Getting Over Productivity App and Tech Overload

2Time Labs MyTimeeDesign App Tech Overload

Another holiday season has come and gone, and the latest electronic gadgets have found their way into our hands, briefcases and pocketbooks. Most offer a blend of useful functions and obvious distractions; still, most of us don’t know the net impact they’ll have on our personal productivity in 2013.

Sure, they do allow us to do some new things in exotic places and situations. We now watch TV while mowing the lawn. The bathroom has become an extension of the office as we multitask. Now, when you try to hold a conversation with me, I pretend to listen as I check out the latest score in the fourth quarter of the Giants’ game.

These are worthy gains for some who marvel at mankind’s capacity to generate amazing technology. The rest of us? We might join in saying – “I’m more productive because I can talk to the accounting department in the middle of flight AA993.” But when everyone clutters the cabin with conversation, we wistfully wish for the good old gadget-free days.

I suggest a new standard: don’t consider a productivity gain to be genuine if everyone else can replicate it with the simple purchase of a gadget. Real productivity gains come from lasting changes in habits, practices and rituals.

Is that a true standard? Consider the following observations. Do we, as professionals, make these mistakes? Can we choose not to?

Mistake 1. We buy a new gadget and then proceed to fashion our habits around it.
The cart travels long before the horse; instead of using products to fix known flaws in our habits, we get things backward. It’s as if we can’t help ourselves. Witness the worst offense – texting while driving. No one at RIM, Apple or Nokia ever imagined that dangerous habits and new laws would arise from the use of their devices. They were simply engineers trying to put out good products to meet people’s needs. We are the ones who blindly applied their smartphones in addictive, dangerous ways and justified our new habits as “time-savers.”

Mistake 2. We buy gadgets for convenience, not productivity.
As our lives move faster and we’re blinded by flashy new ads , we forget the difference: convenience is doing the same old thing in a new and different place; productivity is doing it better. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are engaging in some sort of modern-day kaizen, just because the location of an activity is new. The “improvement” requires no real work on our part, only a few dollars spent. Here’s a tip: when we rush to get the latest purchase in order to stay ahead of the Joneses, we aren’t really concerned about productivity.

Mistake 3. We have stopped analyzing our true needs.
Most companies are smart enough to know that a needs-analysis always comes before the purchase of major software or hardware. They establish committees to prevent solo executives from running off to spend millions of dollars based on a single, slick PowerPoint presentation. Unfortunately, we don’t apply that rigorous common sense in our lives. We see smartphones the way we see cars: it’s nice to have the latest model, but we really need to conduct a personal needs-analysis to determine whether or not an upgrade is truly required (or even a downgrade). Only afterwards should we go looking for a solution.

Mistake 4. We aren’t aware that new devices added to our personal productivity systems can mean dramatic gains AND losses at the same time.
For example, the smartphone revolution means that our email access travels with us. That’s a gain. But what about tweeting in the middle of every church service we attend for the rest of our lives? Without a needs analysis, we are unaware of these trade-offs.

Mistake 5. We overestimate our willpower.
Think back to when you bought your first smartphone. You remember others interrupting your meetings to answer every buzz, beep, ring, vibration and flashing light. You swore you wouldn’t ever do the same. Now, look at you. Some executives have been forced to swap their smartphones for plain cell-phones in order to break bad habits. A few companies have banned mobile devices from board meetings because their high-powered advisers lack self-control. Imagine multi-million dollar decisions being interrupted by a friend’s Facebook update.

These choices ARE important, and maybe adopting the new standard I suggest would help us focus on real productivity gains rather than the latest advertising.

Recently, I translated the contents of the book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi into a scaled set of individual skills in order to deepen my practice of this important concept. You can do the same by finding the best personal productivity practices and evaluating your skills against them. Then, do a personal needs-analysis to discover what combination of habit changes and technology improvements can help to fill the gaps. Be aware, however, that repeating this exercise every six months or so may make you do some strange things (like downgrade your smartphone, disable half the functions on your iPad, or delete programs from your laptop.)

The point is to take charge of the continued evolution of your personal productivity system, treating it as the nerve center for every dollar you make, every conversation you have, and every decision that you execute. Maybe it’s that important.

P.S. An article in the Wall Street Journal by Sue Schellenbarger – How Productivity Tools Can Waste Your Time –  prompted me to post this article. It’s been in hibernation since the end of 2012, a bit longer than I intended.


An Experiment in Using More Memory

A fascinating article at the Lifehacker website got my attention – and earned a swift rebuttal from some lifehackers. The article’s author performed an experiment – to use as much memory as possible, and to use as few external devices as he could get away with.

How I Learned to Rely on My Memory (and Stop Relying on Technology)


In the article the author, Thorin Klosowski, makes a determined effort to try to remember more things by using fewer tech devices. He takes it on as a bit of an experiment, and at the end (even after a few failures) decides to try harder to remember more things than before.

The comments after the article taught me a few things… I had no idea that postpartum memory loss was real. I don’t have kids, so I thought it was a bit of a joke but there is solid research that shows that some life-changes can produce this effect.

What do you think?

Who Cares What Time You Come to Work?

A few years ago, I remember talking with a friend who was telecommuting and saving an hour each way in traffic.  At first, it sounded great!  That is, until I heard about the electronic snooping, keystroke recording, logging and clicking in, and webcams that were used to track whether or not she was really working or goofing off.

It sounded worse than working in the office.

A couple of companies have moved in completely the opposite direction, and given their employees complete freedom to set their own hours.  What’s remarkable is that these companies are are well-known national retailers:  Best Buy and the Gap.

Not only are they allowing their employees the freedom to do this, but in a recent study of the results at Best Buy, those who chose to set their own hours were found to be taking better care of their health, experiencing less work-family conflict and reduced turnover (from 11% to 6%.)

While this is good news, it would be interesting to know what the impact might be on the productivity of the salespeople who are the targets of the ROWE program. (ROWE stands for “Results Only Work Environment.”)  That would truly get the attention of forward-looking companies.

What caught my attention, however, was the fact that there was a control group that did not sign up for the ROWE program.  It made me think that there might be some who are just not interested in that much freedom, and just want to collect a paycheck for doing a certain amount of work.

It also made me think that the company would do well to give their employees in the ROWE program an opportunity to upgrade their time management skills. Simply giving employees the ability to manage their own time does not necessarily mean that they are more effective.

In fact, giving them more freedom would make things more difficult for anyone who must now make a number of new decisions about how they schedule their time, for the very first time.  Without higher skills, they could easily find that their productivity drops.

This isn’t as unusual as it sounds.  Whenever we undergo major life changes, it’s often the case that a review and upgrade of our personal productivity is required, just to be as productive as we were before the change occurred.

For example, I moved my place of residence over the weekend to an older residence with a gorgeous view of the Jamaican interior.  As beautiful as the view is, moving has always caused a dip in my productivity as habits that were prompted by the physical environment need to be re-crafted from scratch.

The effect of these major life changes, whether they be a relocation or a ROWE program, is tremendous, and they deserve to be respected as such.  It’s a good time to revisit our time management systems to see whether or not they can, in fact, hold up.

(The picture above was taken yesterday morning, our first.)

Our Open House Continues… a Teleclass!

Our Open House is in full swing and people are registering in the Free and Plus programs as speak.  It’s an exciting moment in the history of 2Time Labs!

On Thursday night (Oct 6th), the adventure continues with a teleclass entitled “Breakthroughs You Can Use.”  I’ll be sharing how you can use the findings on the most recent time management research in Scheduling (Dezhi Wu) and Habit Change (Patterson et al.) to derive personal shortcuts to personal productivity and peace of mind.

Here are the details of the call:

Conference Details
Scheduled Conference Date: Thursday, October 06, 2011
Scheduled Start Time: 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time
Participant Access Code: 676330
Dial-in Number: 1-270-400-1500 East Coast
See you on the call!

Finding Software that Links Goals to Habits

I found an interesting program that connects goals with not only tasks, but the habits that need to change to make them happen.

On a consulting call with a client earlier today, she bemoaned the fact that managers were allowing strategic plans to fall through the cracks.  I described that fact that old habits executed daily aren’t enough to implement some new plans — they require new habits.  Unfortunately, they are often hard to learn.

Maybe this software could help:  Goals on Track.

N.B. Sorry about the incorrect link posted earlier.

What I’m Learning from Doing Better Reviews

Once again, I am tinkering with my time management system.

A little background… the belt system set up here at 2Time Labs describes skills ranging from White, Yellow, Orange and Green belts.

It goes no further than these 4 skill levels because I wanted to be able to set higher belts, as they are discovered and articulated.  Also, I gave myself room to grow by intentionally crafting at least one Green Belt element that I have not achieved. It means that while I talk about the wonders of Green Belt skills, that I do so from the vantage point of an Orange who one day hopes to claim not just one but many other, higher belts.

An essential practice to master to move up from one skill level to the next is a Review of my system, both in terms of the content that in it, and how well I am executing each of the 11 fundamentals practices.  In the past I have left this review to happen on an ad-hoc basis, which simply means that it wouldn’t happen unless I led a live NewHabits program — I learn a lot about my personal system, and where it’s faulty when I have to teach a course.

As soon as I started the review I realized that my profile needed to be updated.  Some practices were stronger, while others were weaker but I’m not sure if that’s due to the improved tools I have for analyzing each practice, or because I have changed habits over time.

Here is my current profile — those who have taken either MyTimeDesign or NewHabits training programs would know what

In keeping with the 2Time Labs convention, I am an Orange belt, which is the lowest belt on my chart.

It’s easy to slip back down to a lower level, and destroy one’s piece of mind.  I learned that when I do my review, I am able to catch these slips much earlier, hopefully preventing a bigger problem from happening.

Unfortunately, there was a slip in Tossing when I learned that users have a bad habit of maintaining empty folders in Outlook.  Back I went to an Orange Belt when I learned how many empty folders I currently have, a practice that is simply unsustainable.

Maybe this is what progress looks like… taking steps to move forward and backward as more/better information becomes available about the higher belts.

Coming soon — if you’re interested in joining me on this journey of self-improvement, sign up for early notification for MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free.

The REAL Secret to Personal Productivity

This BNET article was written with such a cheeky tone that I couldn’t tell whether the author, Steve Tobak, was serious or not: The Real Secret to Personal Productivity.

But I endorse his conclusion — true productivity is a function of discipline and focus, yet that shows up as something different in each person.

Actually, I’d go a step further and say that there’s no way to tell if someone has these two traits by simply observing them.  For example, you may come to believe that someone has incredible commitment, only to find out that they are suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or something akin to it.

We are on much safer ground if we focus on habits, practices and rituals, simply because these are observable, and the frequency can be verified easily.  I might not care if you are disciplined and focused, as long as you have the right habits to get stuff done.

Therefore, I doubt that there’s any “real secret” that lies in anything that cannot be put on film, and used as evidence in a court of law.

Importantly, this also indicates what a manager should focus his/her coaching advice on… observable behaviors, rather than opinions and judgments that are unreliable, and always biased.


An “Up” from Jawbone

An interesting post from the Fast Company website might be the beginning of some of the problems we have in measuring time management upgrades.

The product is a sensor that looks like a wristband, and can be used to track all sorts of movements that a user might conduct in the normal course of a day.  There might be no need to track your time usage manually each day, if it works as described, and you might be able to do the kind of real experiments that are needed to see whether or not a change in a single habit really helps, or just feels good.

The product is called “Up” and the company that makes it has a very cool name:  Jawbone.