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.

Why GTD is Like My Mother’s Recipe for Ox-tail Stew

istock_000011945640xsmall.jpgRecently on Facebook, I had the chance to answer a question about my motivations for creating my recent video:  Permanently Fixing the Weekly Review.

Here was my original post:

I just finished a video that focuses of fixing the problems many of us have been having with the weekly review. It calls for a major upgrade in time management
systems based on systems that use lists, like GTD
®. I’d love to hear
your thoughts! http://mytimedesign.com/wordpress/fixing-the-weekly-review/

Here was the response I got from Coach Kelly, who works with GTD®, I believe.

Getting Things Done – Official GTD Page

Coach Kelly here–Francis, perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t tell if you are a fan of GTD or not? Your approach seems to be about what’s wrong with GTD. It’s fine to realize GTD does not work for you (it’s not for everyone) but does there have to be something wrong with GTD (or other approaches) for your approach to work? Seems like a negative approach.

Here was my response:

When I bumped into some limitations I was forced to do some things differently — which I think most people do at some point. Then the game changed for me — instead of trying to “follow it” I started to use what I learned from it and other systems as the starting point in upgrading to a system that worked for me.

But I’m no different from most people, I think. Only a few people are able to follow the system perfectly — most have to make their own modifications to fit their life, culture, job, family situation, techno-savviness, etc.

In the case of the video I just did, there are lots of people having trouble with the weekly review (as I did), and it happens when the number of time demands they have to deal with exceeds their ability to use GTD’s recommendations around “scheduling” and “listing.” That doesn’t happen for everyone, but it happens for many people, some of whom could benefit from the “re-balancing” I talk about.

Now…. that might be WAY too much of an answer for a Wall post… hope it doesn’t take up the whole page!!! LOL 

I didn’t quite say everything I wanted to, due to space limitations and I thought I’d add a bit here that might illuminate the angle that the 2Time blog takes.  It involves Jamaican ox-tail stew.

When I was a broke university student, I was forced to start cooking for myself one summer to preserve cash.  A friend convinced me that cooking Jamaican food wasn’t that hard (even for a beginner like myself) and  I called home to get some recipes, including one for my Mom’s Jamaican ox-tail stew.

I followed her recipe as closely as one could given the distance between Kingston and Ithaca, NY.  The result was close enough… a good tasting ox-tail stew.  Kinda like what I remembered.

That was in 1986.

Over time, I actually learned how to be a better cook, and eventually learned to follow the recipe more closely, replicating more of it by using better ingredients.

However, the time came when I wanted to cook ox-tail using my own recipe, not my mother’s.  When I had learned some more about the fundamental principles of cooking I experimented a bit and over the years I developed my own recipe, which is spicier and sweeter than hers.

I still love hers… but I wouldn’t trade it for mine.

Getting Things Done, or GTD®, and ALL the time management systems that I have found in books, tapes, websites, programs etc. are all about selling good recipes for time management.  They tell you exactly what to do, in excruciating details at times, and lay out the exact steps that must be followed in order to implement them.

Of all the commercial systems I have found, GTD® offers the best recipe to follow.

However, I think it’s more powerful to each people how to cook… or in other words, how to craft their own time management system, or upgrade.

What I have tried to do here on the 2Time blog and in the NewHabits and MyTimeDesign programs is to do just that — teach people how to do their own upgrades — in the belief that when people know the fundamentals of how stuff works, they are empowered.

This seems to be particularly true in the field of time management, which is about building habits, rather than selecting cooking ingredients.

Our habits are personal… and idiosyncratic.   We each have our own, and the vast majority find them difficult to upgrade. With better understanding comes more success, and systems that work better because they match our individual needs and habit-patterns.

Cookbooks and recipes are much easier to change… simply add another tablespoon of salt, and take away the pimento, while substituting fresh onions for onion powder, and a different result is produced in a matter of minutes or hours.

Perhaps it goes without saying that habits, on the other hand, take a long time to change.  Simply handing someone a fresh set of habits to follow in a new system isn’t enough.  Most people respond by instantly customizing  what they are given into something that they can actually use without being overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, this blog is the only one that I know of that aims to help people learn the fundamentals of time management, in order to be able to take charge of, upgrade and implement their own system.

Hmm… that sounds a bit arrogant.

Here’s a better way to say it:  This blog is the only one that accurately describes what people are already doing… taking charge of , upgrading and implementing their own time management systems.  Precious few are picking up commercial systems and implementing them as they are designed, and instead they are doing thing THEIR way… to paraphrase Frank Sinatra.

So, at the end of the day, I love my mother’s recipe for ox-tail, and I love GTD®.  I just don’t follow either set of instructions any longer.

They simply aren’t substitutes for what I can do on my own, now that I understand how to cook, and how to upgrade my own time management system.

P.S. Here is the link to the GTD® Facebook group:  http://www.facebook.com/gettingthingsdone


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

Fixing the Weekly Review Video

Many people have a major challenge in dealing with their weekly reviews – that portion of time that many set aside to review the time demands in their time management systems.

These reviews simply aren’t getting done to our satisfaction.  They are often set aside as a dull chore because they end up taking much too long.

In response to some of the struggles being experienced, I put together a 28 minute video that takes a deep dive into the problem.  It’s creating quite a stir, because I argue that an over-reliance on lists of various kinds is actually the cause of the issue.  (Essentially I share some of what I learned when I had to confront the same problem.)

This sounds simple enough, except that there are a LOT of people who love lists, and there are many time management systems that are built around lists of different kinds.

I have never heard anyone say the things I say in this video, hence some of the stir that it’s caused.  A few sacred cows are being threatened (and you’ll see that my ideas run against “sacred” ideas of some!)

This is no small set of superficial ideas that you have heard before.  In fact,  I probably should have saved this content for a pdf report.  It’s pretty meaty, and those of you who really like thinking deeply about time management will see where I had to make some statements that I simply didn’t have the time to prove in depth… you’ll what I mean.

Check it out… and let me know what you think.  Click here to be taken to this free video — no registration is required.

P.S.  It’s a 28 min video, so I just had a transcript made for those who prefer to read new ideas rather than listen.


Task Tracking

istock_000000705229xsmall.jpgAs a consulting professional, I have tracked the way I use my time for years.

One of the greatest innovations I have come across in the past year is a program called SnapLogger, which takes screen-shots every few minutes as long as the user is active in Windows. It is an excellent program.

Now, if only Outlook would cooperate and allow a user to record the actual history of an appointment or task. Continue reading “Task Tracking”

Starting the Day with a Scaffold

I really admire Steve Pavlina’s blog for the quality and range of ideas that he is able to create and articulate. His post on creating a personal productivity scaffold is no exception:

He is essentially creating a way of Reviewing and Scheduling that includes a slot in the morning to plan, and a slot in the evening to reflect. I have been using it and enjoying it, after making some changes to the items he uses.

I have also scheduled the morning slot in my calendar, and I am waiting to see if it makes sense to do the same for the evening slot.

I am using it with a homegrown version of this tracking tool from Productivity 501 to good effect.

Component/Fundamental #11 – Reviewing v2

A critical skill used in any well-functioning time management system is that of reviewing and improving.


Reviewing is the skill of looking over both the contents of the time management system AND its functioning, with a view to preventing problems and improving the user’s personal productivity. There are two kinds of reviews, Content Reviews and System Reviews.

  1. Reviewing Content
    In order to prevent a time management system from exploding at any time, a user needs to investigate the content in each of the components at regular intervals to ensure that the pipeline of time demands is not about be filled, or clogged. The best users are always referring back to the contents of their time management system in order to:

    • update items in lists and schedule
    • adjust the timing of tasks in a schedule
    • place new items in their capture points
    • dispense email from their in-box to different folders and lists

    They set certain standards for themselves with respect to how often to review critical lists such as their “Waiting For” lists and “Thinking About” lists. Continue reading “Component/Fundamental #11 – Reviewing v2”