MyTimeDesign Offer Ends Tomorrow

mtd0008.jpgI originally planned to offer the US$1 – 30 day trial of MyTimeDesign until April 30th, but I have changed my mind and will yield to my better instincts.

I am going to close MyTimeDesign to new registrations as of May 1st.

There are so many enhancements that I’d like to make, that the best thing to do is to re-think how the program is offered to the public, and to implement many of the suggestions I have received since the product was launched.

There are also a variety of “flavors” I have wanted to offer for some time, and some new tools I have wanted to add to the program.  I also am contemplating the creation of a 6-week offering that will give users a quicker introduction to the essential fundamentals.

To help me make the right changes, in a week or two, I’ll be inviting all subscribers to complete a simple survey.  I am eager to hear how I can help you create and implement your own custom time management systems.

Software Managed Interruptions

As I mentioned in prior posts, it’s quite important for a user of the 2Time approach to appreciate the goal of getting into the Flow state as often as possible.

This requires a minimum of interruptions, and luckily for us, there are some companies that are thinking about ways to manage email so that only the most urgent messages are presented as interruptions to whatever task we are doing.  For example, I am writing this article and don’t want to be interrupted, unless an email comes in that tells me something that requires urgent attention.

(Although, honestly, it would have to be life-shattering to stop me from completing this task.)

This line of thinking is shared in the article I found at BusinessWeek entitled May We Have Your Attention Please?

Soon, however, the same kinds of social networking software and communications technologies that make it deliciously easy to lose concentration may start steering us back to the tasks at hand. Scientists at U.S. research labs are developing tools to help people prioritize the flood of information they face and fend off irrelevant info-bytes. New modes of e-mail and phone messaging can wait patiently for an opportune time to interrupt. One program allows senders to “whisper” something urgent via a pop-up on a screen.

Hmmm…. that sounds promising.

It sounds like a big challenge, and I think these scientists are headed in the right direction.  After all, they are implicitly acknowledging how important it is to preserve the state of flow, and are trying to find ways to preserve it as much as possible.

However, I don’t know it if it’s more valuable than teaching a user to be more disciplined, and all the reasons why.  After all, users need to understand why Flow is important, and that it’s more efficient to check email a few times each day rather than every few minutes.  An effort spent to teach discipline would probably do more than new software would, especially as a user can ruin all the benefit of this new software with bad personal habits.

In other words, software might fix a problem that users have in the future, but it’s better to focus one the fact that they don’t understand the problem they have now.

Converting Email into Scheduled Items

Ever since I learned that I could take an email and immediately transform it to an item in my schedule with its own start and end time, I have engaged in the habit almost daily.

In Outlook 2007 it’s a simple matter of dragging the item to the day in the calendar.  Outlook automatically opens up a new appointment on the given day, and from there it’s a simple matter of entering the appropriate times.

In other applications, the task is a much more difficult one to undertake.

In Gmail, doing this simple task is no mean feat — in fact, I’m not sure how to do it at all.  Google calendar is a different but related program that opens into a different window altogether (I’d love a reader to answer the question of to convert a Gmail item into an appointment for me.)

In like manner, stand-alone calendars might by useful but their lack of connection to daily email is a big no-no.

Good software should mimic the way a user processes items that enter their time management systems, but they seem to be thinking about each function in isolation, which leads to good software for calendars (e.g. Leader Task) and good software for email(e.g. Gmail) and only Outlook that even attempts to link the two… in a clumsy way that seems to have been added as an afterthought.

The new internet PDA’s such as the iPhone and Blackberry seem to be great at email, but weak at the full suite of 11 practices that make up a time management system,and especially “Scheduling.”  (I can’t admit to knowing a lot about either PDA, and am willing to be educated by reader who can let me know if I’m wrong.)

Hopefully the day will come when someone builds an integrated system starting with the 11 Fundamentals.  I think it could be quite powerful.


Blackberry Slavery Article

I wrote a post as a guest-writer the Stepcase LifeHack website entitled “Blackberry Slavery” that was published today.In the article, I describe how PDA’s armed with real-time email are allowing companies to take advantage of employees’ fears of losing their jobs.All this, while HR department move much too move slowly to  protect employee down-time, and ultimately the productivity of thier most valuable resource: human beings.The article can entitled “Blackberry Slavery” can be accessed here.  

Improving Time Management Over the Years

led_digital_watch_red_70s_type_display.jpgI just read an interesting article from the New York Times exploring the reasons why free-throw shooting in basketball has not improved over the years.

Apparently, the success-rate of free-throws in the NBA and college basketball has remained unchanged at approximately 69% since the mid 1960’s.  The authors of the piece make the case that not enough has changed over the years to cause the overall average to shift, and in particular they point out some areas in which little or nothing has changed.

Here is an excerpt:

Ray Stefani, a professor emeritus at California State University, Long Beach, is an expert in the statistical analysis of sports. Widespread improvement over time in any sport, he said, depends on a combination of four factors: physiology (the size and fitness of athletes, perhaps aided by performance-enhancing drugs), technology or innovation (things like the advent of rowing machines to train rowers, and the Fosbury Flop in high jumping), coaching (changes in strategy) and equipment (like the clap skate in speedskating or fiberglass poles in pole vaulting).

This made me wonder — what are the equivalent factors in the area of time management that would have to change in order for the average professional’s productivity to improve?

Here are some candidates for factors that have impacted personal productivity in the past 50 years:

Technology — the ability to transport the modern tools of communication and organization has unchained professionals from their desks, and that is a benefit.  However, the poor use of gadgets has helped to make some users more inefficient than they were before

Practice — the little codification that has occurred in books such as Getting Things Done and on the 2Time Management blog has brought some level of standardization to a haphazard field with no established standards, and little proper research

Coaching —  while there remains little or no standardized training for time management, many pick up a book or do an online course to learn how to improve their time management skills

Measurement — in the case of basketball and many other sports, it is easy to determine how effective a player is relative to his/her peers.  Not so time management, which unfortunately for most, remains in the dark ages when it comes to having simple, empirical measures of success that can be used to compare one user to another, or even to record simple changes that a user makes in their time management system.

Of these factors, I believe that a real breakthrough will come when a fool-proof method is derived for measuring personal productivity.

Here in the 2Time approach, I advocate the use of a personal test — “what does this do to my peace of mind?”  However,  this test is hardly empirical.

Until the day comes when a solid method of measurement is created,  it will be impossible to improve time management from year to year with any reliability.

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.

Time Management 1.0 vs 2.0 Spells Relief

istock_relief-woman.jpgIt used to be that time management was a problem that needed to be solved.

“I have a problem with time management” is a common complaint that many professionals have.  It leads them to go looking for solutions of an instant variety.  For some it takes the form of a time management system that someone else develops and they adapt.  For others, it comes in the form of a shiny new PDA, smart-phone or a computer. Some buy time management binders with detachable pages that have sorts of colorful refills.

Thankfully, with the advent of Time Management 2.0  we don’t need to fix anything, because it starts with the assumption that nothing is broken.

Instead, everyone has their own system… whether they realize it or not.

Also, they don’t have to chaneg anything, as long as their current system is working for them.  If it’s not, then they can decide that it’s time to upgrade it, and they can do so with a minimum investment, as long as they have a knowledge of the fundamentals of time management.

After the upgrade, they can freeze their system once again, and use it as is, or decide that they want to upgrade it further.

The choice is always up to them.

In 2.0, there is a freedom to build a time management system that fits users’ habit patterns,  rather than trying to learn a set of foreign habits that were developed by someone far away, to fit a very different lifestyle.

With a huge sigh of relief, users are finding that it’s a much easier path to follow.

A Time Management System for Moms

baby-mom.jpgDo type-A-moms need their own time management system?

Apparently they do, according to Lisa Douglas of the type-a-mom blog.

She’s written an interesting post diagnosing the needs of this particular group of women, and has come up wtih an approach that is tailored to their specific situation.  Given that they are “type-A” people, they have lots of goals, an abundance of energy to accomplish them and a propensity to become over-stressed.  She clearly has figured out her target audience:

We’re Type-A Moms. We’ve got practices, PTA meetings, and bake sales going on. Your child has to learn the Cub Scout motto tonight, dinner is on the stove, and your toddler needs her diaper changed, all while locating an errant shoe. Need I go on? With all that we tackle, and not being able to magically add hours to the day, we need a plan, STAT.

I guess this would constitute an important first step — understanding the group or the individual that the time management system is being designed for.   This might explain why she didn’t just regurgitate a bunch of points from the nearest book on the topic,and instead, did what every good designer does and started from a thorough understanding of the situation.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to Part II of the article, as I am trying to figure out how to register on the site in order to see it.  But I like the thinking she’s doing so far, and her targeted advice.

I cannot imagine that a woman who decides to have a child, and to stay home to be a full-time mom, could continue to use the typical corporate planning tools e.g. (Blackberry, computer, internet, intranet) in exactly the same way.  It’s more likely that the way they structure their system would have to change to fit the new circumstances, and this might be true of anyone who makes such an all-encompassing shift in their daily lifestyle.  This change in tools would be just one way they would have to change their time management system.

It’s great Time Management 2.0 thinking.

The link to part 1 can be found here: Time Management Strategies for the Busy Mom Part 1


Prioritizing Has No Place in Many Time Management Systems

priority_matrix.jpgI remember when I finally figured out that “setting priorities” has a funny way of becoming nothing more than window dressing.

I had  a job in an engineering organization that used an elaborate system of priorities to figure out who should get the highest raise each year.  The joke was that once the elaborate engineering was done, the managers would go in and manually adjust the outputs to make sure they made sense, because the process would inevitably produce anomalies that made no sense whatsoever.

In essence, the system of priorities was just a justification used to make their gut feelings appear to be logical.

I have quite recently come across some elaborate systems for prioritizing To-Do lists.  As readers of the blog might know, I have included the practice of Listing as one of the fundamentals of a time management system.  I have also laid out different levels at which Listing is practiced, from white belt to green belt.

At the highest level described – a green belt – there is not such thing as a generic to-do list, as the schedule takes over the job of helping a user decide what to work on next from the To-Do list.  What happens to most users is that their list becomes incapable of handling the number of time demands that they must confront, and their reaction is to attempt some kind of prioritization in order to not to have to deal with all 100 items at once.

So, instead of 100 items, they only need to focus on 10 — the ones with the highest priority.

For some, this approach is sufficient.

For many, however, this approach falls apart quickly.

Here is a typical example (broken down into steps) of what happens when a user has no schedule, and simply a long To-Do list, illustrating where the breakdown occurs:

Step 1 — user makes list and sets up a priority system to focus on the top 10 items

Step 2 —  without a schedule, the user has a poor idea of when the 10th item will be finished

Step 3 — long before the 10th item is begun, circumstances change, and several lower ranked items (let’s say the 47th and 75th)  need to be moved up to the top 10

Step 4 — the prioties must be changed and 2 items from the  top 10 are replaced in the top 10 list

Step 5 — because the user has no written schedule, the items inevitably take longer than they had imagined, and when they review their mental time estimates they discover that even more items are now due and need to be assigned higher priorities because the due dates are now approaching

Step 6 — they change the priorities once again, and while they are changing them, their boss comes in with a new project which forces them to start all over from the beginning

The overall result is a little like shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.  For many users, their system of  prioritization simply can’t keep up with the changes in their situation.  The problem is that from minute to minute, items’ “priority ranking” changes, as life’s circumstances take their toll, and there is just no way to keep up.

Instead, the solution that many users at higher belts find is quite simple.

Step 1: Items are placed in a flexible schedule that is adjusted as circumstances change.

That’s it.  There may be 50 changes in a single day, as items are moved from one time slot to another, and between days, weeks and months.  Each scheduled item takes up a time slot whose size corresponds to the amount of time it’s expected to take.

Purists might argue that the advanced user is still prioritizing.

This is where a key distinction is necessary.  When use the verb “prioritize” I mean to denote the activity that occurs when someone sits down and assigns a ranking to individual time demands.

That is the physical activity that has no place in most time management systems.

However, I DON’T take it to mean the activity of placing greater importance on one item over another as a decision is being made about when to start and end the work on that item.  That activity can be taken to be just another attribute of the item that is included in the user’s decision on the start and end times.

If they reschedule the activity, then its importance is taken into account once again at that point.  Just before they commence working on the item, they may want to ask themselves the question again.  (Here I am actually describing what happens when a user switches from one activity to another, a practice that’s called Switching in 2Time.)

The strength of the green belt’s system lies in the fact that they have removed a step (assigning a priority) while allowing the circumstances of the moment to influence their choice about what they should do at any and all points in the future.  Because they are working from a written versus a mental schedule, and are using it as a flexible planning guide, they find it easy to shuffle items around whenever the need arises.

They don’t get caught up in whether the item they have scheduled is a “1, 2 or 3,” “A, B or C” or “Red, Yellow or Green.”

All that stuff is for them, a made-up and unnecessary construct, that gets in the way of their productivity.

This is not to say that a yellow belt should not use a prioritized to-do list.  That may work perfectly for their habit patterns and level of time demands.

However, a green belt has no need for priorities because their time management system helps them to switch from task to task without the extra time and effort needed to prioritize their to-do lists.

Obama Gets it

obama.jpgI just read an interesting article that looks at the time management and productivity tactics being used by the presidential candidates.

I am happy (as an Obama supporter from the moment I read his first book) to say that “he gets it.”  According to the article, he made the following plans back in August…

Obama’s solution was to set aside time to let his brain work during his mid-August vacation. “The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking,” he said, repeating advice he’d gotten from a Clinton administration veteran.

This struck me as critically important advice, and the article describes how difficult it is to actually implement it, given the demands from all sides to respond as if everything is a crisis of national proportions.

Someone once said that if you want to get rid of your problems, tackle even bigger problems.  This matches my experience — the big ones make the small ones fade into meaningless insignificance.

This truism can  be used to put campaigning into context somewhat.  The demands on one’s time during a campaign are nothing compared to the pressures of being Commander in Chief.  I have a feeling that George Bush is discovering that whatever problems he thought he had 2 weeks ago are nothing compared to the financial problems he finds the country, and the world, in after the announcements of the past few weeks.

In other words, the pressure of saying the right things in the upcoming debate are pretty minor compared to the decision about how to address the country in the middle of a crisis.

Which takes me back to the advice Obama was given.

It might seem impossible to keep to the advice, given the upcoming debates, speeches, strategy sessions, etc. but it seems that he realizes that it’s a good idea to develop the habit of carving out “thinking time” now, before it’s too late.   That would mean taking control of his schedule, and ensuring that when a real crisis hits he has the brain-space to deal with it.

The article can be found here: