Outlook Enhancements — Wishing and Wanting

ist2_3187220_working_hard.jpgOne of the things that I wished Outlook would do intelligently is to link the contents of a time slots with the next logical time slot.

For example, I wish I could assign individual time demands to a particular kind of time slot, such as time that I spent at home. It would be able to understand that if an item were to be dismissed from the list of reminders, that it could be “forwarded” to the next appropriate time slot automatically. At the moment, the user has to reschedule every single time demand that has not been completed individually, instead of in bulk.

In other words, Outlook should understand that scheduled items that are not completed need special, intelligent handling and a greater choice of options. Continue reading “Outlook Enhancements — Wishing and Wanting”

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.

The Now Habit Schedule

Neal Fiore has a book that I haven’t read called “The Now Habit” that seems to be pretty interesting.

I say this because he has developed a schedule for himself that appears to conform to Yellow Belt scheduling, in the 2Time lingo. On his website you can see the schedule he has created for himself for each week. Luckily for him, each week looks more or less the same.

It is better than a mere schedule of appointments, but the items in the schedule are fairly broadly defined, which is good for creating a bucket of scheduled activities, but not so good for completing smaller time scheduled activities.

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.

Scheduling: Hard Edges and Soft Reminders

cliff_edge03.jpg I don’t remember where I first heard or read it – it may have been from Getting Things Done – but the idea of viewing your appointment book as a set of hard and soft items is one that has some value.

As one moves into the ranks of a Yellow Belt, or Green Belt, the importance of using a calendar to schedule time demands becomes more important, but the kinds of time demands that get scheduled are not all alike. Continue reading “Scheduling: Hard Edges and Soft Reminders”

Starting Each Day on the Right Foot: Scheduling

One of the challenges I have been facing is how to start the day on the right foot each and every day.

Unfortunately, in Microsoft Outlook XP, there is no way to work with past appointments effectively, which is a real weakness in their system. If they have not been completed, the reminders merely stock up, one on top of the other.

I have been turning the start of a new day to Joe’s Goals, which is a very simple web application that is available for free. It is so simple, and yet so effective in its job to help someone keep a string of activities going.

It would be great for a 2Time user that has to start each day the same way and uses a flexible calendar to have some choice about which appointment reminders to work with.

The Basic 2Time Elements as “Big Rocks”


Put In The Big Rocks First!

In “First Things First,” Stephen Covey tells a story that one of his associates heard at a seminar. The seminar presenter pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar and placed it next to a pile of fist-sized rocks. After filling the jar to the top with rocks, he asked, “Is the jar full?”

The group replied, “Yes.”

He then got some gravel from under the table and added it to the jar. The speaker jiggled the jar until the gravel filled the spaces between the rocks. Again, he asked, “Is the jar full?” Continue reading “The Basic 2Time Elements as “Big Rocks””

Goof-Off Time and Other Techniques

One of the efforts that we at Framework are undertaking this year is that of defining a method of time management that fits the Caribbean tempo and lifestyle.

The reasons why none of the popular approaches used worldwide has become popular in our region are varied and many: too much rigidity, too much technology, not enough humanity etc.

While the best approach I have found is the one described in the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, even this approach does not provide a complete time management solution for our way of living.

I know this from personal experience, having lived in both North America, with its daily predictability, and here in the Caribbean, where life is filled with unpredictability. At the moment of writing, for example, I have been waiting for 7 weeks to receive DSL service…

In my reading this morning, I realized that my own time management tricks have evolved a great deal over the years. In particular, my calendar has evolved to the point where I discovered that I actually have three calendars in one:

Continue reading “Goof-Off Time and Other Techniques”

Component/Fundamental #6 – Scheduling

Scheduling is one of the major activities that take place in any time management system.

This entry, therefore, should be read after the entries in the post Ways to Use a Calendar have been read and thoroughly digested, for the ideas here to make sense.


Scheduling is taking a time demand and converting it into a time-slot in the calendar that has a defined start-time and end-time, on a specific date.

When the need arises, appointments are swapped around to different time-slots, depending on the circumstances at hand.


Ways to Use a Calendar v2

In a prior post, I talked about how the most powerful time management system is one that a user designs for themselves. When users know the principles behind a good system they are much better equipped to design a unique approach that works for them.

One area that is often misunderstood is the use of a calendar in an overall time management system.

I have observed that people use calendars in ways that are unproductive, because they are stuck in an old paradigm of the Appointment Calendar. The Appointment Calendar probably originated with the kind of calendar used in a doctor’s office. It was a tool the receptionist used to ensure that different patients were not being scheduled at the same time. Continue reading “Ways to Use a Calendar v2”