Signs of a Good Time Management System

good-design.gifIn other parts of this blog, I have mentioned that every single professional is using a time management system of their own making.

This is not a problem.

The issue arises when they don’t realize that they are doing so, and the number of time demands rises to a level that overwhelms their system. Then, they don’t know what to do to return to the peace of mind and sense of productivity they had before.

Going on vacation doesn’t help.  Neither does working harder, or spending longer hours at the office.

Some will change jobs, or companies,  in the hope that they can find a position with fewer time demands that their time management system can handle.

However, professionals who take responsibility for their time management systems have another option — they can re-design their systems, and accept that they have to manage how well it runs.

Here are some design criteria that can be used to tell whether or not there is a good match between the volume of time demands, and a user’s time management system.

The first requirement for a good time management system is that the user employ practices that are scalable.  In time management terms, this means that the practice can still be used even if when the number of time demands increases.

For example, the practice of using bits and pieces of paper as capture points does not scale well, as it quickly becomes a problem when the number of time demands to be captured increases in importance or in number.

Another practice that does not scale well is the act of putting paper on your desk to be reminded to work on it in the future.

Both of these practices might work well for a high school student who has homework to remember to do and little else.

However, ten years later, when the student becomes a professional who is managing 5 people, the practice no longer works.  The tremendous number of paper that must be managed on a weekly basis means that paper might mean that neither practice works well.

Another similar practice that worked well when email was a rarity, was the have the computer announce “You’ve got mail” when a new piece of email enters the inbox.  AOL used to use a perky voice to advice a user that something good had just happened, and email had arrived.

In today’s environment, with hundreds of messages being received each day, that practice of announcing the arrival of each email would be enough to drive any professional crazy.

As a time management system is being built, a user must ensure that the practices being put in place can grow with the increase in time demands.  This might take  little imagination, as changes in technology that are happening everyday are likely to disrupt even the best laid plans.  Nevertheless, the principle is still a sound one, even if it can’t be implemented perfectly.

A time management system must have the capacity to do the same thing over and over again.  A hit or miss system that works now and again is sometimes worse than no system at all.

For example, a system that is built on the use of personal memory is one that likely  to be unreliable, as our ability to remember is subject to fatigue, motivation, stress, the pressure of deadlines, the time of day it’s encountered, our emotional state, and numerous other factors.

While the practice of trying to remember to do things later might be popular, it’s hardly reliable and shouldn’t be a regular part of any professional’s time management system.

The rule of thumb is, the less a system relies on personal memory and the more it relies on electronics or paper, the more reliable it is likely to be.

A time management system that works well is one that enables a user to execute time demands precisely. It allows a user to keep enough detail regarding time demands to prevent conflicts, disappearing promises, overflowing email inboxes, etc.

For example, the system would help the user to start meetings, appointments and activities on time, helping the user to never be late.

A system that has only a rudimentary calendar with no spaces for specific time-slots is probably going to be a obstacle to a user that has multiple meetings in a given day, all of which are important.

All in all, a time management system should be designed with these goals in mind, and as new practices are introduced or replaced, they need to be implemented in a way that gives the peace of mind of knowing that they scalable, reliable and precise, and therefore unlikely to fail.

It would give users ways to live their daily lives without the failures that most people take for granted.

The Problem with Time Management

grape-np_46ozorganic.jpgAn interesting article caught my eye the other day entitled “The Problem with Time Management.”

Given my own interests, I grabbed it up, thinking that I could finally retire the entire 2Time effort because, finally, someone else had come up with something better.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the problem with time management turns out to be a poor working relationship with one’s boss.

The author makes the case that most people are focusing on the wrong thing — i.e. their personal productivity — and should instead be trying to better align themselves with the implicit and explicit goals of their immediate manager.

Here’s a quote:

Time management programs usually focus on your personal productivity, analyzing how you choose to spend your time. This is all fine and dandy, but it misses one essential truth: In an organization that’s devoted to banging pots, you better bang pots or have a damn good reason for not banging them.

That’s why, after the PowerPoint presentation had ended and the trainer went home, you fell back into your old, unproductive rhythms — not because you didn’t agree with the time management expert’s analysis, but because you returned to normal life in the world of The Middle . . . which means doing what you think your boss wants you to do. Bang! Bang! Bang!

So, it turns out that time management problems have nothing to do with one’s habits, or de-facto time management system.

And probably there are religious roots also.  And I should think that our mothers are to blame too.

I don’t want to become too sarcastic, but it hardly seems that THE problem with time management can be traced back to this particular source.

It seems to me that the author has simply over-reached in his thinking, or in other words has collapsed two separate frames of thinking into one, producing a messy, illogical argument, but also a neat, snappy headline.

After all, it caught my attention, got my hopes up and got me to read through it twice (to make sure I wasn’t missing something…)

I do, however, think that one of the real problems with time management is the sin of over-reaching that I am accusing this particular writer of committing.

I also happen to have just read the book, “Bit Literacy,” by Mark Hurst, which as some great ideas in it that work for him.  Unfortunately, I found the same tendency to over-reach, and to prescribe too many specifics to too-broad an audience.

It’s a little like discovering that drinking Welsh’s grape juice is a healthy habit, and then recommending that everyone buy the same product and drink it in the same quantities.

The cure to over-reaching is deeper analysis. There is a more subtle reason why drinking Welsh’s can be found to be beneficial, and it could be true that the same benefit might come to a greater number from drinking plain water.

Getting to the more subtle reasons takes hard work, however, and it’s simply easier to talk and write about “Welsh’s” than it is “hydration.”

Unfortunately, when time management writers prescribe too much there is a cost to the reader, in that he/she tries to follow the prescription but finds themselves failing, and cannot discern the reasons why.  When they find themselves unable to enjoy Welsh’s, they end up giving up on hydration altogether.

For example:

“Everyone else seems to be using their Blackberry Pearl to improve their productivity… why can’t I?”

The answer lies not in the writers, however, but “in ourselves.”  Each of us must come to own the fact that we are using time management systems that were consciously or unconsciously designed by us, and we need to find ways to improve the design, or face being buried by the onslaught of digital information that Bit Literacy so rightly predicts.

Click here to be taken to the article: The Problem with Time Management


The Best Time Management System in the World

oscar-1.jpgI have been a bit shy in thinking that I can help people develop the best time management systems in the world.

But the truth is, I actually believe it.

No that I am interested in becoming some kind of weird Pied Piper of Time Mangement… far from it.  Instead, the creator of “the best system” is not me, but it’s a user who understand the Fundamental of Time Management and creates practices that fulfills them.

What makes the time management system “the best” is the fact that someone who creates a system of their own and starts the process of optimizing it for his/her use has started the process of developing a system that is the best… for them.

And what could be better than systems that users develop for themselves?


An Individualized Approach to Time Management

This is a guest post on developing a personal approach to time management by Holly McCarthy.

istock_000004118047xsmall.jpgWith all of the advances in technology over the last several years, many people think that technology alone can help you manage your time more effectively.  While this may be true, it can be very difficult to create a one-size-fits-all approach to time management.  One of the reasons for this is the fact that along with all of these innovations, some people have more or less room for flexibility as a result.

This can be seen in the growth of the telecommuting professional.  Technology has advanced far enough that it is no longer necessary to live in the same city where your office is physically located.  Depending on the type of company you work for, you may need to be available for a certain amount of hours per day, or you may simply be given a quota to fill.  In either case, time management is up to the individual.

Self Assessment

When trying to improve your time management skills, you need to be completely honest with yourself.  If you know you rarely achieve your personal goals each day and have gotten into some bad habits, it’s time to address these issues.  What tools do you have at your disposal that make your life easier when it comes to working and managing your time?

Look at your home office.  Chances are you have many different tools that could be used if you wanted to use them.  There are many free applications on line as well.  Is your time management and planning system working for you?  Be honest with yourself.  Do you need a PDA, or does paper work better for you?  The most important thing when assessing yourself is to figure out what is and isn’t working and why.

Personalize and Individualize

After taking a good look at your current methods of managing your time, fix things to suit your needs personally.  If you don’t really get anything accomplished in the evening, start working earlier in the day.  Any distractions that may be around the house could be eliminated.  Working when people are around may be difficult, so try to work when you know the house will be empty or relatively empty.

Of course, individualizing your time management action plan all hinges on you and your ability to assess your own needs.  If all you need is a calendar and a notepad to get the juices flowing and keep track of things, do it.  Sometimes learning a new system or software wastes more time than it ends up saving you.  The main goal is to improve your own abilities, not to do what works for someone else.  It has to work for you and if it doesn’t, you will ultimately end up paying the price.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of continuing education online. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com

New NewHabits Design

planning-culture.jpgI am considering a change to the way in which I conduct my live programs.

The current NewHabits-NewGoals programs that I offer in the Caribbean are 2-day affairs that give a user everything they need to design their own time management system.  The essential activity is a series of 12 design steps which they construct a custom system of their own, using their own habits as the starting point.

The challenge that many find is that it’s difficult to put together a plan for themselves that include this many elements, as they are forced to use a slightly advanced project management skill that is not taught in the class.

Also, it’s a lot of new data thrown at them all at once, even though  I believe it to be easier to work with than the average time management class.

This has lead me to think that I should cut the live content down to the 7 essential fundamentals, introduce them to the basic ideas behind  habit changing, and then take them straight into the MyTimeDesign program (a 12-week, online program.)

In that program they would have  an immediate choice:  repeat the info they learned in the course at a slower pace, or move onto the advanced fundamentals.

In this way, I could cut the price of the cost for customers, and more closely match their pace of learning with the materials that are presented.  In other words, they could ease themselves into the advanced fundamentals at their own pace, over several weeks, after they have already worked on putting together the essentials of their time management system.

This matches what I have observed in the class —  a certain loss of focus by the second day as participants start to feel a bit overwhelmed by too many new ideas.

To those of you who have completed NewHabits-NewGoals, I’d love to hear from you.

A Time Management System is Like a Hot-Rod

hotrod.jpgWhen I was a teenager growing up in Kingston,  the idea of building your own car, a hot-rod, was an exciting one.

(This was long before there were video games.)

I remember when I attempted to re-build the carburetor on my 1984 Toyota Corolla in an inspired attempt to fix an issue my car was having. The problem of only having a shop manual and a kit to help me didn’t stop me.

Half-way through, I realized that I was in over my head, and that I’d need some special tools to get the job done. When I struggled to put the carb back together I confirmed that I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, and that the 2 extra parts left over should probably have been included at some point.

Designing a car, I learned was a much more complex undertaking than I thought.  Without a knowledge of the fundamentals, I was more than a little dangerous and shouldn’t be found anywhere near a carburetor or a hot-rod.

I gained a new respect for those who successfully build their own hot-rods after this experience.  It looked easier than it
really was.

The same applies to time management systems.   At first glance, they look simple — after all everyone is using some kind of
system that they put together themselves.

The fact that they are doing it without knowing what they are doing  makes things difficult, however.  In general, people’s
feelings towards their time are decidedly disappointing.  Most believe that they are not using their time well,  don’t have
enough time and readily call themselves procrastinators.  Their time management systems don’t produce the peace of mind that most people want.

They are well intended, but lacking the basic information that  makes all the difference in well-executed design.

When someone knows the fundamentals of building a car, it’s not too hard to build any hot-rod.  Professionals who design time management systems with this understanding simply design better systems that give them more of what they want.  They achieve a peace of mind that comes from having their time demands well organized.  They achieve a level of productivity that lets them feel efficient, but doesn’t turn them into a machine.

Elegant design meets the needs of users with a minimum investment of time, energy and money.  The point of building a hot-rod was not to spend a lot of money, but instead to meet a personal need to exercise one’s creativity and ingenuity.  Plus there was the benefit of having your own car to drive.

A good time management system can be just as much fun to invent and to use in one’s day to day life,  And the fun doesn’t end there…. a time management system isn’t static, as it can be upgraded, fixed, tinkered with, improved and reshaped for the rest of one’s career.

Just like a good hot-rod.

Microsoft Outlook Team Blog

outlook-team-blogs.jpgI mentioned in a prior post that I have been looking for someplace on the internet where I could find a serious discussion about the philosphy behind Microsoft Outlook. I hoped that it would include those who developed the software.

Well, I found a website that might be serious.

Check out this link:

I also found the following mesage board, again for serious discussions on Outlook:

Local Productivity — Jamaica

touristbeach1.jpgIt is well established that the productivity levels we experience here in the Caribbean are lower than those of North America.

In a way, that’ s a good thing. After all, who wants to take a trip to a foreign country for the purposes of relaxing only to discover that the environment you are visiting is more stressful than the one you are leaving behind? If productivity is correlated with stress, then certainly one would want neither when visiting a Caribbean destination in order to take a break from the rat-race.

On the other hand, doing business in the region can be a problem.

From my experience, there are simply many more professionals at all positions who exhibit many of the behaviors of people who are swamped. Their email in-boxes are full. They forget appointments. Their cell phones can accept no new messages. They miss deadlines. Phone calls go unreturned. In short, they cannot deal with the volume of time demands that life throws at them. Continue reading “Local Productivity — Jamaica”

Putting it All Together

Once a professional has committed to a lifelong process of mastering the way they manage their time, the 2Time system can become their very best guide.


Starting with each of the elements, a user can decide what level they find themselves at. Going through each of the eleven components, they can assemble a composite description of their current level of mastery. Our advice here is to be conservative, and to resist the temptation to overrate.

Here is a sample Self-Evaluation for a fictitious user who has gained some understanding of the different elements that make up the 2Time system. Continue reading “Putting it All Together”