Time Demand: A Confusing Definition Cleared Up

In different posts here on 2Time, I have defined time demands as commitments that we create to complete actions in the future.

They are created by the individual in his/her own mind.  While they are essentially inventions of the mind, they do accumulate in one’s memory, and they disappear or cease to exist once the action has been completed.

That definition seems simple enough, and I use it when I’m teaching a class to illustrate this important concept.  A simple example would be watching a television commercial that advertises a discount at your favorite restaurant.  You decide to visit before the offer expires, and immediately write down the day and time that you are thinking of visiting.

Where I’m a bit confused at the moment is what happens in the electronic world.

Does a time demand get created when you receive an email in your Inbox (without being aware of it) or when you glance at it for the first time and form an impression that there is something for you to do about it, or with it?

Is the fact that you have an email Inbox an open invitation to receive time demands?  Is every message therefore a time demand?

The answer to that seems to be “no.”  Just because someone sends you email doesn’t mean that it’s a time demand of any kind, any more than junk mail in your P.O. Box is a time demand.  Or a piece of paper that randomly blows into your yard, or an instruction shouted in your direction in a crowded subway.

Information in an email, or on paper, or in the sound waves only become a time demand when they are converted from words by a live recipient.  An instruction shouted at a group of people, for example, would only be a time demand for a few.

This might clear up some of my confusion when it comes to email.  I can see that email sent to you isn’t a time demand until you have read it.  The problem that many have is that they skim rather than empty their email Inboxes, especially when they don’t know what to do with an item once they have determined that it includes valid time demands.

However, does the fact that you have an email Inbox mean that you are inviting potential time demands, and therefore committing to process messages from everyone who send you  email?

I say not.  But I could be wrong.  Legally, a piece of mail that gets sent via registered mail must be accepted by a live person who accepts responsibility for it.  That’s not what happens with email.

There is no way to legally guarantee anything via email, even if the the sender hits the right buttons.

Someone who decides to set up an email Inbox and never checks it isn’t breaking the law by any means.  However, they are displaying White belt behaviors, and possibly allowing time demands to fall through the cracks.

I’d got a bit further and say that anyone with an email Inbox that’s used by the public is wise to treat any piece of email as a time demand in and of itself, whether or not it includes anything useful.  You are committing to spend even a fraction of a second reading, making a  decision and disposing of the message. This is true even for Spam that warrants a peek before permanent deletion.

Those fractions add up, of course, which is why many fear a buildup of email from being on vacation.

So, the best practice I’d suggest is to treat each piece of email as a time demand before it’s read, with the understanding that it might lead to even further time demands.

Unscalable Habits

As working professionals, there are points in our careers when things take a turn for the worse in terms of our personal productivity.

The symptoms are sometimes clear to see.  All of a sudden, commitments start falling through the cracks.  We stop remembering all the things we think we should.  Our Inbox fills up with unprocessed time demands that sit around like ticking time-bombs, causing us to lose sleep.

People start complaining to us that we aren’t keeping our promises.  We often find ourselves late, stressed and cluttered.  Sometimes, we put on weight and our relationships start to falter due to lack of attention.

These are all events that indicate that something is awry and often come about because something in our lives has changed.  Some examples include:

  1. Significant life-changes take place, varying from getting married, having a new baby at home or needing to take care of an ailing parent.
  2. New, game-changing technology is introduced in our lives  and we are either unwilling or unable to learn how to use it well.  Facebook are smartphones are two examples of powerful time-savers when used wisely, but there are many who don’t use one or the other because they only see how addictive they can be.
  3. We accept greater responsibility at work, and as a result, the number of time demands we must process each day grows past a certain threshold that our current habits can’t handle.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same.  We feel as if we aren’t coping.

Our tendency is to blame life, and try to return things to the way they were when we were on top of things, even when it’s clear that there IS no turning back.  We want to go back to a time when our habits worked, but what we don’t realize is the fact that life changes, and even the best crafted habits need to evolve in pace with the fact that life never stands still.

We are actually victims of our success, as the habits that we used to succeed stopped working.

Take for example the simple habit of “putting things where you won’t forget them.”  It’s a great practice that we are taught when we’re very young. Visual cues are very powerful, and they can often be used to trigger necessary actions, such as remembering to pick up the house keys before leaving on a long trip.

The reason that so many professionals have overflowing Inboxes and lost time demands is that they use this practice in ways that are simply unsuitable.  When email comes in, they keep it in the Inbox — in order to remember to work on it later.  It’s the reason why Whittaker and Sidner’s research showed that 53% of the average user’s email is sitting in their Inbox, rather than a folder.

They might do the same with important paper.  They keep it on their desktops in order to remember to do something with it later.

The fact is, these tactics work when the number of email and paper-based time demands is low.  Once they increase past a certain threshold however, the result is chaos, as the very opposite happens.  Instead of helping someone to remember time demands, their very volume causes them to forget most of them, masking the commitments that they represent.

Another habit that works when volumes are low is “answering the phone each and every time it rings,” as we were taught as youngsters.  In 2011, answering the phone whenever it rings is a recipe for disaster, now that we have 24-7 access to smartphones.  Instead, we must turn phones off, ignore them and use voicemail in order to keep the peace of mind that comes from being productive.

The idea that no single pattern of habits, practices and rituals is good enough to last forever is at the heart of the 2Time system, which is what I call a “dynamic time management system,” as opposed to the “static” systems that others have invented.

If you are interested in learning how to upgrade your system on an ongoing basis for the rest of your working career, then there’s an opportunity coming up.

I’ll be offering MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free to the public again, and once again it’s free.  To sign up to be on the early notification list, simply visit http://mytimedesign.com and I’ll let you know when my 6-week, e-learning program will be open for registration.

A Manipulate-able Calendar

In earlier posts, I stepped into the future and imagined what it would be like to have a calendar that sat inside your watch, and projected a calendar in front of you in the form of a virtual touch-screen that you could manipulate at will.

It would require a skill that I define as an Orange Belt skill in scheduling:  changing or re-scheduling the segments in your calendar over and over again.

Well, here’s a calendar tool for the iPad that makes it a much easier task than I have ever seen.  It’s not a projector that sits in a wrist-watch, but moving around the segments in a schedule in this manner seems to be just as easy as I had imagined.

Here is the link to Muji Apps Calendar.  (Thanks to the alert reader who noticed that this was missing…!)

A Circular Schedule

This is something new.

Most of us think of schedules in linear terms, the way we think of calendars and diaries.  Along comes the Muji Chronotebook to change all that, with the first circular daily schedule I have ever seen.

It’s based on the face of a clock, and the 12 hours that it represents.  Each activity looks like a slice of a pie, and it seems deceptively easy to plan a full day using a layout that looks like the analog clocks that most of us older folk grew up with.

It’s whimsical, traditional and nostalgic, and the fact that there is no software or app that uses this concept, means that it’s all about pen/pencil and paper.

Read all about one person’s experience here: The Daily Rind, a Better Way to Plan the Day.

A Black Belt? Why I Have No Idea What It Is

In most classes I have lead based on the 2Time principles I have been asked the question:  Why isn’t there a definition for Black Belts, or any belt above Green?

The reason is a personal one.

I didn’t want to make things so easy for me that I’d have no space to grow. You see, I don’t operate at a Green Belt, and even if I did, I want to leave room for new belts above the Green Belt. My hope is that I, or someone else, will be able to define higher belts, and what they look like, and offer fresh new opportunities to grow.