A New Hypothesis

tom_hanks_cast_away.jpgIn the past few weeks I have been giving some serious thought to what is missing in most time management programs.

I now think it’s pretty simple — most people love the ideas they hear in the seminar/book/website, and there seems to be some convergence of ideas in all the systems that I am aware of.

This is good.

From a 2Time point of view, they are covering more and more of the fundamentals of time management, and presenting complete systems that make sense.  This kind of cross-fertilization is a good thing, and I certainly have benefited from ideas presented in a variety of places, starting with those learned in graduate school.

However, good ideas are not enough.

While everyone might leave a seminar, close the book or click out of a website and love what they have read,  the typical reader would still end up failing to implement what they learned.

The reason?

One piece of the puzzle is that they don’t understand that they are working to change a complex system of habits that they are already using, and not starting from a blank canvas, which is what the gurus seem to assume.  They compare learning their systems to learning a martial art, an analogy I happen to like, and use.

However, learning a new time management system is a bit like having a green belt in karate and then deciding to learn judo.  The very little I know about the martial arts suggests that there are more than a few habits that would have to be un-learned to make the transition.  Someone who is making the transition could hardly be expected to do so by simply reading a judo book.

In like manner, it’s easier to learn a new language when you it’s your very first language.  Un-learning the habits of pronunciation and grammar take some time, and only a few adults are able to speak a second language like a native without years of practice.

The key to both transitions is the practice, support and the community that’s required.

The same applies to those who learn new time management techniques.  There are lots of sources of good ideas… but how do I get the practice I need to become a master?

My new hypothesis is simple: more people would be successful in upgrading their time management systems if they had the post-learning support that is required to make the transition to higher levels of mastery.

Left on their own, there are a few who are able to generate the discipline that’s needed to develop and master complex skills.  Tom Hanks in the movie “Castaway” comes to mind.  An executive teaches himself survival, navigation and sailing skills in order to escape from a desert island.

Most of us would have probably not made it off the island, however, and a LOT of us would not have learned the survival skills to last a month!

Luckily for us, technology is changing rapidly, and it’s becoming easier and less costly to construct the kind of communities needed to support us in learning new time management skills.  The cost, energy and time to do the following are plummeting:

  • find people of like mind and commitment
  • get coaching quickly
  • discover insights and shortcuts on implementing new habits
  • set up automatic tracking mechanisms that don’t require personal effort (e.g. a trainer that calls you at 5:00 am each morning to come to the gym)
  • create leverage using incentive$
  • put together plans for gradual change over time that are realistic, and don’t require miracles
  • use the best new ideas as soon as they are discovered
  • develop back-up plans
  • join teams with people who are at a similar stage of development, and won’t let you quick
  • assistance in setting up new rituals
  • have chances to connect with higher goals, life-purpose and whatever higher power they happen to believe in

Anyone who is familiar with what it takes to break or create new habits will recognize some of the results of the latest research embedded in the above list.  With the internet, these are much easier to set up.

My thinking is that one of the versions of my next custom program, MyTimeDesign 2.0, will provide this kind of support to anyone who wants it.

So, what do you think?  Is this a hypothesis that makes sense?

Low Adoption Rate of Time Management Techniques

I came across the following post from the Success Making Machine website that refers to a podcast by David Allen in which he describes the low adoption rate of time management.  It’s titled (in part) David Allen on GTD®’s Low Adoption Rate.

In the podcast, Allen admits that there’s a very low adoptation rate of people who start with GTD and end up using it. They include:

Not easy to get started- Try to put yourself in an environment where the GTD language is spoken.

Getting more dimensions– Keep learning. Keep rereading. One answer he gives is GTD connect.
High level issues (20,000 & 30,000 & 40,000- feet)- if you don’t address your high level goals “your system will become flat”.

Here is the actual quote: “My first book sold over 1 million copies in 28 languages.. I have never had one piece of feedback that anything in … GTD is inaccurate, or that didn’t work.  I have had a zillion people tell me – It works… I don’t work it.”

This is pretty interesting to me.

I think that all prescribed time management systems have a fatal flaw — they are built on the assumption that users are able to apply the ideas in the way that the author intended.  This is quite different from the notion that users are actually developing their own time management systems, using bits and pieces of systems, in a haphazard manner.  The results are therefore unpredictable.

However, even those users that desire to follow someone else’s system are no more successful, and it’s not because GTD, Covey and other systems don’t work. As Allen imples, he has never had anyone tell him that there is anything wrong with his system.

The problem in this case is the major problem — people have a hard time creating new habits, and when the habits are foreign to their everyday practices, it gets even harder.

Allen and others offer users and readers entire systems of habits, and they have a hard time changing their behavior for the same reasons that they don’t follow their New Year’s resolutions to lose weight.

They simply have an inadequate approach to implementing new habits.

The latest research on quitting habits such as smoking advocates a level of self-knowledge that people don’t have. To be effective, they must be come to know and understand how they change habits.

In others words, they need a custom set of supports that will ensure that the new habit gets created.

Without this knowledge, it’s an uphill battle.

I have tried to understand what I need to include in the mix to get my habits to change, and while I haven’t made tremendous progress, I have used a simple Habit Tracker to implement the same new habits each day.

This has worked wonders for me, as I start each day by going through the list and ticking off each of the habits I did in the last 24 hours.

I have also used RealAge.com to help me change my eating habits.  Two years ago, I did the test and discovered I had a real age of 33.  That was when I was 41.

Now, I have a real age of 30.3.

Talk about motivation — I am doing all the things I know I should do in terms of eating, flossing etc. just because it’s kinda cool to see my real ageactually go down based on the changes I am making in my life.

So, I now know 2 important things about what it takes for me to change a habit.  I need some kind of daily or regular tracking mechanism, and I also need a measurable goal that I believe I can change over time.

I believe that each person’s “habit changing blueprint” is different, and that there is no way to implement the new habits that a changed time management system requires  without being able to alter the underlying habits.

GTD and others systems would benefit if they also taught this all-important skill.


P.S.  The Habit Tracker I now use was adapted from the form developed by Productivity501.com.  The picture at left is just an example.

Falling off the Wagon

wagon.jpgFrom time to time, a user of a time management system may find themselves “falling off the wagon,” neglecting to perform one or more of the critical habits that underlie the 2Time approach.

For example, they might forgo manual capturing, and instead try to remember everything  without writing anything down.

Or, they  might allow their capture points, such as their email inbox or voicemail box, to become full, or heavy with time demands.

They couldt even forget about scheduling altogether and just try to use their memory as their guide to tell them what to work on next.

In any case, their time managment system starts to fail under the weight of a practice that is not being undertaken.

In my experience the short-term solution is to set time aside to correct the error.  The more permanent fix is to take a good hard look at the underlying habit, and to use it as a learning moment.

There is some reason why the practice has not become a habit, and there are usually some supports to put in place in order to help solidify the practice.  For example, in order to remember to floss at least twice per week, I learned to tie my floss-er to the razor I use to shave my head.  Because I shave my head twice a week, it means that I cannot fail to remember to floss, as it is impossible for me to start shaving without separating the two instruments, and therefore remembering.

This worked for me, but the point is not that everyone should start tying different objects together in order to remember to use them.

Instead, I have discovered that for MY habit-pattern, this approach works, and now flossing has become irrevocably linked to shaving in my regular practices, much to the satisfaction of my dentist.

When we fall off the wagon, it’s a signal from the universe that our habits aren’t working, and that we don’t understand ourselves well enough to succeed at changing habits.  It’s simply a call to further self-development and self-knowledge, and an opportunity to learn how to “work on ourselves.”

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.


Regrets and Time Management Execution

Getting rid of “negative” thought-patterns that destroy peace of mind is one of the side-goals that a professional can set as a target when managing his/her own time management system.

Why is it important?

In 2Time, the goal of a time management system is to produce peace of mind for the user.  When someone develops the habit of allowing stressful thoughts to go unquestioned, the result is a destruction of peace of mind and further un-productivity as energy, time and attention are frittered away.  The ever-elusive “flow” state of mind simply gets pushed away by other less-productive moods.

Some of the common negative thoughts include:

“I am a terrible procrastinator”
“I wasted the entire day”
“I should have done more”
“I am lazy”
“I am not working hard enough”
“I have an awful memory”
“I never have enough time”

While we all have these thoughts from time to time, there are some professionals who believe them, repeat them and then try to take time management programs in order to turn things around.  As a teacher of these programs, I probably should not say that many professionals need a different kind of training than the kind that I present.

They need to develop some habits that involve developing their capacity to inquire into the nature of the above thoughts.

Towards this end, I strongly recommend the Work of Byron Katie, which can be found at http://thework.com.

The process she advocates is a simple one — identify the thought, write it down, ask 4 questions to investigate its truth and turn it around to its opposite for even further inquiry.

The results in my case have been simply astounding.

After practicing for a few years, stressful thoughts don’t hang around for long before they are questioned on paper (which I
prefer,) or in my thinking.

Professionals who take a time management program come in order to get rid of one of the above, listed thoughts can very well find themselves wasting their time. Once the thoughts become habitual, there is no degree of productivity that can be attained that remove them, and the unhappy feelings that ensue.  These are best dealt with by following the process Katie’ advocates, rather than trying to become more productive.

This is no less important than learning the 11 fundamentals of time management that I describe here in 2Time. However, it definitely is cheaper, and saves a great deal of time.

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

rewire.jpgI was a bit startled to see the New York Times article by the above title, as I had just finished leading a 2-day program in Trinidad called “NewHabits-NewGoals.”

(It uses the 2Time principles to help people build their own time management systems.)

The author, Janet Rae-Dupree, shares the discovery that habits can be used as the pathway to creativity, and are far more than the bad things that we spend so much time to get rid of.

She says “Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.” This is very good news for those of us who are in the process of crafting our own time management systems.

She also reports that it’s better to focus on creating new habits, than on trying to kill off old ones.

“But don’t bother trying to kill off old habits; once those ruts of procedure are worn into the hippocampus, they’re there to stay. Instead, the new habits we deliberately ingrain into ourselves create parallel pathways that can bypass those old roads.”

That reaffirms much of the 2Time approach, which is largely based on the idea that new habits or practices are the key to increasing productivity. When people complain about their habit of procrastination, for example, it’s a better idea for them to focus on developing new habits, than to try to stop procrastinating.

She also points out some research done by M.J. Ryan and Dawna Markova:

“Ms. Ryan and Ms. Markova have found what they call three zones of existence: comfort, stretch and stress. Comfort is the realm of existing habit. Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond current experience as to be overwhelming. It’s that stretch zone in the middle — activities that feel a bit awkward and unfamiliar — where true change occurs.”

“Getting into the stretch zone is good for you,” Ms. Ryan says in “This Year I Will… .” “It helps keep your brain healthy. It turns out that unless we continue to learn new things, which challenges our brains to create new pathways, they literally begin to atrophy, which may result in dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.”

Wow — it sounds like they are saying that a focus on creating and refining a time management system could ward off senility!! LOL

As a 42-year old, I have enough mad days to make me hope that this is true!

One a more serious note, they perfectly capture the middle ground that I have wanted the belt system to embody. Most time management systems that I have observed are presented in all or nothing terms. In the experience of the user, they either produce comfort (I already know this stuff) or stress (all this new stuff is overwhelming.) In adding in a belt system to 2Time, my hope was that each user would find their own “stretch” point, and be able to pick a set of habits to focus on that would carry them to the next belt level (if they desired,) at a pace that kept them engaged.

The researchers link this engagement to a commitment to achieving improvements in small steps, and she uses the Japanese concept of kaizen, which simply means small, continuous improvements. It’s one of the cornerstones of the Toyota Production System, and other manufacturing techniques that they have been using so effectively. (As an industrial engineer, this concept became part of my bread and butter at a young age.)

“Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain,” Ms. Ryan notes in her book. “If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.”

That’s just the reaction that I hope users experience when they use the belt system for the first time — a way to take control of small, incremental improvements, with only hints of direction from the 2Time system itself. Once these improvements are practiced long enough, an interesting thing happens in the brain.

“After the churn of confusion, she says, the brain begins organizing the new input, ultimately creating new synaptic connections if the process is repeated enough.”

Well, I can’t say that ever intended to be part of the great rewiring or the twenty-first century brain, but I do hope this happens, if only in small ways.

The Original New York Times article can be found by clicking here.