Harvard Business Review Letter

harvard-biz-rvw.jpgI just got word from the editors of Harvard Business Review that a letter I wrote in response to an article on information overload was included in the January-February 2010 edition.

Unfortunately, they don’t carry letters online and it takes ages for my copy to reach Jamaica, so if anyone can confirm its inclusion would you let me know?

Here is  an excerpt of the letter I sent, which I am fairly sure has been edited down to size.

“Death by Information Overload” (September 2009) by Paul Hemp was a well-written and provocative piece that I’m sure had many heads nodding. But I fear that the author did more to inflate a popular complaint than he did to guide readers toward a proper answer.

By the time I finished reading the article, I had the distinct feeling that we were all victims of the proliferation of information, and that we had no choice except to suffer from the “floodgates” of content that were “rush(ing) towards us in countless formats.” Hemp suggested some weak remedies, such as putting in place filtering software or getting others to send fewer messages — actions that hardly seem designed to stem the tide.

I went on to argue that the real problem is one of time management.

Stickking to New Habits

stickk-logo.jpgWhile I’m happy with the ideas on this blog, and I truly believe in the power of Time Management 2.0, I still have the feeling of being stuck in Habit Changing 101.

In other words, I’m still not satisfied with the speed and ease with which I’m able to change habits.

This is THE critical point when it comes to making a change in a time management system. All the theory that I’ve addressed on this site is useless if it’s impossible for users to change their habits to implement them.

What I do know is the following:

1) Habit changing is an individual phenomenon. Each person must work with himself or herself to find the right cocktail of methods that succeed. In my case, it seems that I even need to change my approach over time, as what used to work in the past no longer works today.

2) Finding the right “cocktail” takes extraordinary self-awareness and no small measure of patience.  What we often call “laziness” and a “lack of discipline” are often not these things at all; they have more to do with a lack of awareness than a personality defect. Most people try to double their determination, and they vow to “get more serious” with themselves. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that habits have a “muscular memory” that often defies grim demands I make of myself, so that rarely works.

Last week, a partner of mine referred me to a new site — Stickk.com — and it truly struck a chord with me as a tool that could be added to my blend of reinforcement techniques.

The idea is simple. You create a goal, and then set up human and monetary supports to help accomplish it.

The human supports consist of people who are on, and off, Stickk to hold you to account in accomplishing it.

If that doesn’t do it for you, then here’s more — you can actually put some “cold, hard cash” at stake, so you forfeit it if you don’t accomplish your goal.

As a triathlete (and someone who’s known to be thrifty/cheap), I know that there’s a difference between the races I think about doing and those that I actually pay to do.

For example, I have a race to complete on October 31 in Montego Bay, here in Jamaica. I paid for it in July, and it’s made a tremendous difference to my training to know that it’s coming. As a result, I spent 90 minutes in the pool this morning swimming almost 3,000 meters, in my least-favored sport of the three.

I know that when I put enough money down for a race, as I did for an Ironman in 2005, I increase the odds that I’ll accomplish the goal.

In an earlier post, I shared that I used a Habit Tracker as my daily tool to perform the daily practices I’m likely to forget. One of them is particularly difficult to do each day: “Do One Thing for My Wife that’s Unseen.” I’ve been failing at this new practice in spectacular fashion, and I’m thinking that I should try the Stickk approach to see if I can “help” myself make it happen.

Maybe I live without having to be more serious, determined, or disciplined.

P.S. If you’d like to be one of my “referees” or “supporters” in working on this goal, simultaneously with testing out Stickk, shoot me a message from my Contact Page. Tell me a little about yourself and why you’d like to participate in this particular experiment.

A New Goal for Time Management

In the delivery of my different time management programs, I have come to realize that professionals might need a new way to think about success.

The very old way of thinking used to be that it was all about getting more stuff done.

On this blog I have maintained that it has to do with peace of mind and productivity.

Now, I am starting to think that it really has more to do with closing the frustration gap between reality and expectations.

What this means is quite simple.  It arises when a professional has a picture in his mind of how well he should be managing his time, and then finds evidence that there is a mismatch between the two.  It’s a frequent feeling that people complain about all the time.

As an example, here are a few expectations that I have of myself and my time management system:

– my inbox should never have more than 5 items unless I am processing its contents

– I should not be late for any appointment, unless an emergency arises

– I should return all phone calls and emails that I deem to be important

– I should never fall into the habit of saying that “I need more time,” or “don’t have enough time”

These expectations are a few that are more or less in line with a full Orange Belt in time management, working towards a Green.

At the moment, I can say that my time management system delivers on these particular expectations, so I don’t have that feeling of frustration. This has not come easily, as I have been taking an intense look at my time management system for the past 3 years, taught courses and written articles and ebooks, all the while using my own example as a case study.

There are however, some Green Belt practices that I have no idea how to execute, and at least one of them  requires software that apparently has not been invented.  In this case, I don’t have the expectation of operating as a full Green Belt, simply because I can’t.

There are some, I know, who are completely satisfied with whatever belt they have, and given that most people operate at a White Belt level, most of them are not too effective, but have found a way to alter their expectations so that they are satisfied with lows levels of productivity.

In the 2Time approach to time management, I have taken the following approach:

1. to help professionals to change their expectations to realistic ones

2. to show professionals how to improve their skills so that they can accomplish their goals.

For example, a user who wished to “get everything done” learns early on that that goal is an impossible one.  Not even small children get everything done, simply because their mind is creating more stuff to do than a body can do in 24 hours.

As another example, a user who gets promoted to management based on solid performance in their prior job, may very quickly discover that  the bar has been raised, and that in order to keep the job, they need to raise their own expectations of themselves. However, they often find that that’s easier said than done, as they don’t know how to improve their time management skills to the point where they can operate as a manager.  At this point, many take a course of read a book in search of improvement techniques.

In both examples, the user takes positive action to reduce the gap, and take away the frustration.

What I like about this “gap” is that it’s entirely user-dependent, and unique to each person.

It’s also somewhat empirical,  as there are a certain number of times in the day when a user experiences the gap, and the frustration from having it unfilled.  They either have a thought or utter a statement that reveals their true feelings.

Hopefully, this new way of thinking about the goal of time management systems might add a new dimension that captures the feeling that people want to have about themselves, and what they have created to get by each day.

I’d love to  hear what you think of this particular line of reasoning!