Why Outlook Needs Industrial Engineering

crack-s_crevice.jpgIt just struck me that the basis for almost all the thinking I have done on this blog lies in the fact that I was trained as  an operations researcher / industrial engineer (OR&IE).

As OR&IE’s know, there is no training in time management at the  majority of schools of higher learning, perhaps due to the fact  that most of what’s taught is academia is about learning to think,  rather than do.

In fact, the field of time management belongs to no discipline that I can readily discern.  It falls neatly into a huge crack  between engineering schools, business schools and now schools for  IT.

I suspect that the reason this is the case is because anyone who claims to be an expert in time management would have to demonstrate  superior time management skills.  In the real world, this is  obvious, but in academia, it’s deemed to be irrelevant.

The few studies I have seen might be useful to someone who is  seeking to complete a PhD, but they are useless in helping  someone who is actually interested in improving their skills.   Part of this comes from the distance that academics try to  maintain between themselves and the subjects they are  studying.

In the real world, however, every single human being has a time  management system of their own, including the researcher. The one  who stands out and claims a breakthrough in this area should be  prepared to demonstrate that their research results are being  applied in their own life to good effect.  Otherwise, their  findings are likely to be ignored.

Frankly, it’s a lot easier to study a factory or distribution system, where it’s simply a lot less risky.

The fact that this is one field that blurs the neat distance that scientists like to keep from their subjects keeps it from being studied, in my opinion.

Also, the academics I have met and worked with seem fond of idiosyncratic and unproductive habits.  One professor I had at Cornell who taught optimization liked to pretend he was not in his office during office hours, for example.  I’m not sure what was being optimized…

I imagine that he would also complain that he didn’t have enough  time just like the rest of us!

Unfortunately,the lack of proper research has left us with some  gaping holes in our current understanding of time management, and  a lack of common definitions and basis of measurement.

Having said that, I had a lucky insight helped me to come up with  the 11 fundamentals.   So far, I haven’t seen it repeated in  too many other place, but from an OR&IE point of view, I now  see it as a foundation unit of understanding.

From the outset, industrial engineers and operations researchers  are taught to think in terms of factories and widgets.  In time  management, and here in 2Time, I   discovered that it was useful for me to think in terms of  “time demands.”

An Analogy In a manufacturing process, raw materials are provided as input  to a process of some kind, and they are acted on by machines,  transport mechanisms and other physical objects so that they are  transformed into some kind of output.

In time management, time demands are created by a user’s commitments.  Once created, they are then transformed by  the fundamentals to produce a very different kind of result —  peace of mind.

Microsoft and other software companies interested in creating time management systems would do we to place industrial engineers   and operations researchers alongside software developers, business- people and psychologists to work on the next generation of time management tools. They’d just need  to be careful to arm them with the right distinctions, so that they could be effective.


Outlook’s Shortcomings 5 – Scheduling

calendar1.jpgScheduling is one of the more difficult practices in time management for a user to master.  At the same time it offers one of the most important opportunities to professionals who are trying to ensure peace of mind as they tackle an increasing number of time demands.

As I have mentioned in other parts of my blog, the skill of Scheduling ranges from White Belts who barely keep a schedule, to Green Belts who work with schedules that describe most activities in the day, and who are careful even about the language they use within their schedule.  As I mention elsewhere, I don’t advocate one level over another, and it’s important that a user find the level that allows for the greatest peace of mind as they define it.

However, in doing so, they should be aware that Outlook-driven scheduling is actually designed for the White Belt, and not the Green Belt.

The traditional appointment calendar probably grew out of the tool used in doctor’s offices.  White Belts think of their Outlook calendar as something used to plot meetings with other people.   For this purpose, a paper calendar works well enough.

However, professionals who deal with a great number of competing time demands each day can easily get confused when they try to  maintain a complex daily schedule in their minds.  Many fail to  adequately juggle the 10-15 time-based activities they want to  accomplish each day by just trying to remember what they think  they decided to do early in the morning.

It doesn’t take much for a mental schedule to fall by the wayside in the middle of the crisis that breaks at 10:15 pm.  At 6:00 pm when it’s finally all over, it’s hard to go back to figure out what exactly was planned between 10:15 and then.  The inevitable happens — lots of time demands fall through the cracks.

Millions of users would be helped if Outlook were to to re-designed  as an activity calendar rather than an appointment calendar.

What would that take?

Solo Scheduling In the first place, Outlook could be made to recognize the difference  between an activity that involves other people, and one that  involves only the user.  When a schedule is made, a user could  tell the program the difference between one kind of  activity and another, and when it comes to creating the schedule for the day, it could prevent users from mistakenly scheduling  themselves from being in two places at the same time.

Also, it would understand that when a user changes time-zones, that meeting times would need to change accordingly, but other solo activities “work out at the gym” would not change.  The fact that all items change times (even all day events) is further evidence that the designers of Outlook are in the mindset of giving the user a neat “appointment tool”to go along with their “email tool.”

Contextual Scheduling Also, the program would give the user the flexibility to do  more than schedule tasks, but also to schedule what David Allen  calls “contexts.”  These are no more than logical, or physical  locations that allow a user to do certain kinds of tasks e.g.  “at home” is a context that is quite different from “at the pool.”

While the program would be instructed to prevent anything from  being scheduled during the “at the pool” context, it would be  allowed to schedule activities within the “at home” context.

Strong and Weak Alarms The program would also know how to distinguish between the times  the times when a weak alarm is due (with a sound) and the times  when a strong alarm is given (by a phone call or flashing screen.)

Also, instead of just being the option to dismiss the scheduled  item in Outlook, user could have the option of deferring the item, because the reminder the appointment can safely be re-scheduled  for later.

These are just some initial ideas that come from a very different  place from the one in which Outlook’s calendar function was  conceived.


Outlook’s Shortcomings – Part 4

outlook_icon.gifSo far in this series, I have addressed the idea that Outlook could be improved by re-building it around the fundamental practices of time management.  The fundamental, Emptying, is the most important one for many users, and it also could be improved in Outlook if it were redesigned.

In this particular fundamental, a user goes through each of their capture points and moves each item to a different place in their time management system.  The word “Emptying” is used because that is it’s goal — to leave behind an empty space in each Capture Point that allows it to accept new items.

There are several ways that Outlook could facilitate this practice as it pertains to email.

One is to prevent the user from reading an email and leaving it in the Inbox.  Outlook could force an opened email to be placed elsewhere, and offer the user a software-assisted means way to Empty with ease.

Also, while Emptying is occurring, the user could be given the option of turning off the receipt of new email, in order to focus the activity.

Another would be to prompt the user to check other Capture Points once the Inbox has been emptied.  These could include the voicemail inbox, a paper pad and incoming paper mail that all represent new time demands.

As Emptying is being done, Outlook could make it easy to decide what to do with a piece of email by presenting a standard set of options that correspond to the choices that they have when they Empty, according  to the 2Time approach.  When an email is read, the program could ask the user how to dispose of it, giving a list of options such as the following:

1.  Delete It?

2.  Store It?

3.  Take 5 Minutes to Act On It Now?

4.  Schedule It in Calendar?

5.  Add It to a List?

These are all actions that are possible to accomplish in Outlook, but they are all hidden way in the program’s functions rather than given a prominence that underlies the fact that these are the ONLY options a user can exercise at that moment of decision.

Microsoft designers might argue that they don’t want to constrain users.  Perhaps, what they fail to realize  is that the current design actually already prompts the user to do what most do, most of the time — which is to leave their email in the Inbox.  While this may seem like an innocuous option when it comes to managing email, from a time management perspective it’s the start of real trouble.

When Emptying is not done effectively (i.e. frequently and completely) the eventual result is an overflowing Inbox — the greatest complaint that email users have world-wide.  The fact is, Outlook’s design makes it easy for this outcome to occur — call it an unintended by-product of its design.  It contributes to a user’s feeling of overwhelm that hits them when they open their Inbox and have the thought that “something isn’t right” when they see the number of items they have sitting in various states.

In the future, it would be powerful if Outlook could become the single location for all Capture Points, but the technology isn’t advanced enough for that to occur.  It would mean routing voicemails, faxes, incoming mail, email plus all the items written in a paper pad to one grand Capture Point in the program.  At the moment, that’s not easy to do.

Until then, one of the major changes that Outlook could make is to facilitate the user’s process, or workflow.At the moment, Outlook offers no interface that acknowledges that most users follow a set pattern of activity each day.  It also fails to help users to create patterns for themselves that optimizes their flow of activities.

At the moment, the way that Outlook is designed is that it “prompts” users to use it as an email-retriever.  When users open Outlook, they are directed towards their Inboxes.  Regardless of the number of items they contains, read or unread, the system leads them to download more email.

As users sit, their system pulls down every piece of new email, regardless of whether they have 1 minute, or 100 available at that moment to deal with them all.  It’s no surprise that many feel a growing sense of overwhelm.  Outlook’s design as an email management program inadvertently produces problems in the area of time management, and this is especially true when the goal of a time management system is to maximize peace of mind.

If Outlook’s interface were re-designed as a process, or wizard, it might take a user through a series of screens, with each on representing a phase.

If I had the freedom to design a series of screens to represent my regular start-up activity, it might look like the following:

Screen 1 — Clean up from yesterdayTake out items from yesterday that have not been processed.  Some might be in my inbox, or sitting in my calendar.  I’d be discouraged from moving to the next screen until I’m done with the first.

Screen 2 — Download emailBefore downloading, the system would tell me how many unread emails I have.  I’d tell it how many to download, in order to balance the time I have available with the number of emails I choose to work through.

Screen 3 — Process Email to EmptyOn this screen, I’d be prompted to dispose of each item in the way I described above.  At the end of my processing, the Inbox would be empty once again, apart from those I have not yet read or clicked on.

  • Screen for Tossing — this might just be a prompt to make sure I want to delete the item
  • Screen for Storing — this would offer me a set of folders in which to place the item
  • Screen for Acting Now — this would just be a timer that pings at the appropriate time interval
  • Screen for Scheduling — the calendar would be immediately offered
  • Screen for Listing — a screen showing the user’s lists would be offered as a starting point

These choices would be ideal, and would allow me to balance incoming email with the time I have available to process.The result might be a greater peace of mind, and all it would take is a reshaping of the Outlook interface.  Of course, this new design could be applied to any time management software, and I strongly believe that the first software company to build proper time management software could produce an iPod-like winner.


Outlook’s Shortcomings – Part 3

outlook-ms-office-2003-outlook-256x256.pngIn my prior post I brought up the notion that Outlook was designed to solve user’s problems with email, rather than the bigger problem they have with time demands.

I also mentioned that the company that understands this shift would be able to produce radically different software.  Not just different, but better.  It would help users do the job they are really trying to perform.

I would call this a change in “philosophy,” and not just clever marketing or repackaging.

Having a  philosophy about how people manage time, and how they learn time management skills is also important, because this also influences the way software is designed.

For example, in the 2Time approach, there is a clear path that users take as they advance from one skill level to another (as measured by belt levels.)  One skill that changes over time is the way that the practices of Listing and Scheduling are used, with the higher belts doing much more scheduling than the lower belts.

A decision to develop software that reflects this progression in skills would have to contend with this particular philosophy, and not just for intellectual reason, but for practical reasons.

The current philosophy that underlies Outlook seems to be “more features are better than less.”

I’m not a software expert, but I suspect that the reason my Outlook 2007 runs so slowly is because this philosophy has run the show for too long.

An unfortunate by-product of this particular design decision is that a White Belt is given the same interface as  a Green Belt, even though they use the software differently.  It also has meant that the interface is cluttered with bells and whistles that a user must navigate, and always be selecting from.

Many of them have nothing to do with time management, making the interface (to repeat the mantra) a clumsy one.

Perhaps a better  philosophy might be “give the user only what they need to manage their time, and produce peace of mind.”

My point here is not that this particular philosophy is better, but it IS that Outlook seems to have stumbled into becoming a time management tool with the addition of lots and lots of features.  For all I know, it may have stumbled into other things as well (a dashboard, contact manager, etc.) but I am convinced that a different philosophy would yield different (and better) design.

This much I know — starting with a particular, and well-defined time management philosophy would help Outlook to become a better tool for time management.

I think Gmail’s success has not come because Google employs smarter people, but instead it comes from teams working with a different philosophy about email. (Plus, they were able to start from a blank sheet of paper.)

I suspect that  a company that does the same for time management will also produce a breakthrough of sorts.


Outlook’s Shortcomings – Part 1

In prior posts on the blog, I have made the point that Microsoft Outlook’s design is one that is not meant for time management purposes, but instead appears to have been made by engineers who simply added feature after feature after feature.

Recently, a reader of the blog posted the following request in a comment in an earlier post:

Can you clarify your point about Outlook’s process being “clumsy” and like an “afterthought”? I’m curious about areas where it could be improved, as I’m sure the Outlook PMs would be as well. How would you suggest this procedure be made easier/simpler/more efficient? Any thoughts or feedback to help better understand this would be appreciated.

I compare Outlook to the design of Gmail, the Palm and the Apple iPhone (although I am not an expert in any.)

IMHO, they all suffer from the same approach — design a cool email program and then add on other interesting stuff such as appointment calendars, to-do lists, reminders, contacts and the like.

What if Outlook and all the others were designed as time management systems that were built around the fundamentals, rather than a collection of features that must be beaten into the shape that a user must suffer with in order to get it to do what they want?

Why is this even important?

The way Outlook, Gmail and others are designed actually shapes the way a user develops his/her habits.  The design has a powerful effect on the way they manage their time, because their time management systems are nothing more than a set of habits that they repeat.

Case in point:  Apple just announced the release of its iPod OS 3.0, which now allows a user to copy and paste a block of text from one place to another:  Next Up for the iPhone:  A Basic Left Out Before.

Now, a user can copy the contents from an email to an appointment calendar.

The only way that a piece of software could leave out this particular feature entirely is one that either isn’t focused on assisting the user with time management or one that doesn’t understand what a user needs as they move through the fundamentals.

I’d bet that it’s the former.  After all, music, video and camera functionality are much more sexy features than those related to time management.

Not that Outlook is much different.   Until I used an add-on which cost me almost $100 a few years ago, I couldn’t do something as simple as drag an email into my calendar to make an instant appointment.

It’s clear to me that the design of software shapes a user’s habits, and a design that makes dumb things easy, and easy things hard, is one that will get in the way of the natural flow of activity from one fundamental to another.

For example, it’s easy to make To-Do Lists in Outlook, even thought they often grow to be infinitely large, only to be abandoned by their creators.  Also, Outlook offers no statistics on how well someone is managing their time management system.  In other words, it offers absolutely no form of numeric assessment, even as it’s becoming clear among most users that there is something dangerous about having an inbox containing 3000 unread items and 5000 “read” items. ( A simple warning bell would be invaluable.)

The problem with these software systems starts from the point of conception.

A  brilliant article in a recent Harvard Business Review entitled Reinventing Your Business Model makes the point that the iPhone, Tata motor car and the Gillette Razor redefined the markets in which they operated, and did so by asking the following question: “What important job is the user trying to do?

Outlook and its contemporaries — Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo et al — answered the question in the late 1990’s with: “Dealing with email effectively.”

I believe that asking that question today, in 2009, for the first time, would ultimately lead to a different design, and that today’s salient answer might be something like: “Managing my time to experience peace of mind.”

I think there’s room for a company to design a software system around this answer as a starting point, using the fundamentals of time management.  It would include email management, but that would not be its centerpiece.

Perhaps there will be a product for time management that is invented that plays the disruptive role of an Apple iPod, but I’m a bit doubtful that it will come from Microsoft.  After all, it has a major investment in Outlook, and the article makes it clear that it’s hard for established companies to turn their trusted and faithful business models on their heads.

On Thoughts of Overwhelm

I have written before about how one free oneself from a sense of overwhelm, without actually doing anything time management related.

Instead, I have found a great deal of value from working on my thoughts.

The following article demonstrates the principle beautifully — it’s taken from the Radical Happiness blog and the article is entitled “Unnecessary Thoughts.”

Here is an excerpt:  Life is never actually overwhelming because there is only so much we can do in a moment. But the mind brings ideas into this moment about what you “have” to do, what you want to do, what you’ve done in the past, what others want you to do, doubts about doing it, and ideas about any number of other things unrelated to what you are doing or need to do, which confuse and stress you out.”

Something Outlook Needs

outlook-reminders.jpgIn prior posts on the topic of Microsoft Outlook, I complained that the program was not really written for users, and instead suffers from the creativity of programmers who have added in feature after feature without really understanding how users work.

The result is a bloated program with too many small, irrelevant things, and not enough of the right things.

One of the things it needs, for example is a log of the events that happen in a calendar of what actually happens in real time.  The one log I truly would benefit from, for example, is  one that captures the activities of the Reminder Window in the calendar.

If I had this, I would be able  track my time more easily, by knowing how and when I disposed of  items in my calendar.  As a consultant, I track my time closely using an online program, and often when I look back at my calendar it simply doesn’t tell me what I was working on at what point in time — all it shows me is what I actually intended to do according to my plan.

My little programming knowledge leads me to think that this would not be a big deal, but I could be quite wrong about this.

I think this is just one of the ways in which Outlook could be redesigned around the way users actually get information and process it into time demands of different kinds.

I’m still looking out for a way to give Microsoft feedback on Outlook’s design, or someplace where they are discussing the way in which Outlook impedes good time management.  Please… give me a hint someone!


Now, Everyone’s a Surgeon

surgeon-guy-dowling-surgeon-8.jpgThere used to be a time when only surgeons had cell phones and beepers.

Because  their jobs required quick responses that involved matters of life or death, it seemed to make sense.  After all, a couple of hours spent at the golf course could cost someone their life if they could not be contacted during a round.

We have come a long way since then.

Now, there are companies that are pressuring their employees to carry Blackberries, and to be available to answer email on a 12/18/24 hour basis.   And these companies aren’t hospitals, army barracks or police stations.

Instead, they are employers of accountants, lawyers, bankers and other business-people of all kinds.

Without any planning or foresight, companies are using the Blackberry to change the way professionals use their time.  Today, Blackberry users are answering their email, instead of doing less important things like participating in meetings, exercising, listening to their kids, giving their spouses their full attention and other such apparently unimportant activities.

These companies are causing professionals to continuously interrupt what they are doing in order to check and respond to a blind piece of email (it’s blind because they have no idea who it’s from or what it says.)  In other words, they are responding like surgeons… except, the truth is, no-one’s life is on the line.

Try telling that to someone who is pretending to listen to you while they are checking their email on their Blackberry.

The reaction is often one of irritation, anger and even hostility.   Their blind piece of email is obviously more important than the conversation that they are having with you, which is why checking it gains such immediate priority.

Their productivity (and yours)  plummets at that very moment.

But what is it, poor manners aside, that causes a Blackberry user to grab their Curve in spite of what else they might be engaged in at the moment?

It’s not confidence, or skilled execution.  Instead, the look in  a Blackberry users eyes tell it all.  The unit vibrates, rings or flashes, and they are gripped in that moment by a fear, or even a panic that “they might be missing something important.”

The panic, and its subsequent response, becomes a  habit over time, until they get to the point where they cannot stop themselves from impulsively grabbing for their PDA.  They cannot help themselves, and their behavior appears the have all the compulsion of an addiction.

But it’s not email that is the drug of choice.  Instead, it’ s the driver behind the email — the “need to know” or, the fear of not knowing.

This is what wakes them up at 3:00am “just to check,”  and to smuggle their device on vacations where they promised to leave it at home.  This is what interrupts meals, conversations, projects, exercise, cooking and even “quality time.”

It’s a habit that a professional who finds themselves addicted would need some concentrated effort to break.  one excellent  course of action would be to use 2TIme approach to build their own time management and productivity systm.

With a greater degree of awareness, the Blackberry can return to its rightful place as a productivity enabler, rather than an unconscious  dis-abler.  We can all focus on developing habits that make knowledge workers really successful, and drop the surgeon-like, faux-urgency that we have developed.


Review of AgileEra’s Software — Personal Motivation Calendar

Recently, I downloaded AgileEra’s Personal Motivation Calendar and tested it during their 30-day free trial.

Bottom-Line:  I rated this product a Don’t Buy / Don’t Download.

The home page seemed intriguing —  the company promotes itself as “Your Expert in Time and Productivity Management.”  The program looked to be simple enough, and I thought it might fill a real need I have which is to set up a simple counter that shows me how many days I have left in the year.

Instead, what this program offers is a compilation of information that I can’t imagine anyone finding motivating, especially when it’s presented in an unchanged format, floating above other windows on the desktop.

agileera.jpgThe first set of numbers is  permanently displayed for 12 months — it counts down the number of years that I have left to live, based on an estimate of 80 years.  (It’s good to learn and then to be reminded that I’m likely to die in 2046… I suppose…)

In the months and days section, it shows me today’s date… dramatized by the crossing out of the months of the year, and days of the month that have already been consumed in my unrelenting death-march to 2046.

It offers another count-down in the next window of how much of the day has been consumed.  At 10:01pm  I have used some 91% of the day.

Then, it allows the user to display the tasks  that he or she has to perform in the famous 4 quadrants popularized by Stephen Covey.  While I think this particular piece of analysis is sometimes interesting, it’s little like my horoscope in my experience.  Interesting, but hardly useful.

In the “Motivate Me” section there is some advice given on popular time management topics such as procrastination — “Procrastination is the most famous thief of time” — and Tiredness — “It is wrong to try to work until you get a headache.”

At a cost of US$30 I remain a bit underwhelmed, and have been clicking around the program to see if I am somehow missing the point.

Having searched around and satisfied myself that I have not missed a link, I think I understand that the program is attempting to push me and other users to act now by showing us that we are running out of hours in the day, days in the months, and years in the rest of our lives.

Hmmm…. I’d better hurry up and delete this program before I spend any more valuable time using it.

AgileEra’s Personal Motivation Calendar can be downloaded by clicking here.

Once again, my recommendation is “Don’t Buy / Don’t Download.”

When To-Do Lists Don’t Work

fridge-gladiator_freezerator.jpegFor most professionals, To-Do Lists are woefully inadequate.

The reason is simple — they have gotten to the point where they have too many time demands to be handled by a single ToDo list.

In the 2Time system a user has the option of selecting the level at which they mange their lists.  From White belt to Green belt, a user can graduate up a ladder of increasingly skillful ways to improve the way they use lists.

At the very lowest levels, users don’t bother with lists. Instead, they try to use their memory to keep track of the stuff they have to do.  This mental list is not a problem, as long as the number of items they have to remember is small.  The habit of writing a list probably originates in high school, when some students were just not able to keep a mental track of the homework they had to do, and were forced to write things down in order to get them done later.  (A few gifted students might not have had this problem.)

At higher levels, users develop the discipline of making lists, and they notice a vast improvement over their prior habit of trying to remember the things they have to do.  When they become skillful at writing everything down, they notice a smaller but significant jump in their time management skills.

However, the habits that the typical user develops when using their ToDo list gets them into trouble when the number of time demands becomes too large to handle.  For some, this never becomes a problem, but for most, the advent of email has served to increase the number of time demands dramatically.

What are the habits that render a ToDo list unworkable when the number of items increases?

In 2Time terms, what happens is that a ToDo list fails when the entries on the list become a mottley bunch of items that shouldn’t be on one single list, but should be treated by very different actions, or  fundamentals.  The typical ToDo list becomes a grab-bag of different items that are actually serving different needs.  A partial analysis of the typical ToDo list reveals the following.

1. Some items on the list are the result of what is called Capturing.  They are on the ToDo list because they are being temporarily staged until a later moment when it’s more convenient.  The problem occurs for most users when they are weak in the skill of Emptying.  In other words, they fail to reduce the list back to its empty state often enough, or rigorously enough, causing items to be added faster than they are removed.  The result is that their ToDo list grows uncontrollably, and they are forced to start using their memory as a supplement.

While a lack of Emptying is the source of the problem, it’s also useful to see what happens to the ToDo list when other skills are weak.

2.  Some items on the list should be acted on immediately, simply because they are so short that they should be dispensed with at once.  This is called Acting Now.  A failure to do so leaves the item on the ToDo list, where the user hopes that it will not be forgotten.

3. Other items should be put into electronic or paper storage, such as a phone number or email address.  When Storing is not done properly, the item is left on the ToDo list so that the critical information is not lost i.e. for “safekeeping.”

4.  A few items should be written off the list, or Tossed, but instead end up getting lost in the clutter of the items on the ToDo list.  Some people have items on their ToDo list that last for years, which happens easily when the list is kept electronically.

5.   Other items need to be scheduled into a calendar, with an appropriate audible reminder.  Instead of Scheduling the item, however, it remains on the list mixed in with other items where it can also become lost.  Users keep items on a ToDo list in order to try to remind themselves to perform the action at a later time.  When the number is small, this practice works.  However, when the number of items grows to be too large (as it does for most knowledge professionals) the list cannot perform that function.  Instead, the skill of Scheduling is the answer to the problem.

6.  There are some entries in the ToDo list that belong on a separate list of their own, such as a list of items to pick up on the next trip to the market, or a list of topics to be covered in an upcoming meeting.  When they are separated into their own lists, they can then be used a t different times.

As you can see, the typical ToDo list has items that are actually serving very different purposes and need to be disposed of in very different ways.

This places a tremendous burden on the user for the following reason.

The typical item on a ToDo list actually signifies two pieces of critical information — a representation of the item (in writing,) and how it should be acted on (which is kept in memory.)

For example, the following items happen to be on a user’s list at 10:00 am on Friday morning:

Pick up dry cleaning

Mike – 999-555-1234

Remember to ask Burt about project start date

Get materials for Jones project

It’s clear what the items say, but what exactly should be done with the item next is not stated on paper, and instead must be remembered by the user.  Here is the information that must be stored in the user’s memory

Pick up dry cleaning  (5:15pm -6:00pm today after work, and make sure that the dinner date isn’t tonight, otherwise reschedule)

Mike – 999-555-1234 (This should be placed in Outlook and on my cell phone)

Remember to ask Burt about project start date  (Remind myself the next time I see him after his vacation to give me the date)

Get materials for Jones project  (This item is not needed as the project has been canceled, but the items was entered before the cancellation.)

This is hardly an unusual situation — the ToDo list is such a mixed bag that the sorting must be done mentally, and the results must be stored in personal memory for some later time in the future.

The ToDo list therefore forces the user to keep critical information in their head about each item, and this is one reason why the list becomes overwhelming — the user simply has to manage too many thoughts in their mind in total, even though each single item has only a small piece of information to be remembered.

When a refrigerator has too many unsorted items in it, the results are predictable — the left-over dinner rolls somehow drift out of sight and eventually go bad.  Recently, we moved to a new townhouse, and my wife is complaining that she is without a shoe-shelf for the first time.  Her many pairs of shoes have ended up in a single large bag, with the result being that she ends up wearing the same two pairs of shoes all the time.

The ToDo list becomes just like the full refrigerator and the bag of shoes — too hard to sort through.

The alternative is to master the 7 Essential 2Time fundamentals, and to improve one’s skill levels.  When a skill such as Scheduling is mastered at a high level, the ToDo item —   Pick up dry cleaning  —  would be simply placed in the calendar in the appropriate time-slot, and the challenge of ensuring that it doesn’t conflict with the dinner date would be handled immediately.  This is assuming that the dinner date is also scheduled into an appropriate time-slot on whatever date it pertains to.

The result here is simple — the fundamental skills of 2Time allow for greater peace of mind, because they rely less on the user’s memory than a ToDo list does.  At the higher belt levels, there is actually no need for a ToDo list.  Instead, it has been replaced by a more sophisticated set of skills and tools.

As mentioned before, the higher belt levels  are not necessary for everyone.  Each user must decide for themselves whether or not a ToDo list works adequately for them or not with respect to their productivity and peace of mind.  I have noticed, however, that users who experience an increase in time demands often find it necessary to graduate from a simple ToDo list to the skills and tools employed at the higher belt levels.

In the 2Time approach, all levels are acknowledged as valid, and it’s simply a matter of choosing a belt level that gives the individual user the peace of mind they require and desire, given their particular environment.