A Study of Caribbean Time Management

negril01.jpgAs I have often said, my inspiration for this blog comes from a move I made from Hollywood, Florida, USA to live here in Jamaica.

If you are from outside the Caribbean,  you probably have an impression that the whole idea of living in the Caribbean is that time isn’t an issue at all… “No Problem, Man!”

The fact is that tourists to our region absolutely, definitely want a laid-back stress-less experience.  They want to feel as if time, deadlines and schedules simply don’t matter.

However, there is an irony that I recently explored in a time management course I led in the Bahamas.

Tourists want the experience of being laid-back, but they don’t sloppy execution while they have that experience.

In other words, their time management might go to hell for the 10 days they are on vacation, but they want the restaurant to open up on time, and to have everything on the menu available, and to be fully staffed.

The don’t want to hear that the restaurant is closed because half the staff is stoned, and sitting on a beach somewhere.

This paradox is one that lies at the heart of the Caribbean tourist product, and many visitors are willing to tolerate a bit of slack execution, but not a whole lot.

To put it in 2Time terms, they don’t want to find out that the whole bunch of white belts are running around behind the scenes ruining things for everyone.

With that in mind, I have been tackling the unique challenges we have here in the Caribbean when it comes to time management.

To be honest, this is the kind of stuff  that’s not normally shared far and wide, and some people would rather that I not address issues like the impact that 400 years of slavery has had on our people’s time management.

Nevertheless, I imagine that some would find the article and/or the podcast pretty interesting, as it does give a peek inside a culture that is typically hidden from the world.  While Bob Marley and others have done a great job sharing some aspects of Jamaican culture in particular, many of the hot button issues are things that don’t make it into the music.

Click here to be taken to the article and the podcast “The Problem of Caribbean Time.”


A New Hypothesis

tom_hanks_cast_away.jpgIn the past few weeks I have been giving some serious thought to what is missing in most time management programs.

I now think it’s pretty simple — most people love the ideas they hear in the seminar/book/website, and there seems to be some convergence of ideas in all the systems that I am aware of.

This is good.

From a 2Time point of view, they are covering more and more of the fundamentals of time management, and presenting complete systems that make sense.  This kind of cross-fertilization is a good thing, and I certainly have benefited from ideas presented in a variety of places, starting with those learned in graduate school.

However, good ideas are not enough.

While everyone might leave a seminar, close the book or click out of a website and love what they have read,  the typical reader would still end up failing to implement what they learned.

The reason?

One piece of the puzzle is that they don’t understand that they are working to change a complex system of habits that they are already using, and not starting from a blank canvas, which is what the gurus seem to assume.  They compare learning their systems to learning a martial art, an analogy I happen to like, and use.

However, learning a new time management system is a bit like having a green belt in karate and then deciding to learn judo.  The very little I know about the martial arts suggests that there are more than a few habits that would have to be un-learned to make the transition.  Someone who is making the transition could hardly be expected to do so by simply reading a judo book.

In like manner, it’s easier to learn a new language when you it’s your very first language.  Un-learning the habits of pronunciation and grammar take some time, and only a few adults are able to speak a second language like a native without years of practice.

The key to both transitions is the practice, support and the community that’s required.

The same applies to those who learn new time management techniques.  There are lots of sources of good ideas… but how do I get the practice I need to become a master?

My new hypothesis is simple: more people would be successful in upgrading their time management systems if they had the post-learning support that is required to make the transition to higher levels of mastery.

Left on their own, there are a few who are able to generate the discipline that’s needed to develop and master complex skills.  Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway” comes to mind.  An executive teaches himself survival, navigation and sailing skills in order to escape from a desert island.

Most of us would have probably not made it off the island, however, and a LOT of us would not have learned the survival skills to last a month!

Luckily for us, technology is changing rapidly, and it’s becoming easier and less costly to construct the kind of communities needed to support us in learning new time management skills.  The cost, energy and time to do the following are plummeting:

  • find people of like mind and commitment
  • get coaching quickly
  • discover insights and shortcuts on implementing new habits
  • set up automatic tracking mechanisms that don’t require personal effort (e.g. a trainer that calls you at 5:00 am each morning to come to the gym)
  • create leverage using incentive$
  • put together plans for gradual change over time that are realistic, and don’t require miracles
  • use the best new ideas as soon as they are discovered
  • develop back-up plans
  • join teams with people who are at a similar stage of development, and won’t let you quick
  • assistance in setting up new rituals
  • have chances to connect with higher goals, life-purpose and whatever higher power they happen to believe in

Anyone who is familiar with what it takes to break or create new habits will recognize some of the results of the latest research embedded in the above list.  With the internet, these are much easier to set up.

My thinking is that one of the versions of my next custom program, MyTimeDesign 2.0, will provide this kind of support to anyone who wants it.

So, what do you think?  Is this a hypothesis that makes sense?

Vid – Why Most People Fail

Here is a brief video I did that explains why most people fail in their efforts to implement new time management systems.

I posted an article with some similar ideas over at the Stepcase Lifehack website, and I received a comment from a user who called the idea of upgrading rather than replacing a “gentler approach.”


Stickking to New Habits

stickk-logo.jpgWhile I’m happy with the ideas on this blog, and I truly believe in the power of Time Management 2.0, I still have the feeling of being stuck in Habit Changing 101.

In other words, I’m still not satisfied with the speed and ease with which I’m able to change habits.

This is THE critical point when it comes to making a change in a time management system. All the theory that I’ve addressed on this site is useless if it’s impossible for users to change their habits to implement them.

What I do know is the following:

1) Habit changing is an individual phenomenon. Each person must work with himself or herself to find the right cocktail of methods that succeed. In my case, it seems that I even need to change my approach over time, as what used to work in the past no longer works today.

2) Finding the right “cocktail” takes extraordinary self-awareness and no small measure of patience.  What we often call “laziness” and a “lack of discipline” are often not these things at all; they have more to do with a lack of awareness than a personality defect. Most people try to double their determination, and they vow to “get more serious” with themselves. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that habits have a “muscular memory” that often defies grim demands I make of myself, so that rarely works.

Last week, a partner of mine referred me to a new site — Stickk.com — and it truly struck a chord with me as a tool that could be added to my blend of reinforcement techniques.

The idea is simple. You create a goal, and then set up human and monetary supports to help accomplish it.

The human supports consist of people who are on, and off, Stickk to hold you to account in accomplishing it.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then here’s more — you can actually put some “cold, hard cash” at stake, so you forfeit it if you don’t accomplish your goal.

As a triathlete (and someone who’s known to be thrifty/cheap), I know that there’s a difference between the races I think about doing and those that I actually pay to do.

For example, I have a race to complete on October 31 in Montego Bay, here in Jamaica. I paid for it in July, and it’s made a tremendous difference to my training to know that it’s coming. As a result, I spent 90 minutes in the pool this morning swimming almost 3,000 meters, in my least-favored sport of the three.

I know that when I put enough money down for a race, as I did for an Ironman in 2005, I increase the odds that I’ll accomplish the goal.

In an earlier post, I shared that I used a Habit Tracker as my daily tool to perform the daily practices I’m likely to forget. One of them is particularly difficult to do each day: “Do One Thing for My Wife that’s Unseen.” I’ve been failing at this new practice in spectacular fashion, and I’m thinking that I should try the Stickk approach to see if I can “help” myself make it happen.

Maybe I live without having to be more serious, determined, or disciplined.

P.S. If you’d like to be one of my “referees” or “supporters” in working on this goal, simultaneously with testing out Stickk, shoot me a message from my Contact Page. Tell me a little about yourself and why you’d like to participate in this particular experiment.

As Weak as Your Weakest Link

chain.jpgOne of the joking complaints I receive in my NewHabits workshops has to do with my decision to grant belts only when users have shown themselves to be proficient across the board at that level.

In other words, no Yellow Belt is awarded to an individual until each of the fundamental disciplines is at a Yellow Belt level.

Some might say that this is unfair, but I think the principle is a sound one.

A time management system is well constructed when all of the interrelated parts work well together. One faulty part can cause the entire system to fail. The parts happen to be interdependent with one another, much in the way that one foot depends on the other when someone attempts to run.

Time demands that enter our lives are dealt with by one fundamental, and then another, until those demands are completed.

Some might say that the fundamentals are like different swimming strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. They are each independent strokes that have little to do with one another.

A time management system, however, is more like an individual medley event in which a swimmer is handicapped if one stroke is ineffective. The entire race suffers because one stroke is weak.

One of the problems that most commercial time management systems like Getting Things Done, Do It Tomorrow and others have is that they’re strong in some fundamentals and weak in others. Users aren’t taught how to upgrade their time management systems beyond the example provided — or taught that it’s even an option.

Users need to be savvy and understand that their time management system is something that fits only them. No one else’s system will provide a perfect fit, and they shouldn’t try to force themselves into someone else’s habit or pattern.

We need to retain ownership of our time management systems as we read this blog, read David Allen’s book, or take Covey’s class. They should all be seen as useful inputs to OUR systems and as possible sources of assistance as we perfect our lives.

Escalating Interrupters

check.jpgOnce I was late for a call with former coach.

What made it more significant  than just ordinary lateness was the fact that this was the first call we had arranged.

Her response was even more drastic, to my mind.  She put a clause in our contract that stated that if I were late for another call, the rate I as paying her would go up by 50%, and if I were late again, it would go up by 100%.

Needless to say, I was never late again!

This simple system of escalating reinforcement got me thinking.

Lots of people try to motivate themselves to develop new habits, but fail to create mechanisms that are designed to kick in when their commitment fails.  I’m not sure how this would work for getting rid of bad habits like smoking, but here is an idea of what it would look like for someone who wants to commit to exercise, for example.

Write a series of checks to a work-out partner (e.g. for US$50 each.)  Tell them that for each week that you keep your commitment to turn up at the gym, they are allowed to destroy one check.

If you don’t keep your commitment for a week, they are allowed to cash the check and spend the money in any way they decide.

Then, the game continues, except that the stakes are raised to US$100 per week instead.

The wonderful thing about this is that there is an actual cost for not showing up at the gym — the cost to one’s personal health.  So, in a way it’s just a vivid reminder that skipping a workout does not take place without a cost.

I think that many people would refuse to agree to this kind of self-reinforcement, simply because they are not serious, and would prefer to keep up a pretense of being committed.  If that were to happen, I think it would be a good thing, as it would separate serious commitments from casual, feel-good promises that we often make to ourselves.

What do you think?

Inspiration from Total Immersion

total-immersion.jpgIt’s funny, but over the past week or so I have been picking up the original threads of thought that inspired me to think that there was a better way to think about time management.

The first indication occurred when I read the book “Work the System” by Sam Carpenter.  I discovered how much I had been influenced by Michael Gerber’s books, starting with “The e-Myth Revisited.”

The second indication came as I started to prepare for my next triathlon, which is some four months away.  I am only a proficient swimmer because of the work I have done over the years on my freestyle stroke, based on the work of Terry Laughlin at Total Immersion.

I picked up his book for triathlon swimmers once again,  so that I can begin to work on my stroke and efficiency.  I was quite surprised to see how much of his ideas had seeped into my subconscious, at a few levels.

One level is related to the actual content of the book, which has presents a whole new way of thinking about swimming that flies in the faces of conventional  wisdom.

The other level has to do with the emphasis on continuous practice, in order to eke out small gains and improvements over time.  Terry encourages swimmers to change their thinking from “doing laps,”  and instead to think about their time in the water as “practice time” — an opportunity to ingrain into their bodies a specific new movement, position or tweak.  Each session must have a plan, and the swimmer shouldn’t end the session without being a better swimmer in some small way.

This focus on developing small, seemingly inconsequential habits is the key to becoming a better swimmer who is more streamlined in the water, uses less energy and therefore performs better on the bike and the run, which together take up much more time than the swim.

My hope in developing this blog, and the thinking behind 2Time is that users will come to see that it’s possible to improve their time management skills by taking a similar approach.

If they are able to figure out the simple changes in practice that are needed to happen, then it’s possible to make them a reality with a focus on changing small habits, or practices.

A top swimmer  cannot escape the requirement of ongoing practice, if they hope to improve.  A professional is no different. It’s crazy to think that there is some way to implement new habits of time management without practicing them over and over again until they become second nature, and greater productivity and peace of mind is the result.

The one thing that I wish I could recommend to each professional is a way to practice the skills each day.

Going to the pool to work out before a competition is obviously the time that a swimmer sets aside to get better.

Where or what is the equivalent time for a professional?

When do they get the opportunity each day to practice new skills?

What would be an easy to structure to add to one’s life in order to try out some new approaches?

I have an idea that there could be time set aside each day to do the following:

1. look back at the previous day to see what can be learned

2. decide which new habit to implement that day

3. set up any supports that are required to ensure that the new habit is fully supported

This practice could be repeated each day, until a new habit has become second nature, and does not require conscious attention.

This is a pretty simple example, but as far as I can tell, it’s the only way to ensure that the time is spent actually practicing the new habit.

Now that I look at it, I realize that  I have been using this process each day myself for over a year, but my focus has been on building my scaffold for the day.

While there are a few gifted swimmers who can immediately implement a new suggestion, most need to invest hours of pool time to gain a fraction of a second here, and a fraction of a second there.  Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps spend months of practice to do just that, and they are perhaps the most gifted athletes of all in their disciplines.

The same applies to working professionals. A few might be able to instantly apply the “top 100 tips,” but for most there is a yawning gap between understanding any given tip and turning it into a new habit.

Thanks to Terry Laughlin for not just making it clear that there is only one way to get better, but also for making the path clear for those (like me) that look at Phelps and have no idea, or the wrong idea, of how to climb the learning curve.

I hope this blog, and the products I produce, do the same.

Instant Time Management Improvement! With No Effort!!!

freebies.gifI have become an avid, daily user of Twitter, and from TweetDeck  I have an ongoing search that updates itself continuously, letting me know when someone has tweeted using the phrase “time management.”

I just checked the results of the latest search, and found that 3 of the first 14 posts actually used the phrase “time management tips.”  This echoed a trend I have noticed lately — there is a great deal of interest in “tips” in the area of time management.

As I have said in earlier posts, there is nothing wrong with  tips per se.  According to Dictionary.com, a tip is:  “a useful hint or idea; a basic, practical fact.”

However, it seems to me that when someone is looking for a time management “tip” they are looking more for a “hint” than a solid “idea.”  In other words, they are looking for an easy-to-implement piece of advice that requires little effort on their part to implement.

For example, a simple-seeming enough tip could be “purchase iPhone.”  Seems easy enough, as long as the price isn’t an obstacle…  but as I point out in an earlier post, the choice of which technology to implement turns out to be quite an important and difficult one, when seen correctly.  When it’s just  a matter of logging on to Amazon and using a credit card to order a gadget, however, it looks very, very easy.

When I wrote the free e-book  offered on this website I used the following by-line: “Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals.  At the time, I had a sense that people were focusing on the wrong things, which was triggered by an article I saw listing “The Top 100 Time Management Tips.”

What I didn’t say in the ebook is that I think that we humans absolutely love to hear that something is easy, effortless and free.

We want to believe that greater productivity is simply a matter of putting into place a few tips here and there that require little or no effort.  In other words, the unspoken question is: “how can I get something for nothing?”

In time management, the answer is simple… you can’t.  Here’s why.

Each person on the planet who is aware of the concept of time uses different habits to manage themselves, in an effort to make the most of the time they have.  No two people are exactly the same, and no two habit- systems are the same either.

They were all learned after years of trial and error, most of which took place without conscious effort.  For some, what they have created and implemented works for them.  For many, it doesn’t.

The end-point is the same, however.  Each person has a set of routines or habits that are executed over and over again, and they are now baked into their muscle memory where they are executed without thinking.

However good these habits are, at the same time they are difficult for anyone to break, and therein lies the problem.

When someone makes a decision to become more productive, manage their time better or procrastinate less, they are doing more than asking for a few tips.

Instead, they are setting up an internal battle between their new intention, and their already ingrained habits.  Very few people are any good at willfully, deliberately changing habits, even when there is powerful external pressure to do so.

I once had a friend who was a constant smoker.  A few years ago, he literally smoked himself to an early death, unable to stop the habit that took him on a one-way death march to the grave.  Millions of others do the same each year – testimony to the power of ingrained habits.

The problem is that there is not a single time management system in the world that can be implemented without the development of new habits.  Even the smallest of tips are useless if they cannot be converted by the user into a new habit of some kind.

Given our weakness at “habit management”it’s no wonder that the failure rate is so high.

The problem is that it’s difficult to promote the idea of “hard-to-change habits” and it’s much easier to advertise “10 easy, effortless tips.” I know which option I’d sign up for!

What I have noticed is that developers of time management systems downplay the challenge that users have in making the necessary conversion, and few offer the kind of long-term support that is needed to craft new habits.Unfortunately, habit breaking and making is a time consuming business that requires lots of practice, months of repetition, plenty of emotional support, constant reinforcement of the costs of quitting – all until new some muscle memory begins to develop.

In the book, Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, he notes that it takes some 10,000 repetitions on average, to become good at something, and he uses Mozart as an example of someone who almost HAD to become a genius because of the time he devoted to practicing his music.

That is not good news for most of us.

But it’s the truth, even though it might not sell books, programs or workshops.

Also, I’d be shocked if lots of people started tweeting about changing “time management habits”.

If anything, I believe that there will be a gradual dawning of the fact that the constant pursuit of tips is a fool’s errand, and that real change will only come from a steady investment in incremental behavior change.

After all, it’s the only way to produce a top ballplayer, musician or chemist.  Why shouldn’t it be the only way to produce a top of the line, highly productive professional?

Work the System – Now Free

work-the-system.jpgI had the unique fortune of visiting the Work the System website while the book is being offered for free.

While I write a review of the book, I want to invite you to “grab it while you can.”

According to the Work the System website, the book is available for download only until July 27th, 2009 — that’s tomorrow.  While it might very well be extended, this is an excellent book that’s well worth the five minutes it will take to download it.

Download the Work the System e-book here.