More Crackberry Madness

urinal19.gifAn interesting article in the Economist starts with the finding that “35% of BlackBerry users would choose their PDA over their spouse.

While this is entertaining, the real shocker comes a bit later in the article:

The vast majority of people (84%) say they check their PDAs just before going to bed and as soon as they wake up, 85% say they sneak a peak at their PDA in the middle of the night, and 80% say they check their e mail before morning coffee. A whopping 87% of professionals bring their PDA into the bedroom.

This kind of productivity at all costs mentality is exactly what destroys the peace of mind that a PDA is supposed to help to bring.

It speaks to a kind of scatter-brained-ness that results when professionals live as if getting more done is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

How can 85% of Blackberry users be made to understand that “getting more stuff done” is a worthless goal that can never be achieved by itself?

After all, what good is it if someone doubles their productivity and at the same time ruins their sleep,  endangers their marriage and never allows them to focus on whatever is in front of them?

But don’t blame the BlackBerry… it’s only a device.  All it’s done is to illuminate and automate some unproductive habits.

Now, when that person is pretending to be listening to you but are instead checking email, you know that they are not.

Now, when someone should be paying attention to the cars whizzing by at 90 mph, you know they are not.

Now, when you think that you are relaxing with your family at home or on vacation, getting some quality time, you know that you are not.

I predict that the BlackBerry’s usefulness  won’t be measured by the number of emails sent in the middle of the night.  Instead, it will help to shed some light on poor time management practices that need to be amended by those who are apparently addicted.

Last week in La Guardia airport, I think I saw the ultimate in insane habits.

A man was peeing at a urinal, hands free.  It wasn’t because he was a neat freak… he wasn’t even looking down.  Instead, he was looking up over his head, in the direction if his hands, which were both typing furiously awayon the keypad of his BlackBerry.

Talk about multitasking.

When To-Do Lists Don’t Work

fridge-gladiator_freezerator.jpegFor most professionals, To-Do Lists are woefully inadequate.

The reason is simple — they have gotten to the point where they have too many time demands to be handled by a single ToDo list.

In the 2Time system a user has the option of selecting the level at which they mange their lists.  From White belt to Green belt, a user can graduate up a ladder of increasingly skillful ways to improve the way they use lists.

At the very lowest levels, users don’t bother with lists. Instead, they try to use their memory to keep track of the stuff they have to do.  This mental list is not a problem, as long as the number of items they have to remember is small.  The habit of writing a list probably originates in high school, when some students were just not able to keep a mental track of the homework they had to do, and were forced to write things down in order to get them done later.  (A few gifted students might not have had this problem.)

At higher levels, users develop the discipline of making lists, and they notice a vast improvement over their prior habit of trying to remember the things they have to do.  When they become skillful at writing everything down, they notice a smaller but significant jump in their time management skills.

However, the habits that the typical user develops when using their ToDo list gets them into trouble when the number of time demands becomes too large to handle.  For some, this never becomes a problem, but for most, the advent of email has served to increase the number of time demands dramatically.

What are the habits that render a ToDo list unworkable when the number of items increases?

In 2Time terms, what happens is that a ToDo list fails when the entries on the list become a mottley bunch of items that shouldn’t be on one single list, but should be treated by very different actions, or  fundamentals.  The typical ToDo list becomes a grab-bag of different items that are actually serving different needs.  A partial analysis of the typical ToDo list reveals the following.

1. Some items on the list are the result of what is called Capturing.  They are on the ToDo list because they are being temporarily staged until a later moment when it’s more convenient.  The problem occurs for most users when they are weak in the skill of Emptying.  In other words, they fail to reduce the list back to its empty state often enough, or rigorously enough, causing items to be added faster than they are removed.  The result is that their ToDo list grows uncontrollably, and they are forced to start using their memory as a supplement.

While a lack of Emptying is the source of the problem, it’s also useful to see what happens to the ToDo list when other skills are weak.

2.  Some items on the list should be acted on immediately, simply because they are so short that they should be dispensed with at once.  This is called Acting Now.  A failure to do so leaves the item on the ToDo list, where the user hopes that it will not be forgotten.

3. Other items should be put into electronic or paper storage, such as a phone number or email address.  When Storing is not done properly, the item is left on the ToDo list so that the critical information is not lost i.e. for “safekeeping.”

4.  A few items should be written off the list, or Tossed, but instead end up getting lost in the clutter of the items on the ToDo list.  Some people have items on their ToDo list that last for years, which happens easily when the list is kept electronically.

5.   Other items need to be scheduled into a calendar, with an appropriate audible reminder.  Instead of Scheduling the item, however, it remains on the list mixed in with other items where it can also become lost.  Users keep items on a ToDo list in order to try to remind themselves to perform the action at a later time.  When the number is small, this practice works.  However, when the number of items grows to be too large (as it does for most knowledge professionals) the list cannot perform that function.  Instead, the skill of Scheduling is the answer to the problem.

6.  There are some entries in the ToDo list that belong on a separate list of their own, such as a list of items to pick up on the next trip to the market, or a list of topics to be covered in an upcoming meeting.  When they are separated into their own lists, they can then be used a t different times.

As you can see, the typical ToDo list has items that are actually serving very different purposes and need to be disposed of in very different ways.

This places a tremendous burden on the user for the following reason.

The typical item on a ToDo list actually signifies two pieces of critical information — a representation of the item (in writing,) and how it should be acted on (which is kept in memory.)

For example, the following items happen to be on a user’s list at 10:00 am on Friday morning:

Pick up dry cleaning

Mike – 999-555-1234

Remember to ask Burt about project start date

Get materials for Jones project

It’s clear what the items say, but what exactly should be done with the item next is not stated on paper, and instead must be remembered by the user.  Here is the information that must be stored in the user’s memory

Pick up dry cleaning  (5:15pm -6:00pm today after work, and make sure that the dinner date isn’t tonight, otherwise reschedule)

Mike – 999-555-1234 (This should be placed in Outlook and on my cell phone)

Remember to ask Burt about project start date  (Remind myself the next time I see him after his vacation to give me the date)

Get materials for Jones project  (This item is not needed as the project has been canceled, but the items was entered before the cancellation.)

This is hardly an unusual situation — the ToDo list is such a mixed bag that the sorting must be done mentally, and the results must be stored in personal memory for some later time in the future.

The ToDo list therefore forces the user to keep critical information in their head about each item, and this is one reason why the list becomes overwhelming — the user simply has to manage too many thoughts in their mind in total, even though each single item has only a small piece of information to be remembered.

When a refrigerator has too many unsorted items in it, the results are predictable — the left-over dinner rolls somehow drift out of sight and eventually go bad.  Recently, we moved to a new townhouse, and my wife is complaining that she is without a shoe-shelf for the first time.  Her many pairs of shoes have ended up in a single large bag, with the result being that she ends up wearing the same two pairs of shoes all the time.

The ToDo list becomes just like the full refrigerator and the bag of shoes — too hard to sort through.

The alternative is to master the 7 Essential 2Time fundamentals, and to improve one’s skill levels.  When a skill such as Scheduling is mastered at a high level, the ToDo item —   Pick up dry cleaning  —  would be simply placed in the calendar in the appropriate time-slot, and the challenge of ensuring that it doesn’t conflict with the dinner date would be handled immediately.  This is assuming that the dinner date is also scheduled into an appropriate time-slot on whatever date it pertains to.

The result here is simple — the fundamental skills of 2Time allow for greater peace of mind, because they rely less on the user’s memory than a ToDo list does.  At the higher belt levels, there is actually no need for a ToDo list.  Instead, it has been replaced by a more sophisticated set of skills and tools.

As mentioned before, the higher belt levels  are not necessary for everyone.  Each user must decide for themselves whether or not a ToDo list works adequately for them or not with respect to their productivity and peace of mind.  I have noticed, however, that users who experience an increase in time demands often find it necessary to graduate from a simple ToDo list to the skills and tools employed at the higher belt levels.

In the 2Time approach, all levels are acknowledged as valid, and it’s simply a matter of choosing a belt level that gives the individual user the peace of mind they require and desire, given their particular environment.

Tech Firms Combine to Combat Email Overwhelm

istock_000003289601xsmall.jpgA most remarkable article in the June 14th New York Times entitled “Lost in E-Mail, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast” starts with the following quote:

The onslaught of cellphone calls and e-mail and instant messages is fracturing attention spans and hurting productivity. It is a common complaint. But now the very companies that helped create the flood are trying to mop it up.

The problem of email overload is described in detail, and cites a recent study that found that a typical information worker consults their email more than 50 times per day, and instant messaging some 77 times per day.

Also coming out of recent research is the finding that interruptions in an information worker’s day are costing U.S. corporations alone some $650 billion per year.  (The initial quote in the Times was corrected to change the word “millions” to “billions.”)

Companies are trying different strategies to limit the interruption.  Intel workers are trying to check email less frequently. A Google software engineer introduced a program called “E-Mail Addict, which blocks the user from accessing email for 15 minutes.

So far, so good.  These findings seem to corroborate most email users’ personal experience.  This is a real problem indeed.  New terms are being coined to address the issue like “email bankruptcy” and “email apnea” (what happens when a user unconsciously holds their breath when they see how many new items they have in ther inboxes.)

But is the problem one of email volume, poor email etiquette, badly designed software, or something else?

The answer seems to lie in an experiment that some Intel engineers began to announce “quiet time” to their colleagues.  In this way they limited their interruptions from other people, and also turned off access to their email.   In a survey following the experiment, three-quarters thought that the practice should be extended to the rest of the company.

I think that the idea that the problem lies in the software, or in etiquette is wrong.

Instead, I believe it resides in the poor time management habits of users.

The reasoning is simple.  An incoming email that is not immediately deleted is being kept by the user for a reason– they have made a very quick mental decision to perform an action on that message at some later time.

There is nothing wrong with that, except when it’s accompanied by the habit of leaving the email in the inbox.

That’s a little like putting something in your  mouth, liking the taste, and deciding to save some for later in one’s mouth.  It’s a gross concept, but an inbox is like a mouth — a place for temporary staging.  While food is staged in the mouth, normally a decision is made that is followed by an action.

Storage of food in the oral cavity is  generally detrimental to the welfare of the mouth (chewing tobacco and gum are notable exceptions to the rule.)

In the same way, storage of email in the inbox is a habit that leads to overwhelm.  A different habit of immediate removal is the initial practice that some are using to effectively deal with even hundreds of incoming email each day.

Also, working in an environment that is open to distractions from incoming email or other people or a cell phone or anything else is also a habit that contributes to overwhelm.

The point here is that email overwhelm is the result of using habits that were just not geared for the digital age.  Most working adults developed their productivity habits when paper was the norm, and the volume of incoming information and time demands was limited.  They in turn taught their techniques to the next generation, who were never taught new methods in school, or in the workplace.

The resulting overwhelm is only to be expected, as the sheer volume of time demands entering the mind-space of today’s knowledge worker through different channels has simply exploded.  Also exacerbating the problem is that fact that there is no proper research being done today in the area of time management. The result is that there is no agreement on the common set of practices that professionals should adopt.

Working professionals don’t need better software, although that would help a little.  Without a digitally-driven set of new habits, re-engineered software and classes etiquette will only contribute to the overwhelm.

 The original New York Times article can be found here.

Information on Using PDA’s for Productivity

Just curious… but is there a site on the internet that actually evaluates PDA’s in terms of their original intent – productivity?

I have looked around and there is a lot of information on the additional entertainment doo-dah’s, but nothing about the 11 fundamentals that are addressed here in 2Time.

I imagine that there is room for a product that is actually built around the way people capture time demands and then manage them.

Let me know if there is such a site, or if there is a PDA that is being designed in this way.

650 billion (not million) in Interruptions

An interesting article in the New York Times entitled”Lost in Email, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast.”

Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.

The article describes one study that shows that some 28% of a professional’s day is spent deal with interruptions by things that aren’t urgent or important.

This seems all well and good… until they give the example of “unnecessary email.”

That made me pay attention, because I know from experience that the problem isn’t the technology, but instead it lies in people’s habits. In others, don’t blame Microsoft Outlook for the habit of checking and acting on email ten times per day.

Not surprisingly, the article cited the example of Intel workers who were encouraged to “limit digital interruptions” and were way more effective as a result. No surprise there! Limiting the interruptions allows for a greater opportunity to enter into the flow state, which is one of the goals of the 2Time Management system.

On engineer has apparently introduced a tool that will prevent a user from having access to his/her email inbox! I thought this was funny at first, because it’s a little like freezing one’s credit cards in a block of ice to prevent impulse purchases. It works, but it doesn’t really change the underlying habit.

The effect of poor habits is now being seen as quite costly:

A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure by RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer habits. The company, which draws its data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.


Right at the end of the article a typo caught my attention that stopped me in my tracks altogether…

Correction: June 18, 2008
An article on Saturday about efforts to cut down on information overload in the workplace, using data from the research firm Basex, gave an incorrect estimate in some editions for the annual cost of unnecessary interruptions at work. It is $650 billion — not million.

Bought — a New / Old PDA

My agonizing is over — after a few days of heavy thinking I replaced my broken Palm Tungsten T… with a refurbished Palm Tungsten T.

Q. What lead to this particular bout of insanity?

A. Well, in a word it boiled down to “convenience.”

I resisted the temptation to buy the aging (but much newer) Tungsten T|X. The price of US$299 had something to do with it.

I also found a way to withstand a purchase of the new iPhone. I read over the reviews carefully, and after I assess the way in which I would use my PDA, I concluded that I didn’t really want to change any of my current habits without a damned good reason. The iPhone, Tungsten T and all the other PDA’s out there that I could find were more about adding features that had nothing to do with being more productive.

That is, unless you count being able to surf the internet and send and receive email on the train as a sign of greater productivity. Or listen to music. or figure out one’s latitude and longitutde.

In other words, I couldn’t find a single PDA that would help me execute the basics of time management and productivity even a little bit better. I could do a lot of other new things with greater speed, but nothing I really cared that impacted my peace of mind would actually change.

For that reason, in the absence of proper feedback on this dimension, I chose the option of continuing to use my spare batteries, add-on programs, chargers, Palm wallet with notepad, screen protectors and portable keyboard. If the new devices are’t able to improve my execution of the fundamentals then they just aren’t useful to me.

And until a “PDA Designed for Productivity” comes out, I expect to make more decisions such as this one.

Choosing a New PDA

palms-assortedpalms.jpgAfter a day of trying to fix my 5 year-old Palm Tungsten T I am just about to throw in the towel.  In my haste, I made a bid on ebay for a used Tungsten T for US$25, but now I am wondering if I did the right thing.

What should I be really looking for at this point?

Lately it seems that the productivity market for PDA’s has been ignored, and what has come into vogue is a massive case of feature creep with PDA’s being “augmented” by any electronic tool that can be found lying around.  Today we have the following list of options:

  • PDA + cell phone
  • PDA + camera
  • PDA + GPS
  • PDA + iPod/mp3 player
  • PDA + video camera
  • PDA +HD radio
  • PDA + ebook reader
  • PDA + Gaming device
  • PDA + browser
  • PDA + IM’s
  • PDA + SMS
  • PDA + Television remote (no kidding)

And of course, there are various combinations of the above optional items.

Over time, the “PDA” portion of each device has shrunk in favor of the new “bling-bling,” giving less space and resources on the device to the management of time demands.  in the advertising, the important has given way to the entertaining and frivolous. As a result, it’s become harder to find a PDA that is devoted to productivity.

After looking around a bit, it’s hard to find a company that is even thinking of productivity in the terms that we use them here at 2Time — managing time demands to increase peace of mind and user productivity.

I am open to recommendations, but a bit taken aback that in the last five years since I bought my Tungsten, no progress has been made in designing PDA’s that more closely fit the needs of users.  (I have the same complaint about Microsoft Office, which has essentially changed only its color scheme between XP and 2007 versions.)

I’d love to find a company that is serious about building productivity software and hardware around the actual needs of users, taking into account the fact that users must deal with an increasing number of time demands in an effective way.  I think that the first company to come up with a system that is more than just a conglomeration of disconnected features is likely to do quite well.

In the meantime, my search continues.  As I indicated earlier, I am open to suggestions, but I think that I’ll be limiting my search to Palm OS devices, given the number of programs I have purchased based on that OS.  That limits my choices tremendously, but if I get my PDA working again, I think I’ll nurse it along until someone comes up with a better device.


There is a service that I have been using lately called, and it’s a nifty, simple tool for delegating action items.

It allows a user to send an email to another person requesting that they complete an action item by a particular date.  In other wrds, itall ows you to put “the monkey on someone else’s back.”

While it’s missing some features I have seen in more sophisiticated programmes (such as a the ability of the recipient to actually affirm that they are accepting the promise) the idea is a very simple one, and it ensures that assignments don’t fall through the cracks.

At the moment, this has nothing to do with 2Time, except that it carries forward the principle of taking things out of your memory, and placing them in a system.  A reader of this blog made a comment a few months ago that “Delegating” might be another fundamental.

I have been considering this idea, as everyone (other than those who work absolutely alone) must rely on others to get work done.   Tools like this are essential to manage multiple promises.

Over in my business blog, I came up with the idea of a promisphere — an environment of promises that exists in every company.

 Click here to be taken to these 2 posts on the topic.

This simple tool can be a great help in establishing a clean promisphere.

Productivity and Choosing a New PDA

pdas.jpgiPhone? Palm Handheld? Palm phone? ipaq? Dell? Razr?

The choices are numerous, and the technologies being used today are simply mind-boggling. When I encountered the first iPhone in person
I was stunned at what Apple had created – an amazing blend of functionality and aesthetics.

It was at the very least a tasty piece of techno-candy.

But is a PDA more than just a portable entertainment device? Does it actually make a person more productive? Should a user always be chasing after the latest gadget? If a product has a new function that is new, does it deserve to become an object that I carry with me each day, showing it off as my new piece of techno-jewelry?

How does a user see past the features that have nothing to do with being productive, to determine which ones are important? Once the right features are determined, how should they be evaluated?

Why I Am Asking
I happen to own and use a Tungsten T, and this week I almost made a decision to upgrade it to a newer Tungsten TX. The single reason that almost pushed me to do so is the fact that on a flight this week, my battery died in mid-sentence. As a frequent writer, this was right up there with my heart stopping in mid-stride.

I was so pissed I made plans right then and there to purchase the new device, if it had a better battery life.

Well, it does have better battery life, but my plans were changed when I learned that I’d have to buy a new keyboard… a wireless keyboard that consumes battery life. I learned from my reading that my current keyboard would not work with the TX, which meant another US$69 purchase. At the very best, I’d have to spent some US$350 or so, just for more battery life. I opted instead to purchase another 2 batteries for my Tungsten T, setting me back some $12.99, including shipping.

Converting Down-time to Productive Time

The seems to be 2 kinds of productivity that a PDA can be used to improve.

The first is simple: A PDA converts down-time to productive time. For example, the time I spend in an airplane seat has become an opportunity to write my articles and blogs, and I will pay extra for a device that ensures that the choice is available to me. I would to also love be able to send and receive email, and browse the internet.

This conversion is particularly important to people who spend time commuting on buses and trains, and are loathe to waste the time doing things like reading the free newspaper, when they could be listening to their favorite music or reading email.

This kind of productivity improvement is obvious to see.

The second kind is less so.

When a PDA is being chosen, the device also has an impact on a user’s productivity in the sense that it changes the way he/she engages in the 11 fundamentals.

For example, a user who purchases a Palm Smartphone to replace her paper pad may discover that she has forced herself into a HUGE change in how she Captures without realizing it. A phone call she gets that gives her a phone number she needs for later can’t be scribbled down in an instant — instead it must be entered into the tricky and time-consuming interface of the PDA.

She has become immediately less productive as a result of her new gadget.

How to Make the Right Choice

The best way to prevent the fiasco of becoming less productive after buying a productivity gadget, is to forget about the gadget for a minute, and instead concentrate on the 11 fundamentals.

Which fundamental is the user trying to improve?

At what expense are they looking to make the improvement?

Will the choice of the new PDA actually destroy the way in which a fundamental is practiced?

Here are the steps I recommend:

1. Go through each of the 11 fundamentals and decide what the appropriate belt level currently happens to be in each discipline

2. Decide which fundamental is the one that requires the most improvement

3. Look to see which PDA would help to improve the chosen fundamental. Look to see what will happen to ALL the fundamentals when the PDA is purchased and used.

4. Make a choice based on the information on hand

What the Manufacturers Are Not Doing

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had the sense that the companies selling productivity solutions — DayTimer, DayRunner, FiloFax, Covey et al
were committed to finding productivity solutions that happened to be paper based.

Now, when I visit any of the PDA or smartphone manufacturer’s sites, I don’t see anything other than a focus on new features.

As an engineer, I confess a certain love of technology. However, I am unwilling to destroy my productivity just in order to obtain a
new piece of techno-candy, no matter how much it enhances my appearance.

The problem is that it’s just so easy, fun and sexy to jump on the internet or visit the Apple store to buy the latest device. And it’s
just so damn hard to sit down and figure out the fundamentals by following the steps I describe above.

It’s the reason why so many gadgets end up at the bottom of so many desk drawers. Trying to engineer an improvement in one’s time
management system by purchasing a PDA without knowing the fundamentals is a hard trick to pull off.

Some are able to do it, but many fail.

Visiting a CrackBerry Forum

money-and-gun.jpgI spent a few minutes this morning starting to do some research into how Blackberry’s are used.

I visited the Crackberry Forum and have looking around for a conversation to join on how their productivity has been improving from using their Blackberry.

I am still searching, but after 30 minutes, I can’t find anything on the topic.

That is, unless one defines productivity as the ability to say “I can send and receive email in the shower,” or “I am addicted to my device.”

While the Blackberry undoubtedly allows its users a certain freedom of movement, that capability does not mean that someone is more productive.  I compare it with another dubious claim — having a new piece of gym equipment at home, does not mean that someone is more healthy.

If there is one thing advertisers are very good at, it’s selling the general public on the idea that achieving their goals has more to do with purchasing equipment, than it does personal habits and practices.  Unless underlying practices change, its hard to imagine how any piece of equipment can make a difference.

I am coming to believe  that  the gains to be made by being able to read  and send email from anywhere, are easily negated by the many, many times that a Blackberry user is distracted from doing the primary task they are out to accomplish.

Here is a case in point, in a post from the forum:

Today I was at my Wife’s dad’s funeral and was sitting in the second row, the first thing my mother in-law did when we sat down was reach behind her to where I was sitting and said, “give it to me”. I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about and refused but I showed her that it was in Vibrate and I wouldn’t be doing anything work related at that time because they knew I was busy with the funeral today. That lasted all of about 5 minutes into the service before I started replying back to e-mails very quietly and attempting to login to one of my servers to restart the anti-spam service because I was getting hammered with SPAM to my BB.

Setting aside the obvious display of bad manners, this kind of behavior costs something to the user, his wife, his mother-in-law and those around him.

This is just not a demonstration of an increase in productivity.

But the  problem doesn’t lie in the device.  The device is superb at doing what it does — providing portable email-based computing.

However, people whose practices are poor don’t benefit from the purchase of a Blackberry, any more than a monkey’s safety improves  when it finds a  working gun in the forest.  In each case, there might be a kind of addiction that makes it a bit useful, but the overall result could very well lead to disaster.