Part 13 — The Switch Away from Persisting with Old Lessons

Part 13 — The Switch Away from Persisting with Old Lessons

Why, in task management, you’ll need to switch from approaches that worked for you in the past


As a productivity enthusiast, you have made a number of positive changes to your task management. These were gratifying, and you want more of them to retain that thrill of learning. But have you reached the point where it’s difficult to make noticeable improvements? If so, it may be time to give up on the approaches that have worked so well up until now.

Most of the learning for beginners in task management tends to be easy to follow. It’s usually prescriptive, made up of precisely detailed behavioral rules compiled by a thoughtful guru. They make a difference quickly, in what some call “beginner’s luck”.

The temptation is to keep doing what you have always done. To follow the same advice that gave you the early gains.

However, you may find that it becomes more difficult to continue your personal growth. Why? The easy fixes have all been made. The next round won’t yield the same gains, and they are harder to uncover. At this point there are a few strategies you can pursue.

  • A few people double down and try harder to implement their initial lessons. For example, some folks who picked up Getting Things Done by David Allen are urged to double down on his advice by others who are more experienced. They explain where the new follower isn’t actually implementing his advice correctly, with predictable results.
  • Some look for a different prescription from a new guru. They still want to be told what to do, just by someone else.
  • A handful make the switch. Sometimes without knowing, they follow the example of gurus who craft their own improvements, becoming self-coaches in their own right.

While it’s clear that the first approach doesn’t work, some find it difficult to give up their success formula. After all, most gurus don’t advise their followers to look for signs that it’s time to move on. They don’t talk about the switch — it’s no good for business.

Why Is This Important?

If you’re like most people, you stick to methods of learning that worked in the past, trusting them to deliver in the future. These tend to be pedagogical rather than androgogical lessons, meant for novices rather than experienced learners.

Now that you have some task management knowledge, it’s better to jump straight to a heutagogical approach, in which you drive your own learning.

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP)?

The RAP is designed for those who have already made the mental switch, but need tools to conduct their first systematic self-diagnosis of their task management methods. With pre-made tools and concepts, you can discern slight nuances which enable you to make Pareto Improvements. Now you can plan for the future.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 13 — The Switch Away from Persisting with Old Lessons was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Part 12 — Coping with Your Hunger for Capacity

Part 12 — Coping with Your Hunger for Capacity

Why productivity enthusiast aren’t satisfied “managing just so many tasks but no more”.


You’re a top performer who is a lifelong learner; someone who sees a future of personal growth. But you seem to be like a hamster on a treadmill. The last improvement you made to your task management wasn’t enough and you’re not sure why. Neither was the one before. Why don’t your improvements endure forever? Why do you care so much about getting better in this area when the average person doesn’t?

In a prior article (#8) in this series, we established that there’s always a limit to your ability to manage tasks effectively. In other words, even if you are insanely productive, an invisible cap exists. Whenever you attempt to add more tasks beyond the limit, you instantly experience unwanted symptoms. It’s as if there’s always a camel’s back waiting to be broken.

You may be lured into the belief that human beings should find and settle down to their current level of task performance, and forget about further improvements. But this doesn’t match my observation of trainees and coachees. They always want more. And maybe it applies to you, given that you have read this far.

But why do you keep tempting fate by adding one more straw to your camel’s back? And then another? Why does the realization that the camel’s back has gotten a bit stronger make you look forward to increasing the load?

Is this bad? Should you stop?

Well…join the club. My research shows you and other productivity enthusiasts have an unquenchable appetite for more tasks. Consequently, as soon as you find a way to increase your capacity, you can’t help yourself…you add more tasks.

If you’re lucky, you discover that your appetite grows more slowly than your capacity increases. Most experience the opposite. Why? Too many productivity enthusiasts are high-performers or Type A personalities.

Why is this important?

Understanding this innate tendency can be freeing. It’s just part of your nature…a good thing.

As you drive for amazing results, it’s natural to wish to increase your capacity to manage tasks.

So…you can relax and commit to a career of steady improvements. You can also know that unwanted symptoms are not a sign of failure, but a signal that alerts you to the need to increase capacity.

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program?

Without a systematic way to make improvements, this continuous demand for improvement sometimes becomes stressful. In the worse case, you could feel trapped in a dead-end. However, the Rapid Assessment Program is one way to figure out the best improvements to make at any point in time.

This means you can accept your true nature; your tendency to increase task volume so that it nears the upper limits. And you can embrace the fact that continuous improvements are the price you pay for being a driven human being. This is a game you have unwittingly played for years. Making it conscious should make you a better player.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 12 — Coping with Your Hunger for Capacity was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Part 9 — Your 13 Self-Made Practices

Part 9 — Your 13 Self-Made Practices

The system you created when you were too young too care, but still use today.

The Problem

When asked, most people have no idea where their routines for managing future tasks come from. They realize they do something with them on a regular basis, and that it involves some memory plus other physical, digital and psychological components. But they don’t know its origin or the steps they use with precision.

Unfortunately, few productivity gurus shed a light on this mystery. Instead, they focus on telling people what they should do instead, in one-size-fits-all fashion.

The good news is that human beings all manage tasks in similar ways. It’s a bit like kicking a football: there are limited ways to do so based on our physiology. In like manner, our psychology shapes the way we manage tasks. However, within these limits, there’s lots of variation. Each person who is self-taught ends up doing things in their unique way.

These psychological limits cause people to turn to physical and digital affordances to gain some help. Their overall objective is common: to create and manage tasks (i.e. time demands) in a way that leads to successful completion.

During our teens, at some point, we teach ourselves most of the following 13 practices in order to reach complex goals. Later, we forget, but our routines reveal the lessons were learned.
Capturing — To save tasks you create for later execution in safe places called “capture points”.
Emptying — To remove time demands from capture points i.e. triage.
When we Empty we have five choices.
Tossing — To void time demands.
Scheduling — To add a time demand to a mental, physical or digital calendar.
Listing — To add a time demand to a mental, physical or digital list.
Storing — To save supplemental information required to task completion e.g. an address book.
Acting Now — To interrupt the act of Emptying to execute an action immediately.

These practices are meant to interact with tasks directly, hence the label “Essential Fundamentals.” However, there are other “Advanced: practices we teach ourselves.
Switching — To transition effectively from one task to another.
Interrupting — To use an alarm or alert to end a task and start another.
Reviewing — To proactively look over one’s system to find improvements or make adjustments.
Warning — To set up (and heed) early signs of impending problems with one’s system.

We engage in these meta-activities in order to complete future tasks with ease. However, during the act of completing these tasks, we can do so in one of two two ways. We use Executables:

Habiting — To complete a pre-designed, practiced routine which requires little or no cognitive attention to initiate or conduct.
Flowing — To enter the top quality flow state while completing a task with high stakes.

Why Is This Important?

If the claim is valid (that all human beings teach themselves these 13 practices starting in their teens) then we shouldn’t start with where we want to be, but there we are. Serious productivity gains in task management come from embracing these current behaviors as a starting point for making improvements.

While productivity gurus may point out how to perform each one with a high degree of skill, learners must still take the next step. They need to determine what level of combined skills they possess (low, medium, high), which level they desire, and how to reach their destination.

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP)?

In general, gurus teach beginners a few simple, high-level skills at a time. Due to their relative lack of history, in making such improvements, learners benefit greatly. Call it beginner’s luck.

However, there comes a time when such introductory advice stops working. Now, as a learner, you need to follow the gurus’ example, rather than their advice.

What do productivity gurus do? They use skillful diagnostic techniques before they attempt any changes. Some use their own version of the 13 practices. In the Rapid Assessment Program, you don’t need to craft your own improvement protocol, as these are handed to you on the first day.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 9 — Your 13 Self-Made Practices was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Part 10 — Unique Type A Task Management Tendencies

Part 10 — Unique Type A Task Management Tendencies

And if you’re a Type A, what you should do to be more productive

The Problem

Most productivity gurus treat all their readers or learners the same: as if they have the same personalities or needs. Their general advice works well at first, but after a while, a problem arises. Those who require the most help find themselves at odds with some gurus’ personalities, and their advice.

Type A personalities tend to create more urgent tasks than their counterparts. As such, they feel impatient more frequently, demand more advanced tools than others. For example, as high school students, they often use adult techniques and technologies their peers would never touch.

Never heard of them? They are driven, goal-oriented, high-energy individuals who are extremely time-conscious. With these traits, it’s no accident they are often high-achievers in business, sports and academics. They prefer to focus on areas of expertise which reward clear winners…and losers.

However, when they lack self-knowledge of their task management, the worst can happen. With their energy and impatience, it’s easy to become overworked and imbalanced, leading to burnout, overwork and broken relationships.

Why Is This Important?

Due to their driven nature, Type A’s are the first to consume their discretionary time each week— their buffer against the problem of a full calendar. This habit produces a host of problems as their appetite for tasks increases and stays beyond their ability to manage them. After all, they are also subject to the same 168 hour per week limit as everyone else.

Remember the topic of defects in Part 2?

Type A’s go through periods in which they experience numerous defects; far more than others. It’s just a fact that they push their task management systems to the limits, much like a Formula One driver uses all the means at his disposal to shave a full two seconds off a lap.

But the first “Switch” Type A’s must make is from following the advice of others to becoming expert self-coaches. It’s the only way for them to achieve their high ambitions effectively. They don’t give themselves a choice.

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program?

Ultimately, Type A’s need to become as good at improving their task management skills as they are at executing tasks. This kind of meta-activity is a feature of all high performers who reach the heights of their disciplines. Serena Williams, Lewis Hamilton and Tom Brady are all great self-coaches. The RAP is designed to develop your meta-skills, by taking you through your first structured self-diagnosis at a slow enough pace to be able to do it on your own in the future.

By the end, you have a new level of self-knowledge that becomes the new floor for your learning. The fact that it’s based on sound, scientific fundamentals means that you can use the core ideas for a lifetime.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 10 — Unique Type A Task Management Tendencies was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Part 11 — Correcting Your System to Match Your Task Volume

Part 11 — Correcting Your System to Match Your Task Volume

This superpower will keep your system ever-evolving in the right direction

The Problem

If you have been adding more tasks than ever to your overall commitments, you may have noticed some unexpected changes. You have less unscheduled free time available. More defects (Part 2) occur.

But you don’t exactly know what to do about it. Some suggest you should reduce your task volume by cutting back on projects and commitments, but that’s not a viable solution for you. A more effective response is to add capacity, but that’s easier said than done, especially if you have some Type A tendencies in your task management.

Why Is This Important?

Ambitious people want more out of life than their counterparts, but this demand can turn destructive if it’s not channeled in the right way. In fact, a constructive response requires deliberate choices. It also helps to have knowledge of time demands (Part 1), Type A tendencies (Part 10) and task volume limits (Part 8).

Think back to when you first started to make task management improvements. You took a class or read a book, and picked up some new behaviors, which over time became new habits.

One way to explain your success is to say that you increased your capacity. To use the jargon of Part 8, you increased the size of the box containing your balloon full of tasks. Therefore, you could accommodate a bigger balloon.

So, the good news is that you have done this before…perhaps unconsciously. As a teenager, you used your budding time-awareness to make improvements to your task management that increased your capacity. And while you can’t go back in time and make the same changes, you can find comfort: most teens are able to figure out this transformation on their own.

Not so for adults. Instead, their amnesia on these matters leaves them confused. Now, they need to be reminded of progress they made, even if it was many years ago. Then they need to appreciate that their beginner’s luck has run out. Adult improvements require greater awareness.

The best place to start? Develop a personal baseline (a profile) of your current capacity. One method is to analyze your skills in each of the 13 fundamentals introduced in Part 9. Armed with this self-knowledge, you can decide which precise Pareto Improvements to make (Part 5).

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP)?

The RAP creates the opportunity to determine which improvements to make, and a plan to make them. But these aren’t random changes.

Instead, they are based on a very quick self-diagnostic, and a new understanding of how task management works in real human life. This approach sets you up to make corrections to your task management system at any point in the future.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 11 — Correcting Your System to Match Your Task Volume was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Part 8 — Why There’s Always a Limit to Your Capacity to Manage Tasks Effectively

Part 8 — Why There’s Always a Limit to Your Capacity to Manage Tasks Effectively

And what happens when you try to exceed it

The Problem

Like most people, you probably wish you could make one, final, ultimate set of changes to your task management system that would last forever. What kinds of changes? Maybe a behavior change to adapt (like a new habit, ritual, routine, or practice), or a new app to download, or a device to acquire.

But experience (and research) show that there is no final solution that lasts forever. Why? Part of the reason is that unwanted symptoms, or defects, show up whenever the volume of tasks you are trying to manage nears your personal limits.

Consider a balloon trapped inside a box. The balloon’s size can be increased or decreased at will, as long as it never touches the sides of the box.

However, if you increase the volume of air in the balloon past a certain point, the walls of the two objects start to touch. Eventually, the balloon loses its shape and deforms. If even more air is added, it bursts.

Now imagine that:

  • the box represents the upper limits of your task management system, made up of your behaviors, apps and devices.
  • the balloon pictures all the tasks you are trying to manage at a given time.
  • its changing shape reflects your total task volume in that moment.

When your personal task volume increases to a certain point — before it reaches the capacity of your system — you don’t have a problem. But once it hits a certain limit, unwanted symptoms or defects occur.

This relationship between task volume, your capacity, and unwanted symptoms is a fact of life — the reality of managing tasks. (The analogy to the balloon in the box is only partial.)

In this context, understanding each of these three components in isolation is just the beginning. However, as a connected system of psychological objects, there is a new level of comprehension that’s possible that makes all the difference when you seek to make improvements.

Why is This Important?

If this model is true for all functioning adults, it could explain a few things. For example, even after we make a number of critical improvements to our task management, unwanted symptoms will probably recur.

To most people, this is bad news. In their minds, a problem they had solved has returned. Unfortunately, some use this evidence to invalidate their progress and those who give advice. For example, Getting Things Done by David Allen is disparaged by many who see the return of unwanted symptoms. They see it as a sign of the guru’s failure. Or their own.

But some escape the trap: for a handful of advanced productivity enthusiasts, the re-emergence of old symptoms is nothing more than an indication of proximity. It has no more significance than the sound a car’s sensor makes as it reverses to a wall.

As such, when unwanted symptoms re-appear, they take the occurrence as a sign: it’s time to perform a fresh diagnosis. The fault is no-one’s.

But they also realize that the solutions they used as a beginner, or last year, or last week, can’t be recycled. Hence the need for a new assessment, and perhaps even better diagnostic tools.

What’s the Link to the Rapid Assessment Program?

In the training, you learn how to use a unique diagnostic toolset to understand your current system. Plus, you are given a full list of unwanted symptoms to work with and a way of mapping them to their behavioral causes, which sit inside your current setup.

These are lifelong tools which apply to all levels of task volume. While better diagnostics will undoubtedly appear in time, you’ll have already made “The Switch” from taking the general advice of others, to using personalized insights based on your self-evaluation.

P.S. While I have used the term “tasks” in this article, I mean “time demands”.

Find out more about the MyTimeDesign Rapid Assessment Program in this webinar.

Part 8 — Why There’s Always a Limit to Your Capacity to Manage Tasks Effectively was originally published in 2Time Labs on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.