No Time for 2 Hours of Time Management

I recently heard a complaint made by a trainer — no-one in their organization had enough time to take a 2 hour class in time management.

On one level it’s a bit of a joke… I remember hearing once that the very thing that we want to improve, keeps us from taking advantage of improvement opportunities.  For example, being “late to a class in procrastination” is an old chestnut that some resurrect now and again to knowing laughs.

On another level, it represents all that’s crazy about our hunger for instant results.  We refuse to believe in the slow, steady progress required for accomplishing results at a  world-class level in any discipline.  Instead, we spend time Googling for instant tips, magical shortcuts and cute tricks.  We want our improvements fast and easy, and we strenuously ignore messages to the contrary.

With respect to time management, we trick ourselves into thinking that it we buy the right gadget, or software package, then it will take care of everything for us.  If we get the right insight it will make all the difference in the world.  Unfortunately, we are wrong.  These tactics represent a basic misunderstanding about the ways that time management skills are improved, and the fact that they are made up of habits that take years to learn, and unlearn.

As Werner Erhard said, “understanding is the booby prize.”  So are the kinds of effortless insights that we love so much.  Instead, we should probably just pick one hard-to-learn common-sense habit and focus on it until we get to a half-decent standard, before moving on to learn another.  There’s more to gain from that kind of activity than any of the sexy or shiny stuff that seems so exciting at first blush.

Productive Business Owner Summit

The Summit is on!  This free gathering of subject matter experts is like nothing I have ever done, and I had a great time doing my pre-recorded session.

Registration is free, and my session will be held at 1:00pm Eastern on Thursday April 14th.  Click here for details on the Productive Business Owner Summit.

By the way, Katie Gutierrez Miller has done a wonderful job in putting these summits together — she’s a name to watch!

Does Comfort Kill Productivity?

Here on 2Time I advocate the idea that one can move from one level of skill in time management to another, once the pathway is known.

I also add that it’s fine to decide to stay exactly where one is at the moment, and not have any interest in improvement.

However, I’m not sure that I support the idea of getting stuck at any one level because comfort is one’s goal in life.

This interesting article clarifies something that’s bugged more for some time… ever since a friend of mine told me many years ago that is goal in life was “comfort.”

What do you think: “Why Comfort is a Productivity Killer.”

It reminds me of that passage in one of my favorite books;  The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran.

On Houses

Then a mason came forth and said, “Speak to us of Houses.”
And he answered and said:
Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls.
For even as you have home-comings in your twilight, so has the wanderer in you, the ever distant and alone.
Your house is your larger body.
It grows in the sun and sleeps in the stillness of the night; and it is not dreamless. Does not your house dream? And dreaming, leave the city for grove or hilltop?
Would that I could gather your houses into my hand, and like a sower scatter them in forest and meadow.
Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys, that you might seek one another through vineyards, and come with the fragrance of the earth in your garments.
But these things are not yet to be.
In their fear your forefathers gathered you too near together. And that fear shall endure a little longer. A little longer shall your city walls separate your hearths from your fields.
And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?
Ay, and it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires.
Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron.
It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mock of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
But you, children of space, you restless in rest, you shall not be trapped nor tamed.
Your house shall be not an anchor but a mast.
It shall not be a glistening film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that guards the eye.
You shall not fold your wings that you may pass through doors, nor bend your heads that they strike not against a ceiling, nor fear to breathe lest walls should crack and fall down.
You shall not dwell in tombs made by the dead for the living.
And though of magnificence and splendour, your house shall not hold your secret nor shelter your longing.
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night.

The Pedagogy of Time Management



pedagogy pronunciation /ˈpɛdəˌgoʊdʒi, -ˌgɒdʒi/[ped-uh-goh-jee, -goj-ee]

–noun, plural -gies.
1. the function or work of a teacher; teaching.

2. the art or science of teaching; education; instructional methods.

It’s not a commonly used word, but it is a useful one to consider when we think about the ways in which time management teaching has failed.

While time management is a practice used by every single working adult in the world, it’s strange that there is no standard training in this skill, or even a common or accepted body of knowledge.  There is no text-book in the subject, and there are very few academic papers written on the topic, according to a recent literature review by Claessens et al.   The discipline falls neatly between the cracks of well defined academic disciplines such as engineering, business, psychology and human resources.

Most people, as a result, end up being self-taught.

It’s not until their adult years (and usually well after they join the workforce) that a handful of professional look for some kind of formal training, which is usually delivered in a particular format that can be summarized as follows:

Here is what I do… copy my example.

In other words, the contemporary teaching method is to follow the example of a respected guru in the field who has put together a book or class that describes in some detail the particular habit pattern that works for them.

The gurus are well-intended, but their efforts fall short as evidenced by the number of people who take their programs or read their books and struggle along for a few days before reverting to what they have always done for years.

Fortunately for us, there are some recent books that highlight a new way of teaching  time management that might be useful for professionals the world over.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin make the point that we are dead wrong when we think about high achievement.  To put it simply, it’s impossible to reach world-class levels of performance without putting in thousands of hours of structured practice focused on areas of weakness.  According to a review of the book at the Steve Cheeseborough blog, this practice is more than just fooling around at the driving range (in the case of golf) or playing a few tunes on the guitar that we remember:

  • It must be designed specifically to improve performance
  • It can be repeated a lot
  • Feedback on results is continuously available
  • It is highly demanding
  • It isn’t much fun, or at least is “not inherently enjoyable.”

This is the kind of practice that is desperately missing in the corporate world. According to military-veteran, now corporate employee/blogger, Brett (the author of Brett’s blog,) this is different from the military.  Here is an excerpt from his review of the book:

Early on in Chapter 7 (of Talent is Overrated), Colvin highlights an issue that I’ve wrestled with in my mind for many years:

We saw earlier how hostile to the principles of well-structured deliberate practice most companies seem.  That’s all the more puzzling when you consider how many high-profile organizations apart from businesses embrace these principles.  We’re awed by the performance of champion sports team or great orchestras and theater companies, but when we get to the office, it occurs to practically no one that we might  have something to learn by studying how some people became so accomplished.  The U.S. military has made itself far more effective by studying and adopting these principles….  But at most companies – as well as most educational institutions and many nonprofit organizations – the fundamentals of great performance are mainly unrecognized or ignored.

The reference to the military really struck home with me, since over half of my professional life (so far) was spent as an officer in the Army.  To simply say that the Army engages in “deliberate practice” – at both the individual and organizational levels – would be a gross understatement.  In fact, in a peacetime Army the primary activity of soldiers and units is deliberate practice, with the explicit goal of continually improved performance.  (More on a wartime military in a bit.)

When I left the military and joined the corporate world, what struck me most was how little practicing – and how little learning and improving – anyone did.  For anything.  The general impression was that if you needed to “practice”, then you obviously were the wrong person for the job.  (This is the “hostility” to the principles of deliberate practice that Colvin refers to in the quote above.)  Needless to say, in the areas where I had influence I did my best to change that perception.

The same problem has infected time management pedagogy.  Over the years, the  emphasis has been placed on the easy part… sharing the ideas and habit patterns that gurus are eager for us to adopt.  What they ignore, to the detriment of all, is the fact that tough practice is needed in order to turn any new habit pattern learned in class into a set of reliable practices.

A modern pedagogy of time management would correct these errors and would:

  • recognize that each person comes into the learning situation with a set of habits that they have taught themselves over the years that are hard to change
  • give up on one-size-fits-all solutions and instruct learners how to adopt new principles into their current systems
  • break down the changes that learners need to make into small chunks that they can master over time
  • teach learners how to use deliberate practice in order to incorporate small behavior changes
  • emphasize that making habit changes is the hard part, and that learning which habits to change is, bar far, the easy part
  • show that time management skills come from practice, and not talent, as evidenced by how much they have learned over the years, and how they learned it
  • help learners see that they must continue to improve their approach to time management due to rapid changes in technology, information overload and the increase in time demands that are placed on them each day

With a new pedagogy, we might be able to introduce improved methods of teaching and learning that could be introduced much earlier in a professional’s career, and help them implement better systems at every point in their career, as soon as the need arises.

Why New Employees Struggle with Time Management

In the area of time management, it turns out that some vital skills we picked as kids have to be un-learned, if we have an interest in being successful working adults.

Grade school and high school turn out to be nothing more than extended memory tests for many people.  A bunch of facts and techniques are thrown at them, and their challenge is to remember as much of them as possible, mostly in order to pass tests, quizzes and exams.  Good students are the ones who are able to recall this information when tested, and they come to take pride in their ability to remember even trivial information, such as the names of all the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period.

This ability to commit data to memory, and to recall it at will, quickly becomes a habit that they apply not only to factual information but also to their future commitments, such as “the meeting 2 weeks from Friday with the marketing department.”

Here at the 2Time website, we refer to the latter as “time demands” — commitments that ones makes to oneself to complete a task at some point in the future.  For example, a commitment to “pick up the milk on the way home” is a time demand, whereas the route to the supermarket is different — it’s useful, factual information.

It turns out that we humans relate to these two kinds of information – time demands and factual data – quite differently, which is a useful thing, because they are in fact quite different.

Factual information, such as the route to the supermarket, carries with it an objective quality that is unchanging.  Time demands, on the other hand, are individual creations that exist only in the mind of their creators.  They are ephemeral in the sense that they have a finite lifetime – they come into being once they are created, and disappear once they are completed.

When we die, of course, they all vanish.

At the same time, they are critical to human beings as they allow us to think about and plan future actions, even if they are never written down.  You can hardly think about tomorrow without surveying the time demands that you have created for yourself that you think you should complete in that 24 hour cycle.

In very early grades, we are taught to manage time demands by keeping a schedule of classes so that we turn up at the right place at the right time, and we are taught to write down our homework so that we don’t forget.

Smart students eventually learn to discard both practices as they get older, and instead use they learn to use their finely tuned memory to manage these time demands.  This works well for the most part because they have few time demands to juggle.  After all, there are no bills to pay, and their weekly schedule of activities is a simple one to follow.  They can’t understand how their parents could forget simple time demands, like picking them up from school to take them to soccer practice.

Very few time demands slip through the cracks as a result, and they conclude that others (like their parents) who suffer from frequent mishaps, as just not as smart.

They take this practice with them into the workplace, in their first jobs, and for a while it works.  They appear at meetings with nothing in their hands to wrote with, or on, and when asked will scornfully tell others: “Don’t worry, I’ll remember.”

However, the time comes when they don’t.

At some point, their habit of committing time demands fails, and it happens for any number of reasons.

One may be that their managers give them additional responsibilities, and assign them complex projects that are too big to be managed by even the smartest person.  Another might be that as they marry, have children, assume mortgages, handle finances, pay taxes, play roles in their communities, and jump on volunteer projects , the number of time demands rapidly increases.

Also, even the smartest notice that as they get older, their powers of recall start to fade.  They realize that their parents’ momentary inability to recall their own children’s names is a malady that is about to befall them.

They need to develop some new habits in order to continue to be as effective as they once were.  Some persist however, and convince themselves that they can do no better.  They insist that that “their plates are full,” “they have too much to do” and “get too much email.”  They blame their circumstances for the number of balls they drop each day — I’ve known some to conclude that they simply cannot seek a promotion, or accept a new project because they cannot imagine a way to craft the 26 hour workday they think is required to be successful.

The solution is a simple on to describe — adopt new habits that are required in order to handle a new volume of time demands.

It’s much harder to do, and many smart people develop never develop these new habits, insisting that they already have good time management techniques.

What they really mean is: “I’m the most productive person I know, and I already know everything I need to know about time management.”

For some, it’s not until they are shown a multi-belt system like the ones that I give them in MyTimeDesign or NewHabits classes, that they begin to see that there are people who are way more productive than they are, even if they don’t know them.

A few never get to learn the lesson, and instead they use their ability to think fast on their feet to talk themselves out of trouble.  This works for a while, but it never moves them up the ladder to greater productivity.  Instead, it just helps them stay stuck at a low standard… just a little bit better than those around them.

Unfortunately, learning new habits has nothing to do with being smart, and has more to do with being resilient, or stubborn, and more than a bit humble.

It’s difficult (and sometimes scary) to admit that your strengths don’t work as well as they should, especially when they have never really failed

Promo Video – Bahamas

I put together a short video to help promote an event I’ll be doing in The Bahamas on January 20th, 2011.

The day includes a seminar I’ll be leading from 9am – 4pm — and the URL for the site is

I actually visited Abaco last week for the second time, and got excited about returning in January, and spending some time in Nassau.

Here’s the video — I used some new techniques that I have been observing on other videos… let me know what you think.

The Taxonomy of Teaching Kids

I just read a fascinating article from the New York Times entitled Building a Better Teacher.

It’s a long article, but what got my attention was the fact that it’s built on a search for the fundamentals of teaching.

It turns out that teacher quality is the single most important variable in the ability of students to learn in a classroom setting.  The article describes the years of research that’s been done to identify the practices that good teachers use to produce results.  They selected the teachers to study that are able  to produce results in some of the poorest schools in the US, where resources and family support is below average.

The researchers have isolated these practices in a way that that has put them into words, and has helped teachers to begin to set up sessions to master individual skills in coaching sessions with other teachers.

It turns out that a lot of things that schools and teachers do to impact their effectiveness don’t really matter, and a few things do that are not that hard to learn with enough dedicated practice time.

In other words, it’s a bit like the world of time management.

The journalist who wrote the article reported that many teachers and well-meaning experts are looking for improvement in the wrong places.

I believe the same is true in the case of time management.  Some of the approaches that have a minimal effect include:

– trying to follow someone else’ system of habits without regard for one’s current habits

– improving by ignoring habits and instead focusing on things like “energy,” “attitude” and “motivation”

-over-simplifying the challenge that we all have of changing ingrained habits quickly, whether it involves learning or un-learning habits

It struck me that it took a long time to develop this taxonomy, and that it’s all based on empirical research that’s been captured on film.

I started to wonder… how long will it take to popularize the concept of Time Management 2.0? After all, like the teaching researchers, I am actually (and mostly) putting some names to things which people have done for many years.

I am also daunted by the fact that years and years of work has been put into the taxonomy of teaching, and that I have spent only 4 years on this effort, but I haven’t started any kind of empirical research.


Here is the link once again to “Building a Better Teacher.”

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.”


Scoring 100% in Time Management

istock_000004921432xsmall.jpgAn article I wrote over at Stepcase Lifehack received a nice thank-you comment.

Scoring 100% in Time Management is all about implementing time management systems and mistakenly thinking that we can implement ALL of the habits and practices built into the approach.

This is a mistake in our thinking that produces stress, and it causes too many people to abandon GTD® and other systems too early.


Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.