One System vs. Another vs. Another

gurus-sik10gurus.jpgI just read an interesting article that compares three systems for Time Management, GTD®, Covey and DIT in  some detail.  What’s remarkable about the article is that I was wondering what the fuss was about.  The article can be found here.

Of course, the three systems must have their differences, and of course there must be pros and cons.  What I could not understand is why the writers involved were not focused less on the systems involved, and more on changing their own habits to create their own systems.  After all, the systems proposed should not be taken as complete, final solutions, even for their inventors.  They were created by their gurus to solve the particular lifestyle challenge that they happened to be facing in their lives.

I think the healthy way to regard the pre-packaged solutions is to follow Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said:

“My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the whole world aright.”

I think that time management solutions are a bit like this philosopher’s elucidations.  They are useful up to a point, but after a user has created their own system using a variety of inputs, and based on a knowledge of their own habit patterns, they actually don’t need the guru’s advice any further.

To be fair, this should include the 2Time Management System!

MyTimeDesign Launched Today

mtd0005.jpgIt’s been a long time coming, but here it is.

For the past few months, I have been working on crafting the 2Time principles into a single 12 week program that teaches users how to design their own time management systems, and actually takes them through a single cycle of the entire process.

The page that describes the program can be found here:

As is the norm in taking on new challenges, I discovered a steep learning curve in building the infrastructure for the ordering and fulfillment of the program.

Actually designing the content was the easy part which involved pulling together the text, audios and videos that are used to make up each lesson.  I learned that my initial expectations were simply inaccurate!

I hope to meet you in the program, or in the discussion forums restricted to graduates of the course.

P.S.  There is an early-bird discount for acting soon.

2Time – a System versus a Framework

tinkertoy.jpgFrom the very beginning of writing about time management, I have struggled with how to describe something new using language that is not quite up to the task.

For example, while I know that there is no such thing as “time management,” I find myself forced to use the phrase because it’s the best one that exists.  All the substitutes sound quite strange, in comparison.

The same applies to the description of 2Time as a “system.”   While my intention in this blog has not been to create another system, I have found that there are not too many words that I can use instead of the word “system.”

When I pulled 2Time together I thought of it as a set of insights that could be useful to all professionals.  It would assist them in growing their time management system from what they currently have, to what they want it to be. The starting and ending points would be up to them, defined and created for their own use.

The worse thing that would happen would be for someone to say that they went from using Covey, to GTD® to 2Time.

I don’t want to present another system for people to follow, as if they were following the recipe in a book.  Instead, I am more interested in inspiring professionals to design for themselves, with any assistance that I can provide with the 2Time  framework.

But first, they must become committed to taking charge of their time management systems, and be willing to spend time to understand why it works and doesn’t work.  (I am simply not qualified to tell them that any system is better than the one they are using!)

In that sense, I prefer to think of 2Time (and the NewHabits-NewGoals and MyTimeDesign by-products) as a framework that can include all time management systems, whether they are developed by the user or not, or sold commercially or not.  This framework is really comprised of a set of design rules that can be used in a variety of ways:

– Diagnosis:  2Time can be used to understand where a time management system is  lacking in some way

– Design:  2Time can be used to  put together a new system

– Planning: 2Time can be used to create a plan for changing one’s approach to time management over a period of years

In this sense, it brings some structure to an activity that most professionals have already been doing, contrary to the conventional wisdom of how people use time management systems.

Conventional  wisdom: a professional takes a time management class, learns a system of practices to start doing and then tries to start following them each day… against the odds

 New wisdom:  a professional takes ownership of their time management system, and is always on the lookout for ways to enhance it by borrowing ideas, practices  and techniques from whatever source might offer them.  They monitor its effectiveness and make changes as needed.

As I have said in prior posts, the “new wisdom” is simply a truer description of what MOST people have already been doing, without saying so explicitly.  It’s just too hard to follow a time management system designed for someone else, no matter how smart or productive they are.  Our habits and idiosyncrasies won’t allow it.

My goal for 2Time is that it helps professionals see this fact, and make the shift from “following a system” to “owning a system.”  This would be putting it to its proper use.

The trick is that that’s more than a mere “framework” is supposed to do, and sounds more like something that a “system” accomplishes.  Hence the dilemma — should I call 2Time a framework, a system, or something else entirely?

I welcome your comments!

Hurricanes and Time Management in Jamaica

gustav.jpgI am sitting here in Kingston where Tropical Storm Gustav has wreaked havoc on our island, disrupting life as we know it with a day and a half of torrential rainfall.

What’s remarkable is that  when we went to bed on Wednesday night, the storm seemed to be heading away from the island, crossing the eastern section of Haiti on its way to Cuba.  The projections had it merely brushing the north coast of Jamaica with its outer bands giving us some rainfall, but not much… so they said.

When we woke up on Thursday morning the map showed that Gustav had made a U-turn, and come back South, before heading WestNorthWest once again, putting Jamaica squarely in its tracks.  Overnight, the prediction had changed from 4 inches of rain to 30 inches.

Thursday morning was a bright and sunny day,  and we experienced the proverbial calm before the storm.  Now it’s Friday night, and Gustav has left the island, but not before killing, harming, robbing, scaring, wetting, destroying and flooding.

It’s not how I thought  the last two days would go.  It’s not what I had planned in my calendar.  During the storm, lights came and went, as did television service and internet access.  Businesses closed early, and the island came to a halt.

I have remarked in this blog that my return to live in Jamaica led me to decide that the time management methods I had learned from living for 20 years in New York, New Jersey and Florida simply didn’t work when I came back.  The hectic nature of life here, and the exposure to powerful elements — sun, wind and rain –introduce a kind of chaos and unpredictability that  my system (and my head) could not handle.

I remember  leading a time management course many years ago in which it was important to have the discipline to follow one’s schedule for the day, regardless of the circumstances. Now, I laugh, epecially at times like this.  Life here in the Caribbean just doesn’t work like that.

Instead, I have learned to make schedules that are more a matter of an intention, and an indication of what I would like to get done each day.   It’s a way to give myself peace of mind, knowing that I have put down on paper a working model of the day that may or may not be executed according to plan.

Obviously, the schedules I had set for Thursday and Friday became moot… a bit of a joke really, as the 85 mph winds brought water leaking from the roof the windows and the sliding doors into the hallway and bathrooms.

The gift in all this chaos is this blog, and the 2Time Mgt system.   Twop years ago when I realized that the methods I was using were simply too rigid, I went looking for new ones, but quickly noticed that there was almost no assistance I could find in building “a time management system for the tropics.”

Instead, all I found were books and seminars with the same message:  “Here is what I do… follow me!”  I noticed that none of the creators came from these parts… and wrote their systems with an implict assumption that their readers led lives that were much like theirs.

But the more I looked, the more I realized that there was no help for anyone who wanted to create a customtime management system that would fit the unique circumstances at home or on the job that we all face.  It was time consuming and risky to do what we were all doing — cherry-picking from different approaches to create something that would work better than the “follow me” systems.  What we ALL need is a way to guide us in creating and managing the systems that we end up creating.  Something like a “How to Manual” for designing time management systems.

After all, I reasoned, the guys who put together hot rods have manuals to make sure that their creations don’t fall apart at 60mph… working professionals need the very same kind of assistance.

I stumbled around and re-discovered some old engineering techniques I had  learned in college and “discovered” 2Time — a way for me to create a time management system for myself here in Jamaica that covered all the basic components — the fundamentals.

I reasoned that a good all-around gymnast must be good at the fundamentals on each apparatus in order to win a medal.  Those professionals who are better at time management might also be more skilled at the fundamentals than those who aren’t.  It isn’t that they are using the right “follow me” system, although that might help.  Instead, by luck, or by hook or by crook, they end up practicing the fundamentals until they became habits.

Good habits yield skillful time management, whether the user is in Ithaca or Kingston, and whether or not there are snow-storms or tropical storms that are disrupting the day’s best laid plans.

The Right Set of (11) Fundamentals

Are the 11 Fundamentals (or Components) in 2Time the right ones?

It’s hard to say, and the truth is that I am not sure.  After all, it’s quite likely that an astute reader will look at my list of 11 Fundamentals and suggest that I either add a new one in or remove one or two, and that they’ll make more sense than I have made up until now.

All I think I have to do is to make sure that I stick to the criteria I used to determine whether or not a particular practice should be thought of as a Fundamental or not.

The criteria I used is as follows:  must every professional include the fundamental in their daily time management, and is it unavoidable?

It seems to me that once a time demand is understood as an essential “atom” of productivity, then this “atom” that must be included in every time management system that exists, regardless of the knowledge and awareness of the user.

The underlying assumption behind this thinking is that all time management systems are designed to process “time demands.” One  sign of success of such a system is that time demands don’t fall through the cracks. In other words, the system does what it is intended to do.

Another assumption is that every user has a commitment to fulfill time demands, and another is that they try to do so in a world limited by distance, form and time.
If any readers of this blog can see other time demands, I am willing to consider them, given the definition I have created above.

This is not just some theoretical conversation.  Professionals all over the world are flying blind at the moment, unable to design time management system for themselves that work, simply because they have no grasp of these fundamentals. The cost in man-hours, peace of mind and dollars is no small matter.

The non-Problem of Procrastination

I think that the problem of procrastination is overblown, or at least poorly defined which allows it to create a problem.

The Thinking Problem

For many, the problem is simply one that is no more than an issue of thinking. In other words, a stressful thought appears in the mind — “I am a procrastinator, and I shouldn’t be.”

The thought is believed to be true, and the feelings that result are stressful and upsetting.

Until that original thought is questioned, and investigated, it continues to be a burden.

If it IS questioned, however, very often the game is up as it’s found to be untrue. A procrastinator is someone who does not act immediately, but in the 2Time management approach, the tactic of trying to act on everything immediately is one that is characteristic of users at lower belts. In other words, the more skilled users know that it’s crazy to try to act on everything all at once, especially without proper planning.

The only difference might be that they don’t call themselves procrastinators. They might instead call themselves smart planners.

In many cases, there is no objective reality to point to that differentiates the “guilty” from the “innocent.”

(For more details on the method used here to separate thoughts from beliefs about thoughts, read any of the books by Byron Katie, or visit

The Behaviour Problem

What about people who intend to do a task at a scheduled time, but when the moment comes they are unable to execute it at the appointed time for some reason?

They feel a sense of fear that prevents them from executing the task in the moment. It might be related to a fear of failing, or to guilt, but the net effect is the same. Some believed threat is taken seriously. Pain becomes associated with the task, which is then pushed off into the future, until it becomes urgent or critical.

The behaviour is quite a human one, but the practice of calling oneself a procrastinator doesn’t help. Instead, it’s better to look for the offending thought that is causing the fear, and to question that instead. Some examples of the thoughts that might be causing the problem might be:

— this is going to be unpleasant

— I hate doing this stuff

— I don’t know where to start

— I can’t possibly succeed

These thoughts are the kind that create stress and tension once they are believed, but we always have a choice about believing them. We can exercise the choice by simply asking ourselves whether or not the thoughts are true, as a starting point.

The good news is that “solving” the problem of procrastination involves more than simple changing a few habits around – it starts with questioning the thoughts that pop into our heads, and acting acting on the answers. This makes the label of “procrastination” a non-problem, and can direct us towards the real source of difficulty — our thinking.

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.

A Warning for Each Fundamental

In the last week I have been immersed in leading 2 NewHabits-NewGoals programmes here in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

These courses are the fastest way for me to learn what works and what doesn’t work in the entire 2Time approach, and especially in the programmes offered to  the public.

One insightful question that was put to me was whether or not there I would recommend a Warning system for each of the 11 fundamentals.

I thought about it for a while and thought that the idea would be a fantastic one, except that for a proper Warning system to exist, it must be automated and based on more than a gut feeling.

In each of the fundamentals, I got this far in my thinking in what would constitute a complete warning system:

Warning Signs

1. Capturing — too many items or pages remain in the capture point.  Another warning could be that the oldest item in the capture point is more than a certain number of days old.

2. Emptying —  this might be similar to the warning for Capturing.  One specific warning could be the number of days that have elapsed between bouts of “Emptying”

3. Tossing —  I would set my warning signal for tossing be related to the number of items that exist in my time management system in some way.  If the total number of items became too large, I would relate that to a possible lack of Tossing.

4. Acting Now — if my schedule became too packed with too many items, that might relate to a lack of “Acting Now.”   This would be easy to measure in Outlook if it measured the number of items that were disposed of, but this would mean that an incoming email would have to be tracked and tagged in some way.  This would be useful, but might add extra “bloat” to Outlook in addition to the fat that already exists.

5.  Storing — when I have too many items waiting to be filed or scanned, that is an instant warning that I need to  be doing more Storing.

6.  Scheduling —  I wish that Outlook could do some quick analysis of my schedule to tell me whether or not my schedule was unrealistic, using some criteria that  I could give.  If too many items are scheduled at the same time, or too close together, it should be able to tell me.

7.  Listing — I wish I could tell when lists are getting stale and need to be pruned

8.  Interrupting — this one leaves me a bit lost.  To have a good warning, Outlook would need to measure what happens when I dismiss a reminder.  Perhaps reminders would have to be re-thought completely, and the user should be given a choice of different ways of dismissing them.  One choice could be to “dismiss as complete,” and another could be to “dismiss as irrelevant.”  Then, perhaps the time it is dismissed could tell something about whether or not the reminder is actually working the way it should.

(I appreciate that if you are not a heavy Outlook user that this won’t make much sense to you.)

9.  Switching — this is getting more difficult with these advanced fundamentals… Maybe a valid warning in Switching might be  the number of ignored reminders, as a sort of rough guide as to whether or not the schedule is being consulted before action is taken

10.   Warning — the number of automated warnings that are consulted (or not ignored) can be used as a possible warning for Warning!

11.  Reviewing — If Outlook had something like a formal review that showed statistics telling me how my time management system is working, that would be a start.

These Warnings would be a good start, and if I were to rethink the programme I would do it along these lines.

650 billion (not million) in Interruptions

An interesting article in the New York Times entitled”Lost in Email, Tech Firms Face Self-Made Beast.”

Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.

The article describes one study that shows that some 28% of a professional’s day is spent deal with interruptions by things that aren’t urgent or important.

This seems all well and good… until they give the example of “unnecessary email.”

That made me pay attention, because I know from experience that the problem isn’t the technology, but instead it lies in people’s habits. In others, don’t blame Microsoft Outlook for the habit of checking and acting on email ten times per day.

Not surprisingly, the article cited the example of Intel workers who were encouraged to “limit digital interruptions” and were way more effective as a result. No surprise there! Limiting the interruptions allows for a greater opportunity to enter into the flow state, which is one of the goals of the 2Time Management system.

On engineer has apparently introduced a tool that will prevent a user from having access to his/her email inbox! I thought this was funny at first, because it’s a little like freezing one’s credit cards in a block of ice to prevent impulse purchases. It works, but it doesn’t really change the underlying habit.

The effect of poor habits is now being seen as quite costly:

A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure by RescueTime, a company that analyzes computer habits. The company, which draws its data from 40,000 people who have tracking software on their computers, found that on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.


Right at the end of the article a typo caught my attention that stopped me in my tracks altogether…

Correction: June 18, 2008
An article on Saturday about efforts to cut down on information overload in the workplace, using data from the research firm Basex, gave an incorrect estimate in some editions for the annual cost of unnecessary interruptions at work. It is $650 billion — not million.

“Yeah, But I Remember the Important Things”

This sentence is said perhaps thousands of times per day by someone who has just forgotten to take out the garbage, pay a bill, return a phone call or send an email with that phone number you wanted.

It’s the kind of phrase that a novice in time management (or White belt) often says in response to one of those daily situations in which yet another one of their time demands has fallen through the cracks.  In their minds, it’s not a problem, because they are better at remembering the more important things.

This is a myth, but why so?

In the first place, the speaker doesn’t realize that they are over-depending on their memory to get stuff done.  They think that their ability to execute depends on their ability to remember, rather than the quality of the practices in their time management system.  They don’t know that the very way in which they conceive the problem they are facing is fundamentally flawed.

Secondly, it’s true that they remember the important things, because those are the things that loom large in front of them, and therefore get the most attention.  It’s more accurate to say that they get the most urgent things done, because the items that are not urgent are gradually making their way to the cracks because they are not on their immediate horizon.

The inevitable result is that a person comes to feel haunted and overwhelmed, simply because the combination of their memory and their  attention does not provide enough capacity to get everything done.  The haunted feeling comes from knowing that while I am busy on this urgent item in front of me, somewhere else I am forgetting to do something of importance that  I will only find out about when I get into trouble.

This happens  to everyone in their career at some point. Some get to this point earlier than others, simply because they either can remember more items (some people are truly gifted,) or because the number of time demands remains at a low level for some time.

All this is not to point the finger at White Belts, because we have all wanted to feel as if we are not screwing things up that badly… because “at least we get the important things done.”