What’s the Job of Time Management?

For the past few days, I have been mulling over an interesting article from the December 2008 Harvard Business Review called Reinventing Your Business Model, by Johnson, Christensen and Kagermann.

I found it fascinating because it led me down a path of rethinking the way I am thining about ways that 2Time is being offered to the public.

Specifically, it caused me to ask some fundamental questions about what “job” people are trying to do with their time management systems.  The definition of the word “job” is quite specific in the article — “a fundamental problem in a given situation that needs a solution.”

The article also mentions the four most common barriers that keep people from getting particular jobs done: insufficient wealth, access, skill or time.

I have thought about it a little and have come up with the following answers to the question: “What fundamental problem are people trying to solve with the time management systems that they use?”

Answer 1:   Not Feeling Bad

No-one likes to feel the sting of their inner critic – that little voice inside that points out what they are not doing right.  This voice tells them that they are lazy, or that they are a procrastinator, or flaky, or forgetful or failing to get on top of things. It might also conclude that they are overwhelmed. They try their best to avoid these feelings by using strategies that make them feel productive.

Answer 2:  Feeling Good

For many, getting to the end of the day knowing that they got a LOT done is a wonderful feeling to have.   If they have a sense that they were focused, productive and energetic, then that counts as a tremendous positive that boosts feelings of confidence, and personal power.

Answer 3:  Taking Care of Myself

Exercise is constantly touted as the best medicine there is, and its presence has been linked to a prevention of diseases of all kinds.  Yet, some 77% of adults report that they would exercise more if they could fit it into their daily routine.

Many, whose time management systems don’t work for them, end up not exercising as much as they’d like.

Answer 4:  I Am Getting Better

I think there are a few people who just like the idea of making progress from year to year.  They want to know that they are using better techniques now than they were using a year ago, and that they are simply not stagnating with old tools and stale techniques.

I believe that this is what leads people to purchase iPods and Blackberries when they are interested in using them to become more productive.


These four items are not presented in any particular order, and represent my thinking about what problem people are trying to solve when they consciously think about using time management techniques, tools or tips.

If you have some thoughts on this, I’d appreciate hearing them. Simply leave a comment below.

More Crackberry Madness

urinal19.gifAn interesting article in the Economist starts with the finding that “35% of BlackBerry users would choose their PDA over their spouse.

While this is entertaining, the real shocker comes a bit later in the article:

The vast majority of people (84%) say they check their PDAs just before going to bed and as soon as they wake up, 85% say they sneak a peak at their PDA in the middle of the night, and 80% say they check their e mail before morning coffee. A whopping 87% of professionals bring their PDA into the bedroom.

This kind of productivity at all costs mentality is exactly what destroys the peace of mind that a PDA is supposed to help to bring.

It speaks to a kind of scatter-brained-ness that results when professionals live as if getting more done is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

How can 85% of Blackberry users be made to understand that “getting more stuff done” is a worthless goal that can never be achieved by itself?

After all, what good is it if someone doubles their productivity and at the same time ruins their sleep,  endangers their marriage and never allows them to focus on whatever is in front of them?

But don’t blame the BlackBerry… it’s only a device.  All it’s done is to illuminate and automate some unproductive habits.

Now, when that person is pretending to be listening to you but are instead checking email, you know that they are not.

Now, when someone should be paying attention to the cars whizzing by at 90 mph, you know they are not.

Now, when you think that you are relaxing with your family at home or on vacation, getting some quality time, you know that you are not.

I predict that the BlackBerry’s usefulness  won’t be measured by the number of emails sent in the middle of the night.  Instead, it will help to shed some light on poor time management practices that need to be amended by those who are apparently addicted.

Last week in La Guardia airport, I think I saw the ultimate in insane habits.

A man was peeing at a urinal, hands free.  It wasn’t because he was a neat freak… he wasn’t even looking down.  Instead, he was looking up over his head, in the direction if his hands, which were both typing furiously awayon the keypad of his BlackBerry.

Talk about multitasking.

Information on Using PDA’s for Productivity

Just curious… but is there a site on the internet that actually evaluates PDA’s in terms of their original intent – productivity?

I have looked around and there is a lot of information on the additional entertainment doo-dah’s, but nothing about the 11 fundamentals that are addressed here in 2Time.

I imagine that there is room for a product that is actually built around the way people capture time demands and then manage them.

Let me know if there is such a site, or if there is a PDA that is being designed in this way.

Choosing a New PDA

palms-assortedpalms.jpgAfter a day of trying to fix my 5 year-old Palm Tungsten T I am just about to throw in the towel.  In my haste, I made a bid on ebay for a used Tungsten T for US$25, but now I am wondering if I did the right thing.

What should I be really looking for at this point?

Lately it seems that the productivity market for PDA’s has been ignored, and what has come into vogue is a massive case of feature creep with PDA’s being “augmented” by any electronic tool that can be found lying around.  Today we have the following list of options:

  • PDA + cell phone
  • PDA + camera
  • PDA + GPS
  • PDA + iPod/mp3 player
  • PDA + video camera
  • PDA +HD radio
  • PDA + ebook reader
  • PDA + Gaming device
  • PDA + browser
  • PDA + IM’s
  • PDA + SMS
  • PDA + Television remote (no kidding)

And of course, there are various combinations of the above optional items.

Over time, the “PDA” portion of each device has shrunk in favor of the new “bling-bling,” giving less space and resources on the device to the management of time demands.  in the advertising, the important has given way to the entertaining and frivolous. As a result, it’s become harder to find a PDA that is devoted to productivity.

After looking around a bit, it’s hard to find a company that is even thinking of productivity in the terms that we use them here at 2Time — managing time demands to increase peace of mind and user productivity.

I am open to recommendations, but a bit taken aback that in the last five years since I bought my Tungsten, no progress has been made in designing PDA’s that more closely fit the needs of users.  (I have the same complaint about Microsoft Office, which has essentially changed only its color scheme between XP and 2007 versions.)

I’d love to find a company that is serious about building productivity software and hardware around the actual needs of users, taking into account the fact that users must deal with an increasing number of time demands in an effective way.  I think that the first company to come up with a system that is more than just a conglomeration of disconnected features is likely to do quite well.

In the meantime, my search continues.  As I indicated earlier, I am open to suggestions, but I think that I’ll be limiting my search to Palm OS devices, given the number of programs I have purchased based on that OS.  That limits my choices tremendously, but if I get my PDA working again, I think I’ll nurse it along until someone comes up with a better device.

Productivity and Choosing a New PDA

pdas.jpgiPhone? Palm Handheld? Palm phone? ipaq? Dell? Razr?

The choices are numerous, and the technologies being used today are simply mind-boggling. When I encountered the first iPhone in person
I was stunned at what Apple had created – an amazing blend of functionality and aesthetics.

It was at the very least a tasty piece of techno-candy.

But is a PDA more than just a portable entertainment device? Does it actually make a person more productive? Should a user always be chasing after the latest gadget? If a product has a new function that is new, does it deserve to become an object that I carry with me each day, showing it off as my new piece of techno-jewelry?

How does a user see past the features that have nothing to do with being productive, to determine which ones are important? Once the right features are determined, how should they be evaluated?

Why I Am Asking
I happen to own and use a Tungsten T, and this week I almost made a decision to upgrade it to a newer Tungsten TX. The single reason that almost pushed me to do so is the fact that on a flight this week, my battery died in mid-sentence. As a frequent writer, this was right up there with my heart stopping in mid-stride.

I was so pissed I made plans right then and there to purchase the new device, if it had a better battery life.

Well, it does have better battery life, but my plans were changed when I learned that I’d have to buy a new keyboard… a wireless keyboard that consumes battery life. I learned from my reading that my current keyboard would not work with the TX, which meant another US$69 purchase. At the very best, I’d have to spent some US$350 or so, just for more battery life. I opted instead to purchase another 2 batteries for my Tungsten T, setting me back some $12.99, including shipping.

Converting Down-time to Productive Time

The seems to be 2 kinds of productivity that a PDA can be used to improve.

The first is simple: A PDA converts down-time to productive time. For example, the time I spend in an airplane seat has become an opportunity to write my articles and blogs, and I will pay extra for a device that ensures that the choice is available to me. I would to also love be able to send and receive email, and browse the internet.

This conversion is particularly important to people who spend time commuting on buses and trains, and are loathe to waste the time doing things like reading the free newspaper, when they could be listening to their favorite music or reading email.

This kind of productivity improvement is obvious to see.

The second kind is less so.

When a PDA is being chosen, the device also has an impact on a user’s productivity in the sense that it changes the way he/she engages in the 11 fundamentals.

For example, a user who purchases a Palm Smartphone to replace her paper pad may discover that she has forced herself into a HUGE change in how she Captures without realizing it. A phone call she gets that gives her a phone number she needs for later can’t be scribbled down in an instant — instead it must be entered into the tricky and time-consuming interface of the PDA.

She has become immediately less productive as a result of her new gadget.

How to Make the Right Choice

The best way to prevent the fiasco of becoming less productive after buying a productivity gadget, is to forget about the gadget for a minute, and instead concentrate on the 11 fundamentals.

Which fundamental is the user trying to improve?

At what expense are they looking to make the improvement?

Will the choice of the new PDA actually destroy the way in which a fundamental is practiced?

Here are the steps I recommend:

1. Go through each of the 11 fundamentals and decide what the appropriate belt level currently happens to be in each discipline

2. Decide which fundamental is the one that requires the most improvement

3. Look to see which PDA would help to improve the chosen fundamental. Look to see what will happen to ALL the fundamentals when the PDA is purchased and used.

4. Make a choice based on the information on hand

What the Manufacturers Are Not Doing

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, I had the sense that the companies selling productivity solutions — DayTimer, DayRunner, FiloFax, Covey et al
were committed to finding productivity solutions that happened to be paper based.

Now, when I visit any of the PDA or smartphone manufacturer’s sites, I don’t see anything other than a focus on new features.

As an engineer, I confess a certain love of technology. However, I am unwilling to destroy my productivity just in order to obtain a
new piece of techno-candy, no matter how much it enhances my appearance.

The problem is that it’s just so easy, fun and sexy to jump on the internet or visit the Apple store to buy the latest device. And it’s
just so damn hard to sit down and figure out the fundamentals by following the steps I describe above.

It’s the reason why so many gadgets end up at the bottom of so many desk drawers. Trying to engineer an improvement in one’s time
management system by purchasing a PDA without knowing the fundamentals is a hard trick to pull off.

Some are able to do it, but many fail.

Visiting a CrackBerry Forum

money-and-gun.jpgI spent a few minutes this morning starting to do some research into how Blackberry’s are used.

I visited the Crackberry Forum and have looking around for a conversation to join on how their productivity has been improving from using their Blackberry.

I am still searching, but after 30 minutes, I can’t find anything on the topic.

That is, unless one defines productivity as the ability to say “I can send and receive email in the shower,” or “I am addicted to my device.”

While the Blackberry undoubtedly allows its users a certain freedom of movement, that capability does not mean that someone is more productive.  I compare it with another dubious claim — having a new piece of gym equipment at home, does not mean that someone is more healthy.

If there is one thing advertisers are very good at, it’s selling the general public on the idea that achieving their goals has more to do with purchasing equipment, than it does personal habits and practices.  Unless underlying practices change, its hard to imagine how any piece of equipment can make a difference.

I am coming to believe  that  the gains to be made by being able to read  and send email from anywhere, are easily negated by the many, many times that a Blackberry user is distracted from doing the primary task they are out to accomplish.

Here is a case in point, in a post from the forum:

Today I was at my Wife’s dad’s funeral and was sitting in the second row, the first thing my mother in-law did when we sat down was reach behind her to where I was sitting and said, “give it to me”. I knew EXACTLY what she was talking about and refused but I showed her that it was in Vibrate and I wouldn’t be doing anything work related at that time because they knew I was busy with the funeral today. That lasted all of about 5 minutes into the service before I started replying back to e-mails very quietly and attempting to login to one of my servers to restart the anti-spam service because I was getting hammered with SPAM to my BB.

Setting aside the obvious display of bad manners, this kind of behavior costs something to the user, his wife, his mother-in-law and those around him.

This is just not a demonstration of an increase in productivity.

But the  problem doesn’t lie in the device.  The device is superb at doing what it does — providing portable email-based computing.

However, people whose practices are poor don’t benefit from the purchase of a Blackberry, any more than a monkey’s safety improves  when it finds a  working gun in the forest.  In each case, there might be a kind of addiction that makes it a bit useful, but the overall result could very well lead to disaster.