Why did I choose to write a story or fable instead of a manifesto?

As you probably know, my book “Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure” is not written as an abstract set of ideas, but as a story, or parable. If you have been around 2Time Labs for a while you’ll know that this is a pretty significant departure from the norm for me.

The truth is that I thought it would be a novel way to introduce some new ideas about time management in an effortless, easy way for the reader. It was very challenging for me to complete, but I hope that it hit the mark!

Research that Challenges “One-Size-Fits-All” Time Management

claessensIt’s an assumption made by many time management books and programs – the behaviors described not only work, but they work for everyone. They might make a passing reference to the need to do a little customization here and there but it’s hardly a central thesis of the book. The author’s message remains: “Just follow what I do as closely as you can.”

A more challenging idea that few dare to confront is that we all need custom systems.

Recent research conducted in 2004 by Brigitte Claessens – Perceived Control of Time: Time Management and Personal Effectiveness at Work – backs this up. Here are a few of the findings summarized.

1.  The Skill and Training Effect

The report states: “…more conscientious and emotionally stable people completed more of their planned work than others. Also, those who participated in a time management training program prior to this study completed more of their planned work than others.” This finding showed that there are individual differences in performances, driven in part by current levels of exposure to training.

2. Differences in Starting the Day

41% started their day by reviewing their plan for the day, before checking email. 35% skipped the plan and jumped straight into email. 24% made social contacts and engaged in communal activity such as drinking coffee and having a snack.

Furthermore, 59% preferred to work on large, difficult tasks first. 24% had no routine for working on tasks and 18% preferred to work on small, enjoyable tasks first. Another 18% worked on items that were important to other people.

A book or program that attempts to either ignore these differences, or force all learners to follow a single prescription is likely to fail.

3. Individual Differences are Important

There were four distinct planning and execution styled detected in the research. Almost all the respondents indicated that they “felt their style suited their own preferred way of working.” One reported that “The work style I employ wouldn’t work for anyone else, because we are all so different.”

They indicated that the differences were based on personality, experiences at work and also that one’s style style “develops and changes over time.” 76% were satisfied with their style, but shared that for some tasks on particular projects, either more or less structured styles were needed, “which they found hard to do.”

Also, those who were satisfied would NOT recommend their style to colleagues, believing that “it wouldn’t be possible due to the individual differences.”

4. Focusing on Priorities Can Make Things Worse

The researchers tested the effect of a focus on priorities on both a) feelings of control over one’s time and b) one’s belief in his/her capability to handle their work under certain situations. There was no effect on the former and a negative effect on the latter. Also, focusing on priorities can increase what the authors called “work strain.” The authors surmise “<it is>…because one has to continually assess the importance of the tasks that come along and as a consequence may find it difficult to decide on the priority order of activities.”

5. Developing a Timetable of Activities Helps

“Anchored planning” is defined as “the detailtedness (sic) of planning goals, activities, and time frames.”

Having a timetable was positively related to a) feelings of control over one’s time and b) one’s belief in his/her capability to handle their work under certain situations. Also continually monitoring progress against this timetable was positively related to b) one’s belief in his/her capability to handle their work. Having contingency plans was positively related to a) one’s feelings of control over one’s time.

The finding around anchored planning support other research results summarized on the 2Time Labs website, conducted by Dezhi Wu and also Masicampo and Blaumeister. That is, “planning into (sic) some detail increases the perception of control over time and the perceived ability to perform one’s work.” This supports the emerging view that maintaining and monitoring an individual, detailed calendar of activities is a superior time management technique  to others that exist (such as trying to use one’s memory or keeping multiple lists.)

6. What You Think About Your Abilities is Important

  • Your a) feelings of control over your time is a greater contributor to well-being variables such as job satisfaction and also external ratings of your effectiveness, than b) your belief in your capability to handle your work under certain situations.
  • Your b) belief in your capability to handle your work under certain situations is a predictor of self-ratings of job performance.
  • Both self-evaluated and externally-evaluated effectiveness is affected by your a) feelings of control over your time and not by b) your belief in your capability to handle your work under certain situations
  • Your b) belief in your capability to handle your work under certain situations is negatively related to external ratings of effectiveness

The final result implies that you can trick yourself into thinking you are much better than others think you are in your time management skills.

Furthermore, a) your feelings of control over your time AND b) your belief in your capability to handle your work under certain situations has a more direct effect on your performance than actual behaviors.

 7. Individual Differences are Critical When Teaching Time Management

The authors say it well: “Although we expect most people to profit from time management behaviors, our and other studies demonstrated that there are individual differences in planning and executing behaviors. Therefore, we argue that time management training programs should be developed to serve different kinds of people. This could be done by means of a ‘diagnostic’ or screening tool, for instance in the form of a diary study, prior to the actual time management training after which people with the same kinds of problems with time (for instance personal planning problems) could be invited to participate in custom-made programs. Currently, most time management training programs ask participants prior to the actual training program to note and evaluate their time spending, but they do not use this information to select respondents for a particular type of time management training. As a result, participants may receive a training in all elements of time management behaviors, including those in which they were already competent. This can reduce the learning effect as relatively little time is used to discuss their particular problems and to teach them the behaviors that might be beneficial to their particular situation.”

The research we have done here at 2Time Labs into adult learning principles (andragogy) also makes this clear. Our teaching experience backs this up.

8. Making Good Time Choices Can Reduce Burnout

The authors state: “…we found a direct effect of task assessment behavior on work strain which implies that by carefully assessing assigned tasks not only with respect to the time available but also to one’s capabilities, and by accepting the tasks that one feels able to perform within these boundaries, one feels less pressured at work.”

In Summary

I recommend this piece of research heartily and am only saddened that there are fewer people who appear to be using it. The work I do to link these ideas with you, an interested reader, is apparently unique as few of the authors, bloggers and class developers that I follow actually check out the source of their ideas. The authors echo this sentiment – “… we argue that time management trainers take notice of and implement results of scientific time management studies in time management training programs to ensure that participants are made familiar with behaviors that have been identified as beneficial to job performance and personal well-being.”

Being unique has some advantages, but I also wonder who is reading this kind of article. If you have made it this far, then I’d like to know. Please leave me a comment to let me know that yes, you do exist… and whether to not you’d like to hear more summaries of time management research here on this website.




Doing the job of two people

job of two peopleAn article I wrote in the newspapers today tackled the thorny problem of being told that you need to do the job of two (or more) people. If you haven’t read my book, “Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure” then you may not know that this is how the books starts… but I won’t spoil the surprise!

How to do the job of two people

New Research: The Benefit of Developing Advanced Scheduling Skills

New research emerges showing that keeping a specific schedule of what you plan to do each day in the future is better than other options.

The Problem:

For some time here at 2Time Labs I have highlighted the general problem of time management books that neither cite relevant research nor update their recommendations based on the latest research. Many claim, even indirectly, to be “the final word” on the topic, refusing or ignoring the idea that something better will come along someday.

Such hubris harms learners who need to continually adapt their individual time management systems to life’s changing circumstances and technologies. Getting stuck on the skills described in any book or program isn’t really an option in today’s fast-changing world. Learners need an evergreen approach to building their skills – relentlessly absorbing the latest ideas, newest findings and best equipment, while discarding stale notions, obsolete tools and useless apps.


Despite the best intentions of some authors and program creators, this need stubbornly persists even as they do their best to build higher walls and deeper moats to prevent their followers from escaping.

One question that typifies the tussle between guru-driven recommendations and new research is the question of whether or not a learner should center one’s daily activities around a list or a schedule. There are two distinct schools of thought.

The more traditional, older school argues that tasks belong on lists. A calendar should only be used to record “hard” appointments that involve other people, or deadlines with “major” consequences. As you may notice, this guideline is inexact, and most authors leave the definition of “hard” and “major” to the learner. Major proponents of this point of view include David Allen and Michael Linenberger.

The younger school argues that tasks belong on schedules, and lists should only be used to supplement a calendar. Once again, the guideline is inexact, with the choice being left to the learner. Major proponents of this point of view include Peter Bregman and Daniel Markovitz.

The two schools clash from time to time, with the most dogmatic claiming that success can only come through their virtuous point of view, implying that failure comes through the evil alternative.

Our Both/And Hypothesis
At 2Time Labs we believe that both approaches have merit. Some learners prefer lists and others prefer schedules. Beyond the issue of personal preference, we believe that each person needs to understand the options, and make a conscious choice about the one they plan to follow, and for how long.

For some time, however, we have also argued that Schedule’rs are able to manage a much larger number of tasks. These scheduling skills are harder to learn, and rely more on the newest technology, making the learning curve steeper. But they ultimately bring a significant benefit.

We therefore support both approaches, and focus instead on helping learners make informed choices.

The New Research
In the face of this debate emerges a new study: Consider It Done! Plan Making Can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals by E.J. Masicampo and Roy F. Baumeister from Florida State University. They not only shed critical light on the argument between List’ers and Schedule’rs, but they also offer a bit of evidence that our Both/And hypothesis at 2Time Labs may be supported by some independent evidence.

Research Goals
The researchers started out with the following notion: “Unfulfilled goals persist in the mind… The standard assumption has been that such cognitive activation persists until the goal is fulfilled. However, we predicted that contributing to goal pursuit through plan making could satisfy the cognitive processes that usually promote goal pursuit.”

Their results were clear:
“Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits. Once a plan is made, the drive to attain a goal is suspended-allowing goal-related cognitive activity to cease-and is resumed at the specified later time.”

In summary, creating a specific plan is superior to having no plan at all.

Some would argue that this isn’t enough to support either side, thinking that a list is a kind of plan. Their specific experiments clarify any confusion.

“In several studies, we activated unfulfilled goals and examined the extent to which these goals persisted in the mind, remaining active in memory and intruding upon subsequent tasks.”

“Our emphasis was on highly specific plans of action… we asked participants to commit to plans that specified how, when and where they would attain their goals.” They add “A specific plan is like a script that a person can follow mindlessly to completion.”

In other words, what they mean by plan-making is what we call “creating a Schedule” and not what we refer to as “compiling a List.” In their purest forms, schedules, and not lists, are used by learners to define when something needs to be done.

In particular, one study performed by the researchers (5B) focused on these differences as they were tested in three groups.

Group 1 – Participants in the unfulfilled task condition (group) reflected on one task they had to complete in the coming days. Those participants then listed multiple possible courses of action for completing the task, but they did not commit to using any one of them.

Group 2 – Participants in the plan condition (group), in contrast, reflected on a task they had to complete in the coming days and made a specific plan for how they would complete it.

Group 3 – Participants in the control condition (group) reflected on one task they had recently completed.

Their findings were:
“…participants in the plan group (Group 2) reported significantly fewer task-related thoughts than did participants in the unfulfilled task group (Group 1). (The study) replicated the elimination of intrusive thoughts about an unfulfilled task after a specific plan was made.”

In Conclusion they state:
“… the activation and interference effects abruptly ceased among the participants who formed plans for their unfulfilled goals.”

“Unfulfilled tasks made people’s mind wander… But participants who made a plan to get their personal tasks done were able to <perform> with less mind wandering.”

“It has been well documented that specific plans increase success, doing so in part by making goal pursuit more automatic. Once a detailed plan has been made, one no longer has to think about the goal to execute it. Apparently, a plan reduces the amount of thoughts and attention that are typically recruited in service of an unfulfilled goal. Thoughts of an incomplete goal will not interfere with current concerns so long as a plan has been made to see the goal through later on.”

It’s not hard to summarize that having a Schedule leads to a number of positive effects that having a list simply doesn’t produce. In these experiments, makers of a schedule were more productive than those who didn’t make schedules.

Support for the Both/And Hypothesis
In the Implications section of the paper the authors state:
“In most cases, the unconscious achieves self-organization quite well, including in the realm of goal pursuit. (This paper) however, suggests that interrupted goals represent a special case that exceeds the self-organizing capacity of the unconscious. Only when a conscious plan is made does an unfulfilled goal seem to settle into a stable state. Until then, the disturbance from unfulfilled goals seems to persist in the mind, intruding into one’s thoughts and interfering with other tasks.”

In other words, there is a tipping point. When there are too many tasks, the unconscious mind needs a conscious plan or else there is a decline in productivity. As I implied before, their “conscious plan” is what we call a “schedule.”

The Bottom Line
From my perspective here at 2Time Labs there needn’t be two separate camps, as I implied in our Both/And Hypothesis. The problem has been created by authors who go too far and claim that their approach is not only useful, but uniquely correct. In their zeal, they over-reach and state general conclusions that are unfounded in fact, and based on little more than individual experience and/or conjecture. When they make such statements their followers are lured into thinking that their way is the only true way, leading to a fundamentalist mindset that blocks open learning.

In my book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure I created a character, Vernon Vaz, who is taken over by this mindset and the trouble it causes. The tension between Vernon and Bill is one that is taking place in workplaces around the world and the lack of research in time management keeps it going for far longer than it should.

Thankfully, there is research such as “Consider It Done” that sheds the kind of light that brings data to dogma, and can help us all get past the tension and towards solutions.

P.S. I did a series of posts and videos on the results of Dr. Dezhi Wu’s research that also indicated the value of individual schedule building.



Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.








All About Time Demands and Other Guest Posts

The blog tour to promote my new book continues with a post I did for Sharon Lowenheim’s blog entitled “All About Time Demands.” It’s the first time that I have taken this concept out to the general public (other than in The Bill Book) and it was challenging to write, but more than a bit satisfying.

Here are some of the other blogs that have been posted:

Stepcase Lifehack is running a series of 7 posts that I have written on the New Lifehacking. THis is #2 and the topic is “Understanding Your Own System” based on the idea that the best improvements don’t come from one-size-fits-all systems, but from a deeper understanding of your own habits. How to Understand Your Current Time Management System.

On the Alpha Efficiency blog, I came out in support of a post written by Bojan Djordjevic who has decided to switch to his own time management system after using GTD, a popular commercial system. He did it in such a Time Management 2.0 that I felt I had to comment…  Another Angle on the “Why I decided to switch from GTD” blog post.

Productive Superdad.com – on Timo Kiander’s blog I looked at the difference between being a good follower of another person’s system, versus taking ownership of YOUR system: How to Take Ownership of Your Time Management System.

I also did an interview with Janice Russell for her blog on the various misadventures that take place in time management. Her blog is called Minding Your Matters and she’s someone I hope to do some more work with especially in the area of working with Time Advisers. How to Stop Misadventures in Time Management.

Last thing… if you are a time adviser of any kind (coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer) here’s a post I wrote at the ICF site on why baby steps are so important in time management.

How to Prevent Yourself From Becoming a Tip-a-Holic

vintage decor with chemical bottleThe headline for this post may be playful but the problem is a very real one.

Many professionals want to improve their time management skills. The simplest method that we hear broadcast over the Internet is simply to pick up the right tip, trick or shortcut. Choosing the right one will magically transform everything.

Like magic. Or should that be snake-oil?

They promise the same thing: put little or no work into using this tip, and you’ll be able to save hundreds of hours per year / triple your productivity / never fall behind on anything ever again. Apparently, there’s a lot of money to be made selling these “solutions” to people who want to believe that they can pretty much get something for nothing.

I have just initiated a 7 part series over at Lifehack.org that starts with the idea that we should stay away from these trivial bits of advice, and look for substantial help backed up by research.

Here’s The new Lifehacking #1: Why You Should Stop Feeding Your Addiction to Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts.