Migrating from a List to a Schedule

I have been doing a little research on some of the popular time management systems described in books and blogs, and most of them tell their users to do two things:

1) keep lots of lists

2) keep a minimum schedule of appointments

In 2Time, this thinking is the equivalent of telling people that they should give up on ever earning Orange Belts in time management, because Orange Belts have found ways to make the transition effectively, and are able to handle more time demands as a result.

What they do is simple:  they remove time demands from places like their email Inbox and their paper pads, and they immediately put them in their schedule.  Yellow Belts (who are below Orange Belts) add them to lists.

Let’s slow the action down a bit to see why it’s easier to work with a schedule than a list when one is trying to manage a high number of time demands.

When a Yellow Belt decides to take an action in the future, they simply add the item to a list.  However, when they do so, they are also simultaneously and mentally recording the following:

  • how long the task takes – they make an estimate
  • when they believe the task will start and end
  • what else might be pre-scheduled for that time-slot, and they determine this by scanning their memory
  • a decision not to schedule anything for the same projected time period

As you can learn in my free program – MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free – and on this website, this is not a problem for low numbers of time demands.  It’s quite a bit of mental activity, but it’s inescapable if you decide to add this information to a list.  At some point, you must account for the difference between doing simple tasks like picking up the milk and complex projects such as finishing the annual marketing strategy.

Some Yellow Belts have pretty long lists, which means that they carry around mental schedules that are quite hard to remember.  The way they compensate is by scanning their lists frequently.  They need to check their entire list when they do a review, which might be completed at the start of a week or the start of a day.

Once again, it depends on how many time demands are added  to the list and how fast.  Those that find themselves adding 10 items each morning, might very well have to check the entire list just after lunch in order to rejigger their mental schedule.

Some have gone a step further, and put together lists that correspond to time-spans.  They might have a Today List, or a Tomorrow List or a Next Week List.  This helps a bit, but they still force one to remember the timing of each item on the list.

As an example, take a look at the following list made by someone on Monday morning for work that can be done at his/her desk:

As you glance at the list, you may notice yourself  quickly making an estimate of how much time it will take to complete the entire set of items.  Some may think it will take a week, while others may believe that it should be done by lunch-time.

There is no right answer, of course, but notice that if you were to start the week you’d be carrying around these estimates in your memory.

You could improve things by making a list of tasks for each day, like this:

These could be separated into three lists, but the principle would be the same.  Here the user has accounted for the time realities by dividing the list into separate parts.

However, they are still keeping a mental schedule of each day.

Here is what the original task list would look like in an Orange-Belt schedule:

There are some apparent advantages to be gained from navigating the next three days with this kind of schedule.

  • at any point in the next three days, the time demand to work on next has already been pre-planned
  • there is very little that has to be remembered if this schedule is accessible via smartphone, PDA or laptop
  • it’s easy to see when each item will be done, so that when the boss asks when he’ll be able to see the draft email for the VP-IT, you can tell her when you plan to work on it
  • space can be allocated for important items like lunch, breakfast and time each morning to plan the day
  • possible problems can immediately be seen:  the activity at 6pm on Monday night – “edit white paper for conference” – looks as if it’s a scheduling problem waiting to happen, with its proximity to the prior task and its placement at the end of the day
  • with this kind of schedule, it’s much easier to say No to anyone who wants something done during the next three days.  On a White Belt calendar, these days would appear to be blank, but the fact is, they are filled with important items that don’t involve other people appointments

With the advent of electronic calendars comes a tremendous gain:  this schedule can be easily changed around at will.  When paper calendars were the only ones that were available, this kind of scheduling was onerous. but the software has now become easier to use, allowing us to use a schedule like this to make a plan that is entirely flexible.

With a schedule such as the one described above, there are none of the things that a list requires you to try to remember.

This is a fairly simple example, with only a handful of time demands, but you can imagine what happens when that numbers grows.  Someone who is stuck with Yellow Belt skills is forced to review frequently, and remember a lot about each item.  It’s a lot of work that can quickly become overwhelming.

Some of the books I have read argue against this kind of scheduling because they say that it’s too cumbersome to change a schedule on the fly.  That point of view needs an upgrade… it WAS too cumbersome, but today’s software has made things much easier, and there is evidence that college kids who never had to make lists on paper are doing  this kind of scheduling on their mobile devices with ease.  I can speak from experience – I once experimented by reverting to lists after using schedules for some time, with disastrous results.  (Here’s an article the describes how How Smartphones are Transforming the Mobile Lifestyles of College Students and you can search for the Survey of Students’ Technology Use for Time Management.)

And the fact is, new technology is making it easier every day.

I have used Orange Belt scheduling techniques for years and found it be a powerful tool that requires important habit changes, but is well worth the effort.  It’s a scalable habit that can accommodate way more time demands than lists ever can, and its much closer to the project management best practice of laying out activities in time using a similar tool:  Gantt Charts.

Many years ago, they made the switch from running projects using lists, and were immediately able to complete larger and more complex projects.  Now that the tools are readily available, it’s time for professionals to upgrade their personal practices so that they can avoid the experience of overwhelm, even as they handle more each day.

P.S. If what I’m saying is accurate, it points to a few possible new industries…


Jumping from a Yellow to Orange Belt in Scheduling/Listing

In the 2Time system, there is a critical point that must be crossed to make the jump from a Yellow Belt to an Orange Belt. At this point, a professional must change two major habits at once, doing much less Listing and more Scheduling.

This is no mean feat.

I’ll be covering this switch and all that it means in a series of posts, but let me start off by giving the reasons why someone would want to make such a major change.

Most adults who grew up without computing resources learned how to make lists somewhere in their teens or early twenties. These were paper and pen lists that were intended as memory joggers. They easily and cheaply expanded individual effectiveness, and allowed one to work on a greater number of time demands than their memories could manage. The results were easy to see: homework that would have been forgotten was remembered, phone numbers that would have been lost forever were stored later and the skimmed milk made it to the fridge at home as a result of a trip to the corner store.

At some point, they also learned to use a calendar as a method for scheduling meetings and appointments. The first appointment calendars were modeled after the ones used in doctors’ offices, and only included a few items. These were also built with paper and pens or pencils.

Most time management books stop at this point, and advocate this approach, with only minor variations. Some emphasize the way in which the lists must be categorized and sorted. Others say that the key list needs to be limited to only what can be done on that day, and other lists should be kept of future time demands.

There are a few systems, however, who advocate the upgrade to Orange Belt Scheduling, and it’s a shift that’s ctually being driven by today’s college students.

Smartphone, laptop and iPad penetration in tertiary institutions have placed powerful productivity tools at the hands of millions of smart kids. They aren’t limited to paper and pen like their parents were. Instead, they have a choice of using electronic calendars in a variety of devices.

For example, their classes are scheduled on their electronic calendars, and not on paper.  When they sign up for a class, their schedule is instantly updated.  Once that happens, many go the extra step and schedule other important activities that must be done if they are to be successful.

Most of who are effective will also create a study schedule at the same time, and if they are realistic they’ll also set time aside for life’s other essentials such as meals, exercise social time and leisure. Here is an example of a Darden School of Business student who has done just that.

He hasn’t scheduled all his meals, or exercise, and he hasn’t included all his study time, but you can imagine that this is an important part of his plan for doing well that  semester.

The reason that a schedule like this works so well is that students have a tremendous number of time demands to manage in any given week, and any item that falls through the cracks is likely to produce an immediate impact on their grades or some other part of their lives.

At the same time, it’s not too hard to see that managing an electronic schedule of time demands is more efficient than the alternative: keeping a list of these same items to be done each week.

Listing is a very efficient method for tracking a low number of time demands, and it was a decent tool to use before the advent of internet communication.  Now, life is different, with the average professional facing hundreds of time demands each day.

The old method of keeping a list on paper no longer works at higher volumes, for practical reasons.  Updating a paper list with more than 10-20 items is time consuming.  Also, paper lists don’t have backups. It’s a practice that can only be afforded by entry-level employees with light workloads, or someone who works part-time.

Electronic lists are better, but they become a mental burden.  Let’s use the example of the Darden student.  If he were to create a list instead of a schedule, he’d end up with a physical list and a mental schedule.

The reason is simple.  When anyone makes a to-do list of any kind, they automatically make a calculation, and need to store some information in their memories.

For example, the item: “Learning Team” appears on the student’s schedule five times.  If he weren’t using a schedule, and instead had the item on a list it might look like this:

  • Football practice
  • Learning Team
  • Dinner
  • Cold Call

As he glances down the list and his attention rests on “Learning Team” he instantly makes a calculation:

  • On what days will I perform this action?
  • What times will it start each day?
  • What time will it end?
  • How far ahead do I need to prepare for it?

Once he answers each of these questions, he’d store the results in his memory.  If you multiply these actions of calculating and memorizing by the number of items in his schedule, you could see that he has now given himself the difficult task of remembering a great deal of his schedule, rather than having it plotted out in front of him.

When someone asks him if he’s free on Friday night, he has nothing to consult but his memory at that moment, and he’s likely to make a mistake.

It’s obvious that an attempt to remember all these items for every item in the list is likely to fail.  It’s just not possible to manage a great number of time demands using memory.

This is precisely the challenge that many working professionals face today.  They have a large and growing number of time demands, that simply cannot be managed with a long list and a basic schedule of appointments.  When they try to do so they end up feeling overwhelmed, burdened and stressed out, with lots of time demands slipping through the cracks.  They spend inordinate amounts of time reviewing their lists each day, making sure that nothing has popped to the surface when they weren’t looking.

They need to perform the upgrade that will take them to a different blend:  short lists used infrequently, and a deeper schedule that includes all the time demands they are likely to forget, overlook or under/over estimate in terms of their duration.

(If you’re a fan of project management techniques, you’ll undoubtedly recognize some best practices taken from that discipline, and applied to individual time management practices.  The most recent mobile latest technology makes this translation a feasible option for the first time on a large scale. )

In future posts I’ll address other questions related to this upgrade, such as when it should be undertaken, how it should be initiated and who would gain the most from making the switch.

Prioritizing Has No Place in Many Time Management Systems

priority_matrix.jpgI remember when I finally figured out that “setting priorities” has a funny way of becoming nothing more than window dressing.

I had  a job in an engineering organization that used an elaborate system of priorities to figure out who should get the highest raise each year.  The joke was that once the elaborate engineering was done, the managers would go in and manually adjust the outputs to make sure they made sense, because the process would inevitably produce anomalies that made no sense whatsoever.

In essence, the system of priorities was just a justification used to make their gut feelings appear to be logical.

I have quite recently come across some elaborate systems for prioritizing To-Do lists.  As readers of the blog might know, I have included the practice of Listing as one of the fundamentals of a time management system.  I have also laid out different levels at which Listing is practiced, from white belt to green belt.

At the highest level described – a green belt – there is not such thing as a generic to-do list, as the schedule takes over the job of helping a user decide what to work on next from the To-Do list.  What happens to most users is that their list becomes incapable of handling the number of time demands that they must confront, and their reaction is to attempt some kind of prioritization in order to not to have to deal with all 100 items at once.

So, instead of 100 items, they only need to focus on 10 — the ones with the highest priority.

For some, this approach is sufficient.

For many, however, this approach falls apart quickly.

Here is a typical example (broken down into steps) of what happens when a user has no schedule, and simply a long To-Do list, illustrating where the breakdown occurs:

Step 1 — user makes list and sets up a priority system to focus on the top 10 items

Step 2 —  without a schedule, the user has a poor idea of when the 10th item will be finished

Step 3 — long before the 10th item is begun, circumstances change, and several lower ranked items (let’s say the 47th and 75th)  need to be moved up to the top 10

Step 4 — the prioties must be changed and 2 items from the  top 10 are replaced in the top 10 list

Step 5 — because the user has no written schedule, the items inevitably take longer than they had imagined, and when they review their mental time estimates they discover that even more items are now due and need to be assigned higher priorities because the due dates are now approaching

Step 6 — they change the priorities once again, and while they are changing them, their boss comes in with a new project which forces them to start all over from the beginning

The overall result is a little like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.  For many users, their system of  prioritization simply can’t keep up with the changes in their situation.  The problem is that from minute to minute, items’ “priority ranking” changes, as life’s circumstances take their toll, and there is just no way to keep up.

Instead, the solution that many users at higher belts find is quite simple.

Step 1: Items are placed in a flexible schedule that is adjusted as circumstances change.

That’s it.  There may be 50 changes in a single day, as items are moved from one time slot to another, and between days, weeks and months.  Each scheduled item takes up a time slot whose size corresponds to the amount of time it’s expected to take.

Purists might argue that the advanced user is still prioritizing.

This is where a key distinction is necessary.  When use the verb “prioritize” I mean to denote the activity that occurs when someone sits down and assigns a ranking to individual time demands.

That is the physical activity that has no place in most time management systems.

However, I DON’T take it to mean the activity of placing greater importance on one item over another as a decision is being made about when to start and end the work on that item.  That activity can be taken to be just another attribute of the item that is included in the user’s decision on the start and end times.

If they reschedule the activity, then its importance is taken into account once again at that point.  Just before they commence working on the item, they may want to ask themselves the question again.  (Here I am actually describing what happens when a user switches from one activity to another, a practice that’s called Switching in 2Time.)

The strength of the green belt’s system lies in the fact that they have removed a step (assigning a priority) while allowing the circumstances of the moment to influence their choice about what they should do at any and all points in the future.  Because they are working from a written versus a mental schedule, and are using it as a flexible planning guide, they find it easy to shuffle items around whenever the need arises.

They don’t get caught up in whether the item they have scheduled is a “1, 2 or 3,” “A, B or C” or “Red, Yellow or Green.”

All that stuff is for them, a made-up and unnecessary construct, that gets in the way of their productivity.

This is not to say that a yellow belt should not use a prioritized to-do list.  That may work perfectly for their habit patterns and level of time demands.

However, a green belt has no need for priorities because their time management system helps them to switch from task to task without the extra time and effort needed to prioritize their to-do lists.

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.

Not To Do List

no_smoking.jpgOne of the major ideas in 2Time is that there are some lists that serve a psychological need, such as a “Not To Do” List.

For example, I have vowed never drink lots of sugary beverages, or to allow my email inbox to grow to contain tens of items.  These are habits I am eager not to include in my life again.

But a Not To Do List could include much more than  habits that need to be broken. It would also include things that happen in life that I would never allow to happen again. These include:

– To allow my mother-in-law to use guilt to get me to do anything

– To ever mow the lawn

– To wash my car again

– To visit Bob at this home, when his wife is there

– To attend a party that ends after 3am

– To allow my son to drive anywhere after 10:00pm

This is clearly an example of a “psychological list.” Its purpose is to give the user a break from doing things they don’t want to do, freeing up energy, time and mental space.

Here is the link to the post on the Productivity 501 blog.

The Problem of Not Scheduling

Many professionals only maintain lists of items to do, and don’t actually schedule anything other than appointments into their calendars. In the language of 2Time, they may be Green Belts at the skill of Listing, but Yellow Belts at the skill of Scheduling.

A typical professional’s schedule is below – let’s say his name is “Sam”. He is attending both meetings with Bob, his boss.

Sam’s Schedule


Why can this approach create a problem? After all, most of the time management systems that exist only address using the schedule in a basic way. GTD® takes it another step and advocates the scheduling of “contexts”, or in other words groups of activities such as:

  • @home
  • @computer
  • @meeting with Bob
  • @driving

These are pretty basic appointments that one has with oneself. Incidentally, I have noticed that there is no word in the English language for “an appointment with oneself”. At different times in this blog, I have used different words to describe the whole genre of scheduled activities, including both appointments with others as well as oneself. In this post, I’ll use the word “engagement”.

The problem with only having a list (or lists) of activities is a simple one – it is too easy for a list to grow out of proportion to the time that one has available when it’s not scheduled into a calendar. Continue reading “The Problem of Not Scheduling”

Email: A Different Animal

inbox-email.jpgEmail is a problem for everyone who is concerned with being productive. It is a new medium and there is virtually no-one with 20 years of email experience.

Only recently have best practices begun to be developed for this difficult source of information. In the absence of these best practices, users end up with in-boxes of thousands of emails, not knowing what to do about this problem that only increases with each passing month.

Here are the current best practices:

  • Keep an empty in-box by processing every item
  • Allow email to come into the in-box only at specific, planned times of day
  • When faced with hundreds or thousands of backlogged email, copy them from the in-box to another folder and start with a fresh in-box
  • Touch email only once

These are fine principles, and I happen to follow them as much as I can each day. It is better, however, to also understand why the in-box is such a problem.

The problem can be understood at the level of the fundamentals, rather than just as a matter of practices. A decision to accept incoming items into an in-box is an open invitation to receive everything from spam, to pictures, music, requests, replies, FYI’s — and confusing mixes of all the above and more. Unfortunately, they don’t come tagged as such. Instead, they are unclear and sometimes intentionally misleading in terms of their time demand on the recipient.

The first few moments after receiving an email and reading it are spent deciding what the next action should be. In other words, a massive Emptying action has begun (to use the 2Time terms). This is the point at which I find myself getting stuck.

Some are easy – they are immediately deleted. Others contain important information which must be stripped from the email and stored in a safe place for future retrieval.
These are the easy emails to deal with. In terms of the 2Time fundamentals, the first are Tossed while the second are Stored and Tossed.

The vast majority of email, however, is more complex. Some represent actions that need to be immediately Listed or Scheduled. The most troublesome present dilemmas – the next action is not immediately apparent and requires some thought.

And here is the decision that kills most people: emails that are important but need further thought are left in the in-box, “so they don’t get forgotten”. This is not a problem when there are 1-2 such emails per day. However, increase that number to 10 emails per day requiring a few days of thought each, and in no time chaos ensues.

That initial, innocent practice ends up drowning the user who has no idea how to change course. The result is one we can all recognize in other people. There are some professionals who are simply incapable of responding to all their email. More often than not, important things fall through the cracks. They are not ill-intentioned… it’s just that their habits are ill-suited for the volume of time demands coming at them via email.

The solution is an upgrade of several practices, and then implementation of Warning and Reviewing practices to prevent breakdowns and to help evolve the system continuously.
Also, the following practices must be upgraded:

  • Listing – a folder or category must be created to be able to store all items that are under consideration (a Thinking About List) and items that are awaiting further action or information by others (a Waiting For List).
  • Scheduling – for these lists to work, however, they are best accompanied by scheduled times at which these lists are processed. Furthermore, these scheduled need to have alarms to ensure that they are indeed processed.

Also, items that require dedicated thinking or meeting time should be scheduled in the calendar immediately. For example:

Tuesday, October 23rd from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. – Decide on how to respond to email from Mark.

In this way, it is much easier to accomplish the empty in-box. Several habits may have to be upgraded at the same time in order to get to that point, but these upgrades must happen all together for the objective of an empty in-box to be achieved. Once achieved, the higher belt users never allow their in-boxes to hold more than a screenful of items at a time, and they learn to empty it as soon as they can each day.

The essential habit to be broken is one that was learned in childhood – to remember to do stuff, I need to put it where I can see it. In other words, we learn to use the physical presence as a reminder.

Again, this isn’t a problem when the number of items is small. As the number grows, it becomes an impossible practice to maintain, leading to cluttered room, desk and in-box.
Using the practices of Listing and Scheduling are ways to reliably deal with large numbers of time demands – in fact, they are the only ways.

Kinds of Lists

Listing is one of the essential practices of the 2Time Management system, especially for users above the Novice or White Belt level.

The premise is simple: it is easier and more manageable to add an item to a list than it is to add the individual item to a schedule in the calendar. For example, a savvy user would schedule the following item in their calendar:

2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Monday, August 10th. Pay bills in bill list

At the appropriate time, they would consult their list of bills to pay which might look like the following:

  • Light
  • Water
  • Cable
  • Phone
  • Visa

This is a much more convenient way to manage a set of similar items than to do the following:

2:00 p.m. – 2:10 p.m. Monday, August 10th. Pay light bill
2:10 p.m. – 2:20 p.m. Monday, August 10th. Pay water bill and so on.

Lists are created for one of two purposes. Some have a psychological function, while others have a more practical function. Continue reading “Kinds of Lists”

Different Kinds of Lists v2

There are many ways to organize lists, and there are only a few that seem to be “required” because they serve a particular and unique function:

  • Next Activity List: a list of all items that are ready to be executed immediately, and are on the list waiting for a scheduled time to be used.
  • Someday List: a list of all items for which there is an interest in executing someday, but not immediately.

Component/Fundamental #7 – Listing v2

A critical part of any time management system is the activity of Listing.

In the prior component, Scheduling, I addressed the power of expanding the use of a schedule from a mere Appointment Calendar to a possibly useful planner of each and every kind of activity that places a time demand on a user.

As useful as a schedule is, however, it has its limits.

Any user that tries to schedule too many items into a calendar will ultimately cause their calendar to fail from the weight of too many time demands. At the moment, there is no calendaring system or technology that exists that will not fail from over-scheduling.


Listing involves putting a time demand on a list that is created to pull together items that share some common attribute.

Continue reading “Component/Fundamental #7 – Listing v2”