All About Time Demands and Other Guest Posts

The blog tour to promote my new book continues with a post I did for Sharon Lowenheim’s blog entitled “All About Time Demands.” It’s the first time that I have taken this concept out to the general public (other than in The Bill Book) and it was challenging to write, but more than a bit satisfying.

Here are some of the other blogs that have been posted:

Stepcase Lifehack is running a series of 7 posts that I have written on the New Lifehacking. THis is #2 and the topic is “Understanding Your Own System” based on the idea that the best improvements don’t come from one-size-fits-all systems, but from a deeper understanding of your own habits. How to Understand Your Current Time Management System.

On the Alpha Efficiency blog, I came out in support of a post written by Bojan Djordjevic who has decided to switch to his own time management system after using GTD, a popular commercial system. He did it in such a Time Management 2.0 that I felt I had to comment…  Another Angle on the “Why I decided to switch from GTD” blog post.

Productive – on Timo Kiander’s blog I looked at the difference between being a good follower of another person’s system, versus taking ownership of YOUR system: How to Take Ownership of Your Time Management System.

I also did an interview with Janice Russell for her blog on the various misadventures that take place in time management. Her blog is called Minding Your Matters and she’s someone I hope to do some more work with especially in the area of working with Time Advisers. How to Stop Misadventures in Time Management.

Last thing… if you are a time adviser of any kind (coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer) here’s a post I wrote at the ICF site on why baby steps are so important in time management.

How to Prevent Yourself From Becoming a Tip-a-Holic

vintage decor with chemical bottleThe headline for this post may be playful but the problem is a very real one.

Many professionals want to improve their time management skills. The simplest method that we hear broadcast over the Internet is simply to pick up the right tip, trick or shortcut. Choosing the right one will magically transform everything.

Like magic. Or should that be snake-oil?

They promise the same thing: put little or no work into using this tip, and you’ll be able to save hundreds of hours per year / triple your productivity / never fall behind on anything ever again. Apparently, there’s a lot of money to be made selling these “solutions” to people who want to believe that they can pretty much get something for nothing.

I have just initiated a 7 part series over at that starts with the idea that we should stay away from these trivial bits of advice, and look for substantial help backed up by research.

Here’s The new Lifehacking #1: Why You Should Stop Feeding Your Addiction to Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts.


Why The Urgent-Important Matrix and Purpose-Goal-Action Hierarchies Don’t Matter Much

too busy to figure out purposeSome people have remarked that 2Time Labs focuses almost exclusively on what we call Time Mechanics – how you manage the flow of time demands through your life. Or in other words, what happens to them from the moment they are born in your mind to the point where they disappear from your life because they have been completed.

It’s a bit of a criticism, to be honest. The argument is that we should also focus on Time Choices – helping people to decide what they should be working on at any moment in time in keeping with a hierarchy of goals. They point to the Urgent-Important Matrix popularized (but not invented) by Stephen Covey, and other systems of thought that link high-level life-purpose at one extreme, to the choice they make about what to do today at another.

The line of thinking is that it’s best when there is a connection between these two extremes, running all the way through different levels of commitment.

I haven’t joined that debate, and yes, the work at 2Time Labs focuses squarely on Time Mechanics while spending little time on Time Choices. Why?

It’s because most people don’t have time to think about life purpose for more than a fleeting moment. In other words, their time mechanics don’t give them any room to consider these questions. Even someone who decides to come up with a plan for their lives won’t succeed if they are unable to spend any time during their busy day to execute it, no matter how well it’s conceived and worded.

On the other hand, people who manage their time well seem to be able to make excellent Time Choices at all levels, and fully integrate highest and lowest level activities. My hypothesis is that they are able to do this well without any formal training because they have the time and space to ask questions about where their life is going, and then turn the answers into action items. They have a peace of mind that allow for deeper questions, and better linkage between their goals at all levels.

As for the Urgent-Important Matrix – it’s a nice system of classification. But after your time demands have been tagged with the right quadrant from the matrix… now what? You still have to make an individual decision about when to do the action and the tag might be useful for a fleeting instant, but what happens when a few days have passed and a time demand moves from one quadrant to the other? Should you go through and re-tag every item with an updated category? Probably not, which means that the action of adding the tag in the first place is probably superflouous.

The answer is not to come up with a new process or system for linking these goals, tagging the or even defining them. The systems that I have seen make good common-sense, but don’t really say anything new that you couldn’t figure out on your own. Tagging time demands with any kind of priority or category doesn’t seem to be an essential step, even though some would argue that it helps them.

An Evergreen Time Management System

At the heart of the Time Management 2.0 approach is this idea: there is no final destination when it comes to time management systems if you are an active, working professional. In fact, they should be evergreen – live, changing and evolving in order to keep up with your growth as a professional, plus changes in technology and workload.

I wrote an article about this concept at the Stepcase Lifehack website: An Evergreen Time Management System.

P.S. I am about to launch my refreshed, free time management training… and here’s some of it.

I Can Save You 5000 Hours Per year. Guaranteed… (Not!)

I recently decided to sharpen up my focus on  certain kind of customer / reader here at 2Time Labs and MyTimeDesign.

I’ll use the headline of this post to explain what I mean.

My Time Management System Can Save You 5000 Hours Per Year. Guaranteed.

 What’s your reaction?

  • I’m intrigued!
  • Bull&%$#!

This may sound ridiculous, but the first group is the one I intend to ignore.

And it’s not because I am aligning myself with the cynics in the world, against those who are open-minded.

The distinction I’m trying to draw is more of the “bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you” variety. The second group knows that the flaws in the headline of this post run deep, for a number of reasons, starting with these two:

  1. the promise cannot be verified scientifically due to problems in establishing proper measures.
  2. professionals operate at different levels of skill, and such a promise assumes a world of universal mediocrity that, thankfully, doesn’t exist.

The second group is often insulted by time management trivia that does little to inform, and makes no difference other than to provide a cool distraction. Lists of numbered time management tips leave them cold.

Instead, they would find company in others who know that improving one’s time management skills is a difficult business. As Steve Pavlina puts it on his website, Personal Development for Smart People, “Personal development is hard work.”

Anyone who is looking for a fast, easy shortcut to better time management skills hasn’t learned the truth that, I think, can only come from real-world experience. That’s a fancy way of saying that they haven’t failed enough to know enough.

In the time management business, I can’t compete with those who write soft articles that speak to this first group. They make outrageous promises and offer over-simplified answers to tough questions and there are a lot of them who believe that an article urging people to “spend more time on stuff that’s important and less time on stuff that’s not” is a brand new message that deserves to be disseminated widely to professionals who have never heard it.

They are the ones most likely to believe that there’s a time management system that fits every person on the planet, and that you should find the best time management system and just follow it.

What I do know for a fact is that for the second group I described, that does indeed know much, much better, there is little that’s being written. Maybe 5% of the new time management articles being published address their experience and knowledge. Probably less. I curate hundreds of posts, videos and audios on time management each week and I can attest – the number of quality articles that try to speak to the second group is small.

We can blame this state of affairs on any number of people, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll focus on getting more content out to a greater number of people that actually makes a profound difference. Doing so is much, much harder… and I love it.

Why IT Professionals Need to Pay Attention to Time Management

A recent series of 2 articles by Peter Denning in the Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery included many ideas covered by us here at 2Time Labs.

He starts off in Part 1 by saying that many computing professionals have a great challenge with time management and shares their “laments about information overload, about a relentlessly increasing rate of input from Internet and other sources, and about feelings of overwhelm, data drowning, inadequacy and even victimization.”

He argues that we have demanded increased data from our surroundings, but have become no better at using it to make decisions.

In a move familiar with time management fans, he defines “commitment management” as the starting point in a way that’s similar to the definition of “time demand management” here at 2Time Labs.

He goes on to talk about practices that are needed:
1. How to track commitments to their completion.
2. How to choose what commitments to make or decline.
3. How to organize the conversations that lead to the completion of commitments.
4. How to manageme mood and capacity.

From his point of view, the most recent time management books focus on the first practice, but not on the last three.

Some books, like those written by Stephen Covey, talk about the need to make commitments based on one’s personal mission statement. While this works to some degree, I believe that this thinking scratches the surface of what needs to be done by busy professionals who simply won’t pull out a card with a written statement every time they need to make a decision. (In general, Covey’s ideas badly need someone to show people how to convert them into credible, daily action.)

Then, his article takes an interesting tack, as he brings in the Conversations for Action thinking pioneered by Weinograd and Flores in their book, “Understanding Computers and Cognition.” While their ideas are beyond the scope of this article, they are powerful and I have been using them since the mid-1990’s in my daily life and in the odd seminar.

They define commitments as promises that are created between people in conversation – a particular kind of dialog. They are created only after the right context/relationship has been established and an exploratory, visionary conversation has been conducted. The author rightly argues that these activities take time, and are themselves commitments to be managed.

Here at 2Time Labs I define “time demands” a bit differently – to include commitments that aren’t necessarily made to other people, but are made only to oneself. An example is “the need to spend time alone to prepare for a conversation for action.” Also, I would go a step further and assert that all commitments to other people begin in the same place – with a private commitment. Only then can a public request or promise be made.

In his followup paper written with Ritu Raj, the author goes on to define the main problem behind information overload. It’s not the the spam and informational messages that we should be concerned with, but email messages that have commitments / time demands embedded in them, in the form of requests and promises. These are the nuggets of gold that require our greatest attention.

In particular, Dennings singles out the time demands that make up coordination loops – those cycles of promises and requests that Flores and Weinograd explain in their book. Managing these loops is of utmost importance, as they are the essential elements of communication in team environments that drive result production. There are few email programs that are designed to manage these cycles, and none of them are widely used. Most of us are stuck having to imagine these loops, and manage them using our memory.

This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In complex team environments, the author reminds us that setting up a single conference call is an activity that can take dozens of emails. Completing subtasks that involve multiple team members can take even more. New tools are needed to manage coordination loops, and they need to exist inside our email and time management programs. Some do exist, as the author notes, but apparently they aren’t very well known or widely implemented.

One system that I have trialed that takes a step in this direction is called Promisystem, a web app that provides a solid method for managing promises. Unfortunately, it lacks Outlook, Lotus Notes or Apple Mail integration. <Only after writing this article I did I discover OrchestratorMail, created by by Raj’s company.>

The author makes an interesting point in passing: “The conclusion is that, for most of us, most of our time management is really not ‘personal’.”

I take this to mean that when you accept a role in a project team, you are essentially agreeing to undertake certain speech acts (a la John Searle) and to play a specific part in pre-designated commitment loops. The requirements of this role don’t depend on you – your time management skill, your personality, your choices – the individual, but are defined by the team and the requirements of the project.

Obviously, some are more highly skilled than others in this respect, a fact that Dennings alludes to in his claim that people need to be aware of their capacity to undertake commitments. Many people are not aware, nor are they interested in understanding it until they have an acute problem and start failing. At that point, a few do take the course that I advocate here at 2Time Labs – to implement an upgrade to their existing habits, practies and rituals.

Most engage in some combination of complaining about needing an extra hour in the day, or attempts to reduce time demands. Some take extreme action and quit their teams and/or their jobs.

Project managers need to be careful who they appoint to certain roles in terms of their ability to manage time demands and commitment loops. In my training, I give people tools to assess their personal time management skills, awarding them a White, Yellow, Orange or Green Belt depending on their personal assessment.

A team of White Belts (the lowest skill level) would operate very differently from a team of Green Belts. Most project maangers end up with a blend, and can be helped with a certain knowledge of what skill levels potential team members possess before they are added to the team.

It’s a great series of articles, and Part 1 is available here: (Thanks Tom M. for the link.)

Part 2 is available here – ttp://

Denning, P., Communications of the ACM 543. (Mar 2011) DOI: 10.1145/1897852.1897865
Denning, P., Raj, R. Communications of the ACM 549. (Sep 2011) DOI: 10.1145/1995376.1995388
Winograd, T., and Flores, F. Understanding Computers and Cognition. Addison-Wesley. Reading, MA, 1987.


Coaching in a World of “Stuff”

It’s hard to help someone else improve their time management skills when all you see is “stuff.”  Here’s an article I wrote about how an understanding of time demands can make a big difference:  Coaching Amidst a World of Stuff.

P.S. I added a few videos that can help a coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer do a much more successful job of producing results.

“It’s Not About Time Management!” – Really???

There are all sorts of books, blog posts, white papers, YouTube videos and other sources that are claiming that time management as a discipline has become irrelevant.  They are all dead wrong.

Usually the claim comes in the form of a statement;

“It’s not about time management….  it’s about ____________.”  

 What fills in the blank are things like energy management, life balance, prioritization, self management, etc.

The truth is, there is no such thing as time management in strict terms, due to the fact that time cannot be managed.  It’s independent of our attempts to do anything other than observe it.  What we commonly call time management is closer to “action management” in which we make decisions about what to do at any point in time.  This is, however, beside the point.

The fact is, there is no escaping the management of ones actions in time.  It’s a fundamental part of being effective as a working professional who has 24 hours each day, and more demands than can be completed in a human lifetime.  Time management is part and parcel of producing results in business and its essential that professionals have the right skills in order to meet their obligations at each point in their careers.

To overlook these skills is to have tasks fall through the cracks, email Inboxes overflow, stress levels to build, physical clutter to accumulate, deadlines to be missed and meetings to start late.  Dealing with these problems are mostly a matter of mechanics, which time management is uniquely equipped to deal with.

A New Paradigm for Time Demands

Those of us who are older (over 40) have a hard time escaping the To-Do-on-paper mentality in favor of time-demand-in-the-cloud thinking.

In the old days, when you had something to do you added it to a list using a pen or pencil.  That piece of paper/list was the point of storage for what we now call “time demands” here at 2Time Labs.

Nowadays, that same item might be stored in any number of places instead of a paper list, such as:

  • a tweet
  • a comment on Pinterest
  • an email message
  • an instant message
  • a voicemail
  • a page on Facebook
  • a text message
  • a recommendation request on Linkedin
  • an attachment sent to your iPhone
…plus many others.

On the upside, the increasing number of electronic storage locations means that some stuff will be backed up and safe from being lost.  The downside is that we often get confused if we don’t make the jump to understand the nature of time demands, and why we need to think of them as residing in the cloud.

To start off, a time demand is an individual commitment to complete an action in the future.  It’s a mental creation, and it ceases to exist once the action is completed.  Also, like physical objects in space, time demands accumulate in the mind, and create problems when their number exceeds a certain threshold.

An email that arrives in your Inbox may contain several time demands, depending on its nature.  Once that email is read for the first time, it’s disposed of in a number of ways based on your methods.  It can be:

  • stored in your Inbox, while the time demands are committed to memory
  • deleted after the time demands can be placed on a list or schedule
  • placed in an email folder for later view
  • printed on paper and added to a To-Do manila folder

We make the mistake of focusing on the object, like an email message, instead of the time demands which it includes.  Email messages, text messages, meeting minutes, tweets, etc. are all variations of the same thing:  containers or transmitters for time demands, much in the way that a mango skin is the the container for its pulp.  (It’s mango season here in Jamaica as you can probably tell!)

When we try to “reduce the number of emails” we get each day we are barking up the wrong tree.  5000 email messages per day are not a problem if 4999 are spam.  One email can contain 150 time demands.

Once we focus on time demands, it’s not hard to think of them as being stored in the cloud, and all we need is access to the handful we need at any time in order to do our jobs and make decisions.  If the number is quite small, we can even manage them in their entirety, as a group.

Once the number grows, however, we get overwhelmed, and try to find ways to cut down the need to be looking at too many all at once.

The first attempt people make is to migrate from one single list to many lists.  This helps a bit, and the technique works as long as the number of time demands remains below a threshold.  What’s important to note is that a list or sub-list is just a particular view of all the time demands that exist.  It might be a view of the tasks to do in the office, those that are urgent, those that require big commitments of time, etc.

When a user upgrades to a schedule, it’s an attempt to shield oneself from the onslaught of all the time demands at once, as they are spaced out over time.  Once again, the schedule is just a particular way of looking at all the time demands that are in the cloud.  It’s a more robust tool than a simple list; the fact is, a schedule is just a list enhanced with dates and durations, and sorted by the former.

In other words, it’s also a view of all the time demands that you need to complete. It requires more time to set it up, and more time to maintain, but much less time to review than simple lists when the number of time demands is below a certain threshold.

No single approach is better than others but it’s important that professionals understand that they have a choice, and that there is likely to be stress if their approach is not a sufficiently robust one.