Why New Employees Struggle with Time Management

In the area of time management, it turns out that some vital skills we picked as kids have to be un-learned, if we have an interest in being successful working adults.

Grade school and high school turn out to be nothing more than extended memory tests for many people.  A bunch of facts and techniques are thrown at them, and their challenge is to remember as much of them as possible, mostly in order to pass tests, quizzes and exams.  Good students are the ones who are able to recall this information when tested, and they come to take pride in their ability to remember even trivial information, such as the names of all the dinosaurs in the Jurassic Period.

This ability to commit data to memory, and to recall it at will, quickly becomes a habit that they apply not only to factual information but also to their future commitments, such as “the meeting 2 weeks from Friday with the marketing department.”

Here at the 2Time website, we refer to the latter as “time demands” — commitments that ones makes to oneself to complete a task at some point in the future.  For example, a commitment to “pick up the milk on the way home” is a time demand, whereas the route to the supermarket is different — it’s useful, factual information.

It turns out that we humans relate to these two kinds of information – time demands and factual data – quite differently, which is a useful thing, because they are in fact quite different.

Factual information, such as the route to the supermarket, carries with it an objective quality that is unchanging.  Time demands, on the other hand, are individual creations that exist only in the mind of their creators.  They are ephemeral in the sense that they have a finite lifetime – they come into being once they are created, and disappear once they are completed.

When we die, of course, they all vanish.

At the same time, they are critical to human beings as they allow us to think about and plan future actions, even if they are never written down.  You can hardly think about tomorrow without surveying the time demands that you have created for yourself that you think you should complete in that 24 hour cycle.

In very early grades, we are taught to manage time demands by keeping a schedule of classes so that we turn up at the right place at the right time, and we are taught to write down our homework so that we don’t forget.

Smart students eventually learn to discard both practices as they get older, and instead use they learn to use their finely tuned memory to manage these time demands.  This works well for the most part because they have few time demands to juggle.  After all, there are no bills to pay, and their weekly schedule of activities is a simple one to follow.  They can’t understand how their parents could forget simple time demands, like picking them up from school to take them to soccer practice.

Very few time demands slip through the cracks as a result, and they conclude that others (like their parents) who suffer from frequent mishaps, as just not as smart.

They take this practice with them into the workplace, in their first jobs, and for a while it works.  They appear at meetings with nothing in their hands to wrote with, or on, and when asked will scornfully tell others: “Don’t worry, I’ll remember.”

However, the time comes when they don’t.

At some point, their habit of committing time demands fails, and it happens for any number of reasons.

One may be that their managers give them additional responsibilities, and assign them complex projects that are too big to be managed by even the smartest person.  Another might be that as they marry, have children, assume mortgages, handle finances, pay taxes, play roles in their communities, and jump on volunteer projects , the number of time demands rapidly increases.

Also, even the smartest notice that as they get older, their powers of recall start to fade.  They realize that their parents’ momentary inability to recall their own children’s names is a malady that is about to befall them.

They need to develop some new habits in order to continue to be as effective as they once were.  Some persist however, and convince themselves that they can do no better.  They insist that that “their plates are full,” “they have too much to do” and “get too much email.”  They blame their circumstances for the number of balls they drop each day — I’ve known some to conclude that they simply cannot seek a promotion, or accept a new project because they cannot imagine a way to craft the 26 hour workday they think is required to be successful.

The solution is a simple on to describe — adopt new habits that are required in order to handle a new volume of time demands.

It’s much harder to do, and many smart people develop never develop these new habits, insisting that they already have good time management techniques.

What they really mean is: “I’m the most productive person I know, and I already know everything I need to know about time management.”

For some, it’s not until they are shown a multi-belt system like the ones that I give them in MyTimeDesign or NewHabits classes, that they begin to see that there are people who are way more productive than they are, even if they don’t know them.

A few never get to learn the lesson, and instead they use their ability to think fast on their feet to talk themselves out of trouble.  This works for a while, but it never moves them up the ladder to greater productivity.  Instead, it just helps them stay stuck at a low standard… just a little bit better than those around them.

Unfortunately, learning new habits has nothing to do with being smart, and has more to do with being resilient, or stubborn, and more than a bit humble.

It’s difficult (and sometimes scary) to admit that your strengths don’t work as well as they should, especially when they have never really failed

A New Special Report on Time Management 2.0

For the first time in a long time, I put my pen to paper to update the “manifesto” of ideas here on the 2Time website.

In writing the special report, 8 Edgy Ideas From Time Management 2.0, I tried to pull together the best ideas I could find from the posts I have written over the past 4 years.  I also recorded an audio version and a short video introduction that you can view below.

To download the report, simply click on the icon or click here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it over at the page I created for comments.

Why I Love Time Management

Now and then I ask myself “Why?”

Why do I have this blog devoted to time management and productivity?  Why do I spend time coming up with new  ideas every now and then, so that I can share them and hopefully turn them into ideas that make it into a class, a webinar or my consulting work?

I struggle a bit with the explanation, partly out of a fear of sounding too Pollyana-ish.  If I could put together a trite explanation… that’s it all about becoming dirty, filthy rich…. if I could leave it at that, I suppose many would nod and understand.  But then, I’d look foolish for giving away most of what I do for free.

I took a couple of MBA classes while I was at Cornell, and this just isn’t a great strategy, according to that kind of thinkingh.  I have been giving away almost everything for free, long before the book “Free” came about, and while the book helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, or crazy, it’s only added some capitalist logic to the fun I was already having tinkering with time management concepts.

At the moment, for example, I have nothing for sale on my website at all, and in 2010 I have only had a single product for sale for about 2 weeks (MyTimeDesign2.0.Professional.)

Not that that troubles me.

While I sometimes wish that I could make a living from this peculiar pursuit, it’s not what gets me up in the morning.

Instead, I think I like three things about what I do here on the 2Time blog, in the NewHabits-NewGoals programs and in MyTimeDesign.

The Challenge

I don’t know exactly why, but I am convinced that millions of working people around the world are trying to be more productive than they already are, not because the boss demands it necessarily, but because their aspirations require it.  For example, many people are trying to lost weight, start their own small business, get more education or spend more quality time with their families and they know that a simple improvement in how they manage their time will give them “more.”

They also know that time is one of those commodities that cannot be reclaimed, and that the older they get, the more this rings true in their experience.

As far as I can tell, these concerns transcend nationality, race, gender or any of the categories that we use to distinguish human beings from each other.  The idea that  I could solve it for so many people thrills me each and every day — after all, I am working to solve a problem that my colleagues here in Kingston, Jamaica, and my fellow human beings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are all struggling with.

What’s at stake is nothing more than our quality of life.

What pisses me off is that all the books/websites I have read on the topic don’t deal with some basic truths:

  • we all have (and need) unique approaches to managing our time
  • we each have something that is working for us right now (to some degree)
  • time management is all about habits, and it’s hard for humans to change habits
  • to expect someone to toss out their current habits and adopt a bunch of new ones -in an instant – is unrealistic
  • the vast majority fail to implement new systems even when they try very, very hard
  • no-one knows how to measure the quality of an individual’s time management system

These truths might be called the “hidden secrets” of the time management industry, and they must be the starting point of everyone who is serious about helping people to become more productive.  To my mind, they are inescapable.

To add fuel to the fire, time management as an academic topic doesn’t have a proper home, and has, tragically, fallen through the cracks.  It’s a severely under-researched topic, and while it impacts every single working person on the planet in a profound way, there isn’t a single conference, journal or academic department in a major university that focuses on it (that I am aware of.)

Four years ago when I went looking to upgrade my own productivity system, I was appalled to find such a lack of depth in such a critical topic that impacts so many people.  As far as I can tell, little has changed since then.


As an 18 year old looking for a field of study, I was attracted to Industrial Engineering/Operations Research because of its dual emphasis on people and logical, fact based thinking.  Today, I love to tinker with technology, but not at the “lines of code” and “circuit board layout” levels.  Instead, I like to solve human problems with good technology.

This might be the reason why I have been so focused lately on the ways in which smart-phones have actually been destroying productivity.

But I should be more rigorous… smart-phones are great, but there is something weird (and un-hygienic) about the fact that some 50% of Americans have no problem using their smart-phones in the bathroom.

It’s a case of technology actually enabling us to hurt ourselves, via the bad habits that we adopt.

Today I spent some time tinkering with Microsoft Outlook, the most popular program of its kind by far.  Back in the 1990’s, it was born as an email program, and it’s evolved over the years  into an almost-ubiquitous productivity program.

This doesn’t seem to have happened by design, but instead, by accident.  Outlook is being used for a purpose that far exceeds its original design and over the years, little has changed.

Tinkering with Outlook’s is something that I would simply LOVE to do!

Now I know that that is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have dreamed of reshaping Outlook’s design so that users see it as a productivity center that pulls them into a powerful day each day, rather than “a place to check their email.”  (Gmail, Yahoo and AOL Mail are also good candidates for complete re-design.)

I fully expect that in the future someone will bring some high quality, Apple-like design to this particular problem — I’d enjoy being a part of an effort like that.  (Unfortunately, so far I can’t find anyone interested in solving this particular problem.)

The Result

At the end of the day, however, I like to see results, even if someone else produces them, or gets the credit.  The kind of results I have in mind are a world in which:

  • each person has their own way of managing their time
  • their time management approach works for them, and they know how to fix it or upgrade it when it stops working
  • technology tools are useful, and new technologies are built around users’ needs, and are adapted by users with good insight on how to use it to enhance their time management systems
  • there is an easy way to measure the progress of each person’s productivity
  • time management is a body of knowledge that is taught to 10 year old’s

Like most people, I want to know that what I’m working on makes a solid contribution, and I truly believe that most of the things I focus on in the 2Time blog are unavoidable.  For example, there must come a time when we realize en masse that it’s crazy to expect that people will teach themselves the fundamentals of time management.  It’s just as crazy to think that there is one perfect system for everyone, now and for all the years to come.  It’s also crazy to think that people can change a number of ingrained habits in an instant, when all the research tells us otherwise.

I think that people will come to understand these truths for themselves, and start to pass them on to younger generations, so that they can benefit earlier in their careers.

I guess I’m hoping that I’ll be able to help to make that day come just a little bit quicker.

The Coming Productivity Crisis

istock_000000182302small.jpgIf you listen carefully to the latest economic news, and to business owners around the world, you can see it coming.

The US is pulling out of the “Great Recession” in fits and starts, slowly pulling the rest of the world back into the black where we all share a greater sense of optimism for the future.

At the same time, job growth has been sluggish, or non-existent, as companies demonstrate a surprising reluctance to hire employees to fill the gap in production that is bound to increase once solid and steady economic growth returns.

I know I’m not alone in looking for ways to handle the hoped-for-increase in business without increasing overheads.  I am loathe to hire more people to work for me, and unlikely to hire full-time employees for a long, long time.

Instead, companies of all sizes are simply going to turn to employees who complain about having too much to do, and demand that they find a way to get more done.

A handful will do better, and actually give their employees ways to improve their personal productivity.  Instead of investing in new human resources, they’ll look to expand the capacity of their current employees.

Will this work?

I know that it’s possible… I have worked in companies in which the productivity is so obviously low that it’s not too hard to imagine the difference that better employees would make.

I have also worked in other companies in which employees never, ever catch up with email.  Their Inboxes are overflowing with messages begging for overdue action – a sure sign that time is not being managed well.

But you tell me… is there a widespread crisis on the horizon as expectations outstrip hiring?

Have you seen any signs of this?

Recent Guest-Posts

I have done a bit of writing recently for other websites that I admire, and find interesting.  Here are the most recent publications:

5 Things to Consider Before Investing in a Time Management System

Why Time Management is So Tough

Why We All Need to Upgrade Our Time Management Systems

There are some other articles coming out in the next few weeks so please stay tuned.

I’ve been focusing on trying to say a few things that no-one else is saying. The truth is, I hate reading stuff that’s just rehashed from other places.

Never Trust Your Time Management System!

I read an interesting post over at the GTD Help blog, and come up with some different conclusions that are perhaps directly opposed to those in the post below.

Here is the link to the post from the GTD Help blog


Do you REALLY trust your system?As I continue to grow in my use of GTD®, I’m discovering just how important the trust factor with your system can be.  David Allen says that you need to really trust your system for it to work.  You can say you trust it all you want, but that’s irrelevant.  When it comes down to it, a trusted system works and a semi-trusted system doesn’t.

So what does it mean to really trust your system?  I have a few thoughts.

Trust it like a Christian should trust God
You may or may not believe in God, but the point still works.  Andy Stanley gave a great analogy for how a Christian should trust in God.  He held up the stool he was sitting on and said to trust in it.  To trust in the stool means to sit ON it.  Not on the edge.  Not with your feet on the ground a little bit.  On it with your full weight.  You might be nervous at first, but over time you’ll learn to trust the stool completely.

Trust it like you should trust your spouse
If you’ve been married, you can understand this.  Saying you trust your spouse is one thing.  Really trusting your spouse is another.  For a marriage to really work, you need to completely trust in your spouse.

GTD is the same way
If you don’t really trust the system, then you can never have a “mind like water”.  I’ve found that as I’ve learned the system works and I can trust it, anything I put into it is instantly out of my head.  Getting the junk out of your head is the key to focusing on the task at hand, and GTD is a great way to get it done.  Whether you use software, a website, your PDA or just pen and paper, make sure you use a system that you can trust completely.


Here are my thoughts…

1. Distrust Your System!!!

A time management system should never be trusted to produce the same results over time.  Many things change — technology advances from year to year, people undergo life changes such as promotions, having children, getting married etc.  The time management system you developed and used last year might not work this year given a change in jobs.

We need to be vigilant for the times when our systems need to be overhauled, and always be on the lookout for upgrade possibilities.  (If you have ever met someone who designed a time management system in the 1950’s and is still using it, you’ll understand what I mean.)

2.  Make Sure It’s a System You Can Upgrade

I’d say it’s better to make sure that your system has an upgrade path, otherwise be prepared to be stuck in something like Windows 95.  Thankfully, Microsoft tries (and sometimes succeeds) in putting out good upgrades, and it would be weird for them to announce that they have perfected Windows, and as a result no further upgrades will be required.

If your time management system cannot be upgraded, then you have a real problem.

3.  Understand that Your System is Fallible

While the idea of everyone following the same system in the same way is attractive to some, I imagine that most people aren’t interested in trusting any particular system to the point where they believe that it can’t be improved, or is somehow without shortcomings.

The fact is, time management systems are human creations that were invented to fulfill human needs that only exist in this world.  According to Einstein, time doesn’t even exist as an absolute phenomena, much less the systems that we put together made up of habits, practices and rituals in order to try to manage it.

(Turns out, we can’t really even do that…  See my post on the reasons why “time management” is a misnomer.)

A car is also a man-made system and its performance has little to do with how much we trust, or semi-trust it.

Time management systems are no different.

In a nutshell, it’s a vain person who thinks that his/her time management system is perfect.


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.

Lifelong Learning — A Way to Think About Time Management

scale-feetonscale.jpgThere’s simply no way to create a great time management system from bits and pieces of tips dug up from here and there.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?

A quick search of Twitter for the phrase “time management” or the hashtag “#timemanagement” reveals how many people are looking for tips, shortcuts, and back doors.

We all want to be able to take a pill and wake up the following morning able to manage our time better.

Rather than looking for tips, we’d all be better off treating the issue as if it were a matter of lifelong learning rather than a miraculous flash in the pan.

In other words, it’s not as if people arrive at the perfect system at some point in their lives, and all they can do from that point on is hold onto it for dear life.

Instead, it’s more important for someone to treat their time management system as if it were something like they were their weight management system.

Trying to manage your weight at the age of 45 in the same way that you did at 25 is a recipe for disaster.

In the same way, trying to hold onto the same time management system, regardless of changes in the following aspects of your life, is just as crazy:

  • Retirement or working
  • Type of job
  • Commuting time (or working at home)
  • Number of kids
  • Technology availability
  • Marital status
  • Ability to remember

It’s a better idea to see time management skills as something that you must change over time — and continually redesign. One thing we do know is that a poor time management system can lead to regrets of all shapes and sizes, particularly as your life draws to a close.

As Weak as Your Weakest Link

chain.jpgOne of the joking complaints I receive in my NewHabits workshops has to do with my decision to grant belts only when users have shown themselves to be proficient across the board at that level.

In other words, no Yellow Belt is awarded to an individual until each of the fundamental disciplines is at a Yellow Belt level.

Some might say that this is unfair, but I think the principle is a sound one.

A time management system is well constructed when all of the interrelated parts work well together. One faulty part can cause the entire system to fail. The parts happen to be interdependent with one another, much in the way that one foot depends on the other when someone attempts to run.

Time demands that enter our lives are dealt with by one fundamental, and then another, until those demands are completed.

Some might say that the fundamentals are like different swimming strokes — freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly. They are each independent strokes that have little to do with one another.

A time management system, however, is more like an individual medley event in which a swimmer is handicapped if one stroke is ineffective. The entire race suffers because one stroke is weak.

One of the problems that most commercial time management systems like Getting Things Done, Do It Tomorrow and others have is that they’re strong in some fundamentals and weak in others. Users aren’t taught how to upgrade their time management systems beyond the example provided — or taught that it’s even an option.

Users need to be savvy and understand that their time management system is something that fits only them. No one else’s system will provide a perfect fit, and they shouldn’t try to force themselves into someone else’s habit or pattern.

We need to retain ownership of our time management systems as we read this blog, read David Allen’s book, or take Covey’s class. They should all be seen as useful inputs to OUR systems and as possible sources of assistance as we perfect our lives.