An article I wrote in the newspapers today tackled the thorny problem of being told that you need to do the job of two (or more) people. If you haven’t read my book, “Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure” then you may not know that this is how the books starts… but I won’t spoil the surprise!
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 Superdad.com – 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.
“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.
Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm
Now and then a book or paper comes along that supports one or more of the basic tenets of Time Management 2.0, the philosophy that underlies the work we do here at 2Time Labs. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review offers some similar ideas that we believe are coming from a very similar place.
The article, “Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm” was written by Marcus Buckingham and published in the June 2012 issue. It espouses the idea that leadership is a complex activity that cannot be reduced to a simple set of “best-practices.” It states the problem in this way:
As the personalization of content delivery becomes increasingly pervasive, it might even be that you begin to notice it most when it is absent–when there is a setting in which you should be identifiable as an individual, yet the information presented to you is strangely undifferentiated. I’ve noticed such a setting: your leadership development program.
Well, here at 2Time Labs have noticed another such setting: your time management / productivity program!
The article continues:
“Even a decade after leadership training began to recognize different styles and strengths, and even in organizations that have made cultivating high-potential talen a priority, the content served up is generic.”
Generic formulas are the bread and butter of all the time management books I have read up until now, hence the similarity between this article and what we have been saying. It’s only amazing that so few others are saying the same thing in a discipline (time management) that is much easier to quantity and observe than “leadership.”
Near the end of the article he says:
That old model of leadership development, the formulaic model, has an appealing simplicity, but it runs afoul of two realities: Each leder also leads differently, and the techniques used by one don’t necessarily translate to another.
(He calls this a problem of scale, just like we do.)
He imagines a future:
Soon there will be a place, somewhere in the cloud, that cotinually gathers the best techniques, tips, and pactical innvoations from high-performing leaders around the world; sorts them… ; feed you the techniques that fit you best… It will be your own personal leadership coach.
We can’t wait!
There are other points of similarity that he mentions and I strongly recommend the article if the ideas at 2Time Labs have resonated with you at all. Let us know in the comments if you get a chance to read the article, and what you think.
What Inspires Me – In Part – To Improve Time Management
I recently put together a video describing some of the benefits of the free program that I’m about to offer during 2Time Labs’ upcoming Open House. In the middle of editing the recording, I felt guilty and a little ashamed. After all, I was telling the world how weak we as a people are in this area, and it felt as if I were washing my dirty linen in public.
Then I read this article published recently based on a speech given by Bryan Wynter, Governor of the Bank of Jamaica, which is our Central Bank (the equivalent of the Federal Reserve.) The article said:
Total factor productivity, which captures the overall efficiency of production, has declined at an average rate of 2.1 per cent every year over the period 1990 to 2010. Similarly, labour productivity, which measures output per worker, contracted at an average rate of 0.5 per cent per year over the same period,” he noted.
He also observed that Jamaica’s labour productivity has lagged behind its major trading partners, as well as a number of emerging market economies.
“Against this background, Jamaica’s annual economic growth over the past decade has averaged 0.8 per cent. This is in contrast to average economic growth of 2.6 per cent per year for our Caribbean neighbours,” Mr. Wynter pointed out.
The Central Bank Governor identified a number of factors which have contributed to Jamaica’s low productivity over the years. These include: deficiencies in human capital; high levels of crime; fiscal distortions; and a poor work ethic.
What I know from living and working in the U.S. for over 20 years is that Jamaican workers who migrate are just as productive as anyone else. The right environment makes all the difference. Part of what originally got me inspired was a need to replace the excellent mentors, role models and coaching that I observed in the American workplace with something quite different that could be used anywhere – a pathway that anyone could take to improve their time management and productivity skills.
It was the spark that led to 2Time Labs, MyTimeDesign, and NewHabits-NewGoals, which was fueled by the further insight that I had… everyone who wants the benefits of greater personal productivity eventually runs out of others to copy and imitate and must find a way to teach themselves a method that works for them.
So, it might be strange to take a time management program designed by someone living in Jamaica – we are more known for being very, very fast, and very, very laid back (some contradiction)! We’re not so well known for our productivity, which funny enough, is exactly why I have been so inspired.
P.S. Update on the timing of the Open House. In the middle of migrating to the new version of MyTimeDesign it dawned on me that there are a lot of upgrades I want to make… so rather than rush them, I’m giving myself a bit of time to migrate from 1.0.Plus+ to 1.1.Plus+. Stay tuned…
Why Productivity Shouldn’t Be Tossed Out
Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits has come up with an interesting and provocative post: “Why Productivity Should be Tossed Out.”
His idea is right in line with a lot of the themes he focuses on in his popular blog, which offers tips on how we can simplify our lives and return to a more basic set of habits. That’s a hard job to undertake in the times in which we live, unfortunately! In his post, he argues that productivity advice should be tossed out, at least according to his definition:
“the advice is wrong for a simple reason: it’s meant to squeeze the most productivity out of every day, instead of making your days better.”
What he doesn’t leave room for is the fact that people have different goals, and that these goals change from one phase of life to the next. Their definition of “productivity” evolves and needs to be used as the yardstick for whatever improvements they contemplate. The same change might have very different effects depending on what the user wants at the end of the day, including simple decisions such as “whether or not to work this weekend.”
He makes the mistake that many in the productivity and time management field make, which is to assume that we should (or do) have the same goals. While this assumption is arguably a reasonable one to make, simplifying people’s goals isn’t the same as simplifying their habits.
When he gets into the “7 Tips” that make up the meat of the article, his broad strokes turn into broadsides, as he recommends that his readers not measure anything, not have goals, not focus their work, not plan to do more than one thing per day, not make plans for time spent waiting in the dentist’s waiting room, and even not get organized.
If he were to add that these recommendations are some fun variations from the unquestioned routine we find ourselves in at times, that would be one thing. But his words appear to be stronger than that and sound prescriptive.
Here’s the contradiction: I imagine that he wrote his article on a computer and shared it on the Internet. It’s a mistake to think that the technology that allows his message to reach his 200,000+ readers takes place without a lot of people committing themselves to mastering complexity and doing exactly the very things that he is advising people not to do (it could be that he’s only writing to his core constituency, but the article makes it seem as if his one size “should” fit all).
It’s a bit of over-reaching on his part.
He does, however, end the article on an interesting point:
You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to work hard on something you dread doing, and then take a break to reward or relieve yourself from that dreaded work. You should work on stuff you love, so that you can’t wait to do it, and taking a break is just a matter of enjoying something else (maybe a nice walk, a nice book, a nice conversation with a friend). Life where you work hard in bursts, with some breaks, is dreadful. Life where you’re always doing something you love is art.
Apart from the part where he’s telling everyone what they should do, he paints a great possibility: it’s possible to get to the point where we don’t shun the stuff we dislike, but instead we prefer what’s happening at any moment, simply because… nothing else can be happening, and we are at our best when we accept what is.
That would make for a helpful article, but the doctrine of simplifying everything doesn’t seem to be the answer that would make a difference.
Why I’m Inspired by CK Prahalad
A long time ago when I was a young consultant at AT&T Bell Labs I remember reading and then advocating the ideas of CK Prahalad, the recently deceased professor, thought leader and management consultant.
He shared some of his interviews before his death in Strategy and Business, on the topic of thought leadership and the source of new ideas. Not surprisingly, it echoed some of the 2Time Labs discoveries around building competence slowly, via deliberate practice. He also says:
I was very keen to write. I found writing was the best way to clarify my own thinking. When you talk you can be vague, and the English language can be delightfully vague. When you sit down to write, you see whether you can express your ideas clearly or not. That habit has stayed with me. When I think I have an interesting idea, I try to write it down for myself first.
…it takes time to develop a new idea. If you are a writer, like me, then what you write on any given day may be only a fragment of what you know or what you believe, because you may not be ready to write down everything you have to say. There are breakthroughs, but they happen over a long period of time.
To me, the problems of greatest interest are things that you cannot explain with the current prevailing theory.
In developing all of these ideas, I learned not to start with the methodology, but with the problem. A lot of times, research tends to start with the methodology. I prefer to start with a problem that’s of interest and apply whatever methodology is appropriate.
Every one of my research projects started the same way: recognizing that the established theory did not explain a certain phenomenon. We had to stay constantly focused on weak signals. Each weak signal was a contradictory phenomenon that was not happening across the board. You could very easily say, “Dismiss it, this is an outlier, so we don’t have to worry about it.” But the outliers and weak signals were the places to find a different way to think about the problem.
If you look historically at the strategy literature, starting with Alfred D. Chandler Jr.’s Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the Industrial Enterprise [MIT Press, 1962], the most powerful ideas did not come out of multiple examples. They came out of single-industry studies and single case studies. Big impactful ideas are conceptual breakthroughs, not descriptions of common patterns. You can’t define the “next practice” with lots of examples. Because, by definition, it is not yet happening.
For example, with the “Twenty Hubs and No HQ” article [which described a proposed structure for multinational companies], we didn’t prove the value of this system through examples, because we didn’t have examples. But we laid out a logic about how it might work, connecting the dots, showing a new pattern. I believe that conceptual breakthroughs come when you see a new pattern. And you use stories or companies’ work as examples and illustrations of the concept, not as proof of good practice. In The New Age of Innovation, for instance, I write about Aravind’s remarkable cataract surgery practice, but I use it as an example, not as proof. I never say, “Because of Aravind’s example, we know this should work.” Current practices, however successful they are, may not be robust enough to stand the test of time.
Of course, we all invented our own terms. Indeed, the biggest impediment in the growth and strategy literature is that, unlike in the financial literature, there are no standardized terms. There is no organizing thesis and principle. My bottom of the pyramid becomes someone else’s “base of the pyramid.” What’s the difference? There’s not even agreement about appropriate units of analysis. Is it one person? A team? A division? What is the fundamental building block of HR?
Over the next year, I came to the conclusion that it would be very easy to stay on course and keep mining these ideas and writing more about them — but then I was likely to write a mediocre next book. I think many writers fall into that trap. So in the late 1990s I started looking for the next big idea.
This perfectly encapsulates the reason why I share ideas here at 2Time Labs. When I worked at AT&T Bell Labs, we published Technical Memorandums and Internal Memorandums in order to disseminate ideas, get feedback and bring some order to jumbles of ideas. That’s apparently what Prahalad used to do also.
What he says about “weak signals” is quite important to the work we do also. There’s not a whole lot of evidence for many of the popular theories in time management, but there are certain patterns that can be seen, and they go well beyond today’s cliches. Time Management 2.0 is made up of such patterns, and there is scant evidence of their truth… at the moment. Emerging research by experts such as Dezhi Wu is confirming these patterns, but it might be a while before they are accepted as everyday, obvious truth.
I love the warning at the end, and in fact, the article revived an idea I have had for some time that connects the dots between strategic planning and time management. In our firm, we have been showing our clients how to craft 30 year strategies and it’s something I haven’t written much about since Amie Devero, a former partner of Framework Consulting, made note of the technique in her book, Powered by Principle.
All in all, I was deeply inspired by his example — and his passing was a great loss.
The New York Times Gets It Wrong, but a Little Right
An article in the New York Times entitled 5 Easy Steps to Staunch the Email Flood seems to fall into the trap that most time management tinkers fall into.
An author shares a system of habits that works for them and essentially tells everyone else to “follow me” based on the evidence of a single success. It then follows with suggestions that, honestly, fly in the face of accepted best practice such as “don’t treat your Inbox like a To-Do list” which the article heartily recommends. (This approach works only under certain conditions, according to the research done here at 2Time Labs.)
The article does get one thing right, however, when it’s author, Sam Grobart states:
But the problem with a lot of organizational systems is that they replace one anxiety (“My stuff’s not organized”) with another (“My stuff’s not organized according to this specific system”).
Not to get too Zen here, but maybe the best system is no system. Or, put another way, the best system requires the least behavior modification. A few small habits may have to be adopted, but nothing as rigorous as GTD.
He’s a bit right here, and the point made about replacing one anxiety with another is well taken and related to his second comment. I would reword the sentiment. The best upgrade requires the least behavior modification.
The problem with GTD® and every other static system is that they don’t attempt to meet the user where he/she currently is. Most people find themselves:
1) in habit patterns that are far from ideal that they have practiced for many years
2) without a clue, let alone a plan, for how to bridge the gap to a new ideal set of habits
3) lacking any experience in changing complex systems of habits and therefore under-estimate what’s needed to make new habits stick
The result is frequent failure, and it sounds as if the author counts himself in that number. But the answer is not to come up with a new set of guru-drive prescriptive behaviors, even if they do seem easier. Instead, it’s better to question the game, and then change it entirely.
What users desperately need is help to figure out what small behavior changes to make first, second and third. And, they must figure it out for themselves as one-size certainly does not fit all when it comes to time management.
The good news is that MyTimeDesign 1.0.Free is about to re-open for registration and you can see exactly what I mean when I imply that the game can be changed. Stay tuned., and in the meantime, if you are new to this website, see the About tab above for an overview of Time Management 2.0.
More Than a New Tag-Line
I have a new tag-line at my site: “The World’s Best Resource for Time Management 2.0”
It struck me a few days ago as I was looking around for resources to recommend for a class I’m teaching, that I had nowhere on the Internet to point them to better than my own site. I don’t mean to brag, but the fact is I seem to be aggressively hunting down, processing and writing about the topic of time management at a pretty hot pace, perhaps as fast as any PhD student might do in the early phases of their research.
It’s not that I have all the ideas, even though I do have a long list of items that I want to address in new posts. Instead, in the past few months I have found myself delving into the academic research and finding some good/bad news. There’s some good thinking, but the bad news is that there has been little or no momentum or continuity of thought in the field. It’s as if one or two papers are written by an author in a 3 year period, only to have them go off to do something completely different and unrelated immediately after publication.
It’s too bad, but I am determined to have this site become the single best source of time management research, wherever and whenever it’s been done in the world.
But I just don’t want a lot of depth for it’s own sake. My eye is actually on the conversion of good ideas into upgraded habits that better the lives of working professionals around the world. My mission is to solve the problem of unnecessary time-stress once and for all, and to bring the kind of peace of mind that we all want, in spite of having full lives, busy jobs and active families. Fully committed, but balanced.
One thing you won’t find here… tired ideas that are repeated on hundreds of sites, buttressed by worn out cliches and superficial thinking. There are lots of “top 10 tips for time management” floating around that say nothing new, leading many to think that they have already heard every useful message on the topic, and that there’s no need to continue listening.
All I can say is “stay tuned,” as there’s a great deal of work for us all to do to stay ahead of the increasing demands on our time, new technology and inevitable life changes. It’s a time to pay more attention, not less, to this important aspect of our lives.
How Good Can a Paper System Be?
I received an interesting email from a reader of 2Time site who felt a bit put off at my comments about paper systems.
She mentioned that in my video on “Permanently Fixing the Weekly Review” I said (in passing) that paper systems are from the 1950’s. Well, of course, all paper systems are from the pre-1990s, because that’s just about all we had back then to work with!
But I have never addressed the main point she’s inquiring into — can a paper-based system be every bit as good as one that’s electronic? Her last question was the most pointed:
If we truly believe in the “know the basics and make it your own” philosophy, then we must allow people to use the tools that speak to who they are. There cannot be a wrong way.
I humbly agree! In fact, I do all my manual capturing on paper. I also use a Palm PDA – they sit beside each other in a portable wallet that I carry everywhere.
However, using the 11 Habits as a tool for analyzing a time management system that uses only paper reveals that there is a limit to the number of time demands that can be handled using only paper. Let’s look at each of the fundamentals and see why a paper system prevents a user from reaching the higher belts in some disciplines, and why.
(As you read this, bear in mind that the 2Time belt system is just something I made up… it’s not written in stone anyplace. If you’d like to see a short summary of each of the fundamentals, simply do a search on this blog for the relevant keywords in bold and you’ll find my very first definitions.)
Capturing: At the moment I prefer to use paper because it has the following characteristics…
- it’s cheap
- requires no charging
- it can get wet or hot
- it’s quick to use – I can write faster than I can type, or have my handwriting recognized
On the other hand, it also offers no backup capabilities, which actually helps me because it leads me to Empty more frequently.
When it comes to automatic capture points, however, those that are electronic win hands-down. For example, at some point soon, letters and bills will be replaced by email entirely.
In the future, I fully expect that tools like LiveScribe will become easier to use, and that we’ll have paper and electronic combinations that give us some of the benefits of both media.
In 2Time terms, it’s possible to become a Green Belt in Capturing using either paper or electronic tools.
Emptying: I think it’s equally easy to empty a paper capture point as it is to empty an electronic capture point. However, there is something that feels good about crossing an item off my pad that deleting doesn’t quite match.
Apart from that, most professionals’ time demands arrive via email and having a paper capture point alongside an electronic email Inbox is a little cumbersome as one needs to move between two different media.
But these are minor differences. The act of Emptying can be mastered if only paper tools are used, so there is little difference between the two.
Tossing: There are only some minor differences between Tossing using paper or electronic tools. Green Belts are achievable regardless of the medium.
Acting Now: Once again, there are very minor differences between the two media in this particular fundamental.
Storing: The discipline/fundamental of storing is defined as indexing information that’s needed in the future so that it’s easy to find at the precise moment of need. This is one fundamental that paper proves to be a limiting factor.
Important information that most professionals need in the future include:
- contact information
- saved messages
- saved files
- due dates
The problem with using a paper storage system is that it’s
- liable to damage from extreme wet, heat, pilferage, hurricanes, tsunami’s, earthquakes, cyclones, vermin, etc.
- costly to the bottom line and to the environment
- difficult to make backups
In 2Time terms, it’s not possible to progress to the Green Belt stage without using electronic tools. To put it another way, someone who uses electronic tools can effectively executive this fundamental for a greater number of items.
For example, trying to store passwords is a problem for anyone who has a great number of them, and tries to manage them using paper only. Once they upgrade to an electronic storage system with automatic backups, and master the new habits needed, they become more effective.
Scheduling: This fundamental is one that clearly separates paper from electronic users in terms of the number of scheduled items they are able to manage.
A quick glance at the detailed posts on Scheduling reveals that it’s not possible to manage a complex, dynamic schedule on paper. Again, this is strictly a matter of volume.
Users that want to manage a great number of time demands have greater success using a complete and dynamic schedule, alongside short lists. This isn’t a problem at White and Yellow belts, where the number of time demands is low. However, as the number increases, and it becomes harder to handle a mental schedule, then the techniques at Orange and Green Belt levels become necessary.
A dynamic schedule, by the way, is one that can be changed on the fly, when needed. The power of portable electronic PDA’s and smartphones is that a schedule can be carried and accessed quickly. Laptops aren’t quite as accessible, of course.
An electronic schedule can also be duplicated and synchronized in real time across multiple platforms, which makes it easy to recover from a catastrophic event.
Listing: The problems with paper-based Scheduling are similar to those of paper-based Listing. With electronic lists come the safety of having good backups, easy updates from any geographic location plus platform synchronization.
At the White and Yellow Belt levels, where Listing is a prominent activity, using paper lists is risky because of the lack of backups.
Interrupting, Switching, Warning and Reviewing: These Advanced fundamentals are tool independent — they don’t have much to do with using paper or something electronic.
As I performed the above analysis for the first time for this article, I realized that I should reinforce some of the important ideas behind Time Management 2.0, to explain why I created a system that requires electronic tools at the higher Belts.
- No-one needs to be at any particular Belt in time management. My only recommendation is professionals should choose the Belt that fits their “style,” and allows them to manage their chosen volume of daily time demands.
- White Belts are not inferior or superior to Green Belts, any more than a huge pipe is better than a small pipe. They are simply designed for different purposes. At the same time, choosing the wrong pipe cam lead to chaos. When it comes to a particular skill in any fundamentals, it’s important that the selection be made carefully, and in keeping with key metrics like “the number of emails I receive each day.”
There is a common belief that a time management system should be tool-neutral. I think that a modern system includes one’s “choice” of:
Each person assembles a system that matches their life needs, and as such, the choice of gadget (which might range from a Franklin Planner to an Android) is very important. I certainly am dealing with this issue as I plan my next upgrade to a Blackberry, as it will make some habits harder to execute, and others easier, simply because of its design.
Bottom Line: as we upgrade and tinker with our time management systems we are free to use what we will, but there are “hard” consequences to our choices that we must account for, and simply can’t ignore.
P.S. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. The great thing about writing a blog is that I’m not stuck with what I created even last week!