Francis’ Time Management Bio (3 of 5)

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In due course, all my immediate family, and most of my friends did the program, and I devoured the company’s courses, eventually ending up as a seminar leader teaching 4-month long programs to groups of up to 150. In that capacity, I was able to get the required training I needed to incorporate Landmark’s techniques in my consulting work, under a licensing agreement. I also launched a successful effort to bring the course to Jamaica, which occurred in 2000 for the first time.

In 1995 I had the great opportunity to enter CoachU, formed by Thomas Leonard. I enjoyed the training and started adding individual coaching clients. It was great training, including a 2 day seminar I did with Thomas in Florida. However, I determined after a couple of years that I didn’t have the patience to work with individuals on their own in great numbers. Ideally, working with the individual would never become and end in itself but only  a part of a larger corporate transformation.

At this point, I had already moved to Florida, and started to extend my consulting practice to the Caribbean. I discovered a great unmet need, and also what had been driving me all these years to return to work and live in Jamaica. I had, by then, a ready comparison. When I led a course in Jamaica, I found that the difference it made was vastly different from the impact the same program had in Fort Lauderdale. The stakes were simply so much higher.

Make no mistake, the need was significant. While Jamaica has always seen its share of crime, violence and poverty from the time Columbus arrived on its shores, in the 1990’s these only deepened and became chronic. (Here in 2008, the homicide rate has escalated to be one of the highest in the world, costing us perhaps 2-4% of our GDP.)

All this time, I kept my eye out for small ways to improve my productivity on my own. I could find nothing being written that improved on the work that Covey had done in his 1989 book. It seemed that the focus on improved time management had shifted away from the principle-based approach that he espoused, to questions of whether or not to purchase a DayRunner, DayTimer or Franklin Planner system. When electronic gadgets started to become popular in the late 1990’s, the name of the products changed, but the questions remained essentially the same.

One of the failures I experienced taught me that I needed to be careful about my time. A Jamaican T-shirt business I launched went nowhere, even after devoting a great deal of time and money in trying to make it succeed. I learned that my time did have its limits, and that when I spent time on a business that I did not feel passionately about, it lead to time being taken away from what I really loved — solving people’s toughest business problems.

On the other hand, I discovered that time management was a key skill in doing difficult tasks. Between 1998 and 2003, I went from signing up for my first triathlon, to completing an Iron-distance race — a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run — losing twenty pounds in the interim. The challenge most people have in making this kind of journey is simply their inability to “find the time”. I discovered that having good time management skills were critical to completing an intense 6 month training program that involved changes in nutrition, spending time weight-lifting and long hours of training.

Between 2001-4 I was introduced to several new approaches, including the Mission Control Productivity Program and then, much later, David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done® . There were a few overlaps in these two approaches, but I recognized some new thinking in both.  I got certified to teach Mission Control, and brought it to Jamaica and Trinidad, with some success, but found it hard to create a fit between the North American lifestyle assumed by the creators and the realities of Caribbean culture.

For example, one approach required its users to use a redefinition of the word “now”. Here in Caribbean countries, where our literacy levels are lower than that of developed countries, that requirement is a non-starter. When I thought about it some more, I realized that the problem was a challenge for ALL English speakers, let alone speakers of foreign languages in which the word “now” could not be translated.

There was something about all these methods that made them culturally blind to the fact that most people in the world live in developed countries that looked more like the city of Kingston than the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale. But when I looked at the problem more closely, I discovered that it was not a problem experienced only by Jamaicans, or by people who lived on less than US$2 per day. There was something in these “philosophies” that was difficult to digest, even for the majority of mainstream, educated English-speakers in developed countries.

Moving Back to Jamaica 2005

A divorce in 2003 spurred my determination to move back home, and in 2005, I actually did so… finally. I had been spending more time in the Caribbean than in Florida at this point, as I gradually shifted my practice to serve more Caribbean-based clients. I had the great fortune to be remarried just before moving back, adding another dimension to the move back home, as my wife is not Jamaican.

Living in Jamaica turned out to be a creative bonus, and sparked a love of writing that I never knew I had. It started innocently enough, when I was searching for help to pack and ship my family’s belongings, and could find no help whatsoever on the Internet. I decided to write a blog that would help others to make a transition back to Jamaica. The result, Moving Back to Jamaica, describes the ups and downs that my wife and I experienced in what has been a difficult, joyful, exciting and sometimes dangerous transition.

When I moved home I was not surprised to face the fact that we Jamaicans have a major issue with our lack of productivity. “Jamaica Time” is a popular way of saying that “meet me at 1:00 p.m.” means “somewhere around 2:00 p.m.”

I discovered it for myself, in a more profound way, because I learned very early on that the time management and productivity techniques I had carefully crafted while living in the U.S. did not work well on Jamaican soil. Life here was much more chaotic, there were too many interruptions, and the relative unreliability of day-to-day life in Kingston meant that I just could not get as much done as I wanted, or used to.

For example, as I am writing this, I am slowly recovering from a bout of a tropical flu, the likes of which I never experienced while living in the U.S. Yesterday, my wife was unable to purchase more than US$10 of gas for the car, after visiting three gas stations. The reason given? “It hasn’t been delivered yet.”

In the U.S. I was used to driving my car until the empty light started flashing, because I knew (back then) that gas was plentiful and cheap. One lesson I learned quickly is that here in Jamaica a professional needs to allocate much more buffer resources (time, money, energy, friendships) to get things done — even simple things. Waiting until the last minute to get things done is just not an option.

Planning a meal, for example, is an adventure by itself. A carefully planned out menu has to be abandoned when it turns out that the grocery store doesn’t have half the items in stock.

These differences, and many, many others, affected the way I scheduled, and planned my time. I was forced to go back and re-think what I had learned, and even taught. It was a classic case of something working abroad that could not work at home without being overhauled.

But when I went back to re-examine what I had learned and the time management system I had developed, I found something interesting. I actually needed to build a time management system for myself that fit this new circumstance. Like many other professionals who undergo a major life change, I needed to re-tool my system, much as others need to do when they get a promotion, have a new baby, undertake a major project or move from one city to another.

This particularly struck me when in a fit of desperation I tried shifting to the GTD® system of contexts and lists, and away from using an electronic schedule.  I ran into immediate trouble, as commitments fell by the wayside.  After a few months, I went back to using my schedule to plan my tasks, and I learned a valuable lesson — upgrading my system wasn’t a simple matter of copying someone else’ approach.

However, it dawned on me at some point that I had no clue how to build my own time management system.

All I had were some “guru-specific” approaches, that surely didn’t work for me in Kingston very well. They were idiosyncratic, and quite particular about the specific methods that they thought should work. The only option they offered someone like me was to implement more of the finely detailed habits, practices and rituals of their approach. From what I could read, they were all headed in the direction of becoming more prescriptive, dishing out tips on things like “using the Task function in Microsoft Outlook to implement the X approach”.

They also were sending a subtle, but consistent message: “This approach works for me… follow it exactly as I describe it.”

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