication, not less, and also greater skill.

The question is whether or not there is a “natural” amount of email communication that is inherent in a particular role.  Does it increase to a certain level, and then level off?  Or, should we expect one’s email to increase, and to keep growing without any logical limit.

I can’t claim to have answers to these questions, but my intuition tells me that there’s a natural increase in daily messages that takes place from one job to the next.  While we don’t know how to measure the difference, or predict it, it seems reasonable to assume that it does exist.

If it does, then there’s some comfort in knowing that email doesn’t come out of nowhere.  Instead, each and every valid message appears in your Inbox because you are doing your job well.  It needs to be embraced, and managed — even if it requires a user to performance an upgrade to his/her skills.

Certainly, blaming the new job or one’s colleagues is not an empowering stance to take.

Practice vs. Progress – Which should you focus on?

One of the critical ideas here at 2Time is the notion that practicing the 11 fundamentals of time management is the key to upgrading one’s time management system.

With that in mind, here’s an article that goes a step further and argues that it’s better to focus on the process of practicing, than it is to become fixated on the specific goal being accomplished.

On one level, this makes perfect sense, given the recent research that indicates that ten years of practice is required to master a particular discipline.  One must find a way to give oneself to continuous practice over and over again in order to keep practicing for that long, and it’s better to focus on the moment and what’s happening in it in some detail, than it is to achieve a certain milestone.  Zara Lawler, the author, uses the example of practicing a piece of music as her example, and here in 2Time it’s not too hard to see an important parallel.

Some 2Time basics:  upgrading one’s time management system is best accomplished by determining which habits need to be changed in order to effect an improvement.  These changes usually don’t come quickly, as they are the result of putting in place new practices that only become habits after much mindful repetition.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get distracted by the belts that are set by those use the 2Time method  (they range from White to Green, denoting different skill levels.)  The point she’s making is that goals like these are good to have in the background, but it’s dangerous to have them at the forefront of one’s attention where they get in the way.  It’s better to commit to a certain amount of practice time, rather than specific results.

It’s a subtle distinction, and I invite you to check out her post:  Process Not Progress.

My Blackberry Update #1

Background: As you may know, I spent months describing all the ways in which I observed a relatively new phenomena – smartphone abuse.  I then embarked on a process to choose one for myself in a way that I hoped would enhance my productivity, rather than turn me into an habitual drive-and-text offender.  I have used one for the past few months, and am ready to give some updates on what’s happened to my “precious” productivity!

As I noted in a prior post: “Productive Notifications on Your Blackberry,” it’s amazing to me that Blackberry (BB’s)s are shipped with so many notifications turned on.  I noticed a rumor somewhere that RIM is now shipping them with the notifications turned “off.”  This is progress!

The biggest change I have noticed in my own productivity is the way that I manage the flow of emailed time demands.

Before:  I used to manage all incoming email from my Outlook Inbox.

After:  I now manage all messages from the BB Inbox, which is continuously synched with with my Outlook Inbox.  I use the BB to do a form of triage in which I delete stuff I don’t want immediately (i.e. Tossing) and allow some items to flow into my Outlook Inbox for immediate processing when I return to my desktop environment.

By the time the message gets to Outlook, I have already decided what to do with it — dealing with it there is a matter of convenience as the small screen of the BB makes it hard to do things like read downloads, process pics, etc.

I was able to find a powerful BB app called “AddThis” that allows you to immediately convert an email message into an item in a calendar.  Using Google Calendar to synch my calendars in Outlook and BB has meant that I can change my calendar on the road and have it also change on my desktop.

Sweet!  (Even though it’d not quite working perfectly yet.)

These changes represent major shifts in my time management process, and I have tried to be careful in making them because the benefits are now more obvious.

Being able to check email without having to fire up my laptop, and assure an Internet connection has been a tremendous benefit.  Lately, my DSL line has been spotty (ever since a painter came in to do some decorating work.)  Having consistent access to email has been useful, and being able to fill the odd spot here and there when I’m on the road or far from an Internet connection has allowed me greater choices.

Have I been tempted to do indulge in the dangerous, rude, unhygienic and unproductive behaviors that I have written so much about?  Absolutely.

However, the benefit of knowing about them in advance has certainly helped in stopping myself from doing them.  I find that I have to be very awake and aware at those moments when I feel the “Blackberry Itch” and take a short breath to ask myself whether or not this is a good moment to check for new messages.

For example, in the last paragraph, I wondered if an interesting prospect who contacted me yesterday has replied to my pithy response.  I felt the Itch coming on… I could have stopped myself from writing in mid-sentence to check… breaking my flow state.

But, I noticed it and let it pass, as I have at other times when someone is talking to me, I’m in a meeting, I’m driving someplace or I’m in the shower!  (BTW, there’s a special water-proof bag they are selling for those who can’t wait…)

All in all I can make the following judgment: as a “time demand management device” my BB upgrade has been a successful one, and I’m yet to play my first game. This might be due to the fact that I have used up all the memory on other essential apps, so there might not be any games on my BB until I effect an upgrade.  There is something to be said for keeping it lean and mean!

1999 Email Research is Still Timely and Relevant

As I dug through academic papers on the topic of time management over the past few days, I came across a journal article that was simply amazing in its prescience.  It was written by Steve Whittaker and Candace Sidner of Lotus Development Corp (now part of IBM.) It was published in 1996, and they also happen to be the authors who coined the term “email overload.”

In their paper entitled “Email overload: exploring personal information management of email” they quite rightly take note of the fact that professionals around the world are using email Inboxes to manage what their tasks: what we at 2Time call “time demands.”  They start off the article with a major assertion in their Abstract:

Email is one of the most successful computer applications yet
devised. Our empirical data show however, that although email was originally designed as a communications application, it is now being used for additional functions, that it was not designed for, such as task management and  personal archiving . We call this  email overload. We demonstrate that email overload creates problems for personal information management: users often have cluttered inboxes containing hundreds of messages, including outstanding tasks, partially read documents and conversational threads.  Furthermore, user attempts to rationalise their inboxes by filing are often unsuccessful, with the consequence that important messages get overlooked, or “lost” in archives. We explain how  email overloading arises and propose technical solutions to the problem.

What is amazing to me is not the point they are making, as it’s one that’s been echoed here at 2Time many times, especially in my posts suggesting ways to improve Outlook.  Instead, what’s startling is that no-one seems to have paid any attention.

Not only have Outlook and other email management programmes failed to offer anything new, Gmail didn’t even exist at the time this article was written, and it committed the same design mistake by not recognizing that existing email management software isn’t fashioned around its most common use — task and time management.

As I have mentioned before, there is lots of room for someone to create a breakthrough software product that changes a users relationship to to the tasks that come at them each day — many of which come at them via email.

This article certainly points solidly in that direction, as does my own research and intuition.  let’s see who gets there first!

The Best Source of Time Management Research in the World

In a prior post I shared a goal of mine, formed after hours of searching the Internet for relevant research on time management.

It took way too long, and too much effort to accumulate.  I want to make things easier for anyone who wants to repeat the research I have performed thus far, and in so doing, make this site the best source of time management research in the world.

To become that useful, I’d have to provide an easy way to find the best academic research that I can, so I have decided to share the list of files that I have found.  Each of these can be Googled and downloaded as pdf’s.  There are some reals gems, partly because of the foresight they demonstrated back in the 1990’s when email was just becoming popular.

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but I have tried to find the articles that apply directly to time management that are useful, and have something important to say.  Please let me know of other academic articles that you are away of, and that the public can access.

Using Your Basal Ganglia to Change Habits

If you have ever wondered why it’s so hard to upgrade the habits, practices and rituals that make up your time management system, then you need look no further.  Apparently, it has a lot to do with brain physiology:

Similarly, if you want to create permanent new patterns of behavior in people (including yourself), you must embed them in the basal ganglia. Taking on new patterns (also known as learning) often feels unfamiliar and painful, because it means consciously overriding deeply comfortable neuronal circuitry. It also draws on parts of the brain that require more effort and energy, such as the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with deliberate executive functions such as planning and thinking ahead.

This intriguing article talks about the need to establish new habits through repetition, and the neural pathways that are created when enough attention is placed on taking actions like re-labelling certain responses.

As I mentioned in a prior post, the hardest part of teaching new time management techniques is not getting the mostly common-sense concepts across to the class.  Instead, it’s helping them to implement the new habits, practices and rituals required to make an effective upgrade.

There is no simple and easy answer to this challenge – I get the feeling from reading this article and others that the research is in its early days, especially when it comes to making changes that don’t involve life-threats (like smoking or taking drugs.)  Nevertheless, the article makes some important points, even though it doesn’t describe the need to create an environment that makes habit change easy.

That’s the Way We (Used to) Do Business Around Here from the Strategy and Business Journal.

A Bittersweet Day

It’s been a bittersweet day.

I have been listening to Steven Levy’s book: “In the Plex” and am finding it a fascinating and inspiring read. A part of what has inspired me is the clarity and simplicity of their purpose: “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

I felt challenged by it, and how big it is, and I was reminded of the days when I started writing about time management back in 2006. I actually called my first blog an “open-source” site for ideas and thinking about time management as my goal was to find others who were willing to do more than superficial thinking, and share some breakthrough ideas with them. I never intended to earn any revenue, or even teach a class.

I  naively thought it would easy to find others who were thinking along the same lines, and that we’d have fun making time management better. Strangely enough, it’s been easier to find the revenue than find the others who are willing to collaborate!

Yes, there are authors out there, but none has seemed to be willing to engage in questioning  the core ideas that underly their thinking. Some go so far as to say that nothing can be done to improve the systems described in their book!

So, I just kept writing and developing, driven by the idea that something was wrong about the limited options that were available to working people who wanted to get better. I was pissed at the one-size-fits-all credo, fueled to no small degree by the fact that I had recently moved to Jamaica, and become acutely aware of the cultural assumptions that were built into the materials I had read.

It’s all too easy to write a book that you think is for everyone, but is actually only for people just like you, in circumstances that mirror your own. Instead, there are huge differences in the way we manage our time depending on our:

  • profession
  • training
  • experience
  • national culture
  • environment
  • age and stage of life

I was appalled that after doing critical work on my own time management skills back in 1999-2003, that the field had made little or no progress, and offered no assistance to people like me who needed custom help. This emotion got me writing with a vengeance, but I realize looking back that I was actually on a mission, motivated by the kind of help I thought everyone should be able to access.

Now, a few years later, I am more clear on what that is:

To make time management improvements easy for people everywhere, forever.

Discovering this mission made up the sweet part of the day!

The bitter part came when I heard that Eli Goldratt had passed away that morning. He is best known for his Theory of Constraints, and his book: The Goal, which I read as a graduate student at Cornell, during my first summer at AT&T Bell Labs.

I literally could not put the book down, as it offered a compelling glimpse of the real world of manufacturing that my professors had been unable to approximate, in spite of numerous opportunities. I got more from reading that book than most of what I had learned in class.  In fact, I re-read The Goal recently in preparation for writing my own book – using his powerful business fable as my inspiration and role model.

And now he’s gone, but he left behind a host of admirers who helped make his books some of the most popular in the business-world. I can only hope that my book does something similar, and makes a contribution to accomplishing the mission I have set for the work here at 2Time.

To that end, today I set some big, hairy audacious goals:

  1. To offer the very best on-line time management training made possible by the latest technology.
  2. To enable coaches and trainers anywhere in the world to use Time Management 2.0 principles in their work with clients
  3. To give every working professional the idea that they can upgrade the way they manage their time whenever they want, regardless of changes in work, personal life or technology.
  4. To develop the 2Time site be the best single source for time management research, ideas and breakthrough thinking gleaned from all corners of the world.
  5. To find and work with the best minds in time management, and have fun coming up with new stuff!

As I read the tributes to his live and work, I suspect that Eli Goldratt would support these wholeheartedly.

Hard Thinking in a Busy Schedule

I found another of Cal Newport’s gems that fits quite well into the 2Time way of thinking.  Getting Creative Things Done: How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule.

In this post he makes the point that the best way to get quality, creative work done is to set aside dedicated time in one’s schedule, which is the equivalent of 2Time’s Orange Belt level of skill in Scheduling.

The only difference of opinion I have with this excellent article is that it’s not only about hard, creative work that academics do.  Business professionals at all levels aren’t simply paid to do something without thinking.  Instead, managers hope that they are also working on their job, not just in their job… improving it, streamlining it, cutting costs, etc.

This kind of continuous improvement comes from using the kind of techniques he describes, which means that this skill has much wider implications on professional productivity than he indicates.

Here it is again:  Getting Creative Things Done: How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule

Crazy Ways to “Save Time”

I have written a great deal about Blackberry abuse here on the 2Time website.  What I also try to emphasize is the fact that people who multi-task in dangerous, unhygienic, rude and unproductive ways develop these habits in order to try to save themselves time.

A new article at Insurance Networking News points out some of these insane behaviors, all of which relate to bad driving habits: 9 Most Common Distracted Driving Behaviors Revealed.

What will it take for us to see that it doesn’t make sense to engage in “time-saving” tactics that ultimately make things worse for us all?