In our research at 2Time Labs we have noticed a natural progression in time management skills among working professionals. Here’s our hypothesis in a nutshell, but please understand that it’s always being updated and changed depending on our latest findings.
There’s a natural increase in the number of time demands that a working professional must handle during the course of their career. The number starts out quite low in high school, but dramatically increases during one’s college years. This is a bit of an aberration: most people enjoy their early post-college years because the stress of producing graded assignments to a rigid schedule has been lifted, leaving them with a great deal of discretionary time in the average job.
As their lives progress, and they get married, have children, buy a house and get promoted, the time demands they face each day increase dramatically.
This accelerates if there are even bigger changes, such as a promotion to the executive suite or the unfortunate sickness of a child. Most people don’t experience this kind of dramatic change, however. Their big change comes with retirement when the number of time demands drops drastically and suddenly.
In the past, this progression took place slowly and the productivity skills learned in high school were all that were needed for an entire lifetime. Today, however, there’s lots of evidence that things are very different. Information overload is a persistent problem, and new technology has turned our lives into a game of 24-7 access to people in our lives, including our direct supervisors.
Almost all working professionals start off with self-taught time management skills and by the time they hit the workplace they have a combination of practices that is unique.
The problem is that more than ever before, these self-taught skills aren’t good enough for one’s entire career. In other words, the advances in technology are bringing more time demands and information to our attention more frequently than ever before, and our high school-level skills simply aren’t good enough to keep up.
This is the point where we need to make some modifications.
The trajectory of skills that we have discovered is outlined in the list that follows, in which the responses are meant to answer the question “What is your strategy for storing reminders of time demands?”
- In memory mostly
- Using a single Todo list mostly and an appointment calendar for occasional items. Some memory might still be used.
- Multiple lists in which time demands are categorized or sorted, plus an appointment calendar for occasional items. Memory is hardly used.
- Using a single electronic calendar mostly, supported by multiple lists for occasional use (where it doesn’t make sense to fill a calendar with small items such as those comprising a meeting agenda.)
If you currently find yourself at Level 3, contrary to the opinions of several authors and productivity trainers, there is another level of skill that’s rarely accessed, but is quite possible to attain with practice.
First, if necessary, return to the author or trainer whose opinion you value and ask for the proof, either from research, or their own direct experience, that Level 4 is impossible. Investigate whether or not they have tried to reach Level 4 using a modern, portable, electronic calendar.
Second, check out the following links to study the latest research for yourself.
- The 6 Surprising Mistakes the GTD’ers Make – a special report that mentions the fact that having multiple lists becomes onerous due to the amount of reviewing becomes a requirement.
- The Benefit of Developing Advanced Scheduling Skills – this post features some of the research done by Dezhi Wu, a professor at the university of Southern Utah. There are multiple references to her work on the 2Time Labs website.
- Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure – my book outlines the journey I took in attempting to revert to using multiple lists after maintaining a single schedule for several years. In desperation after seeing faults in my system, I thought I’d try something new…
- Comparing Listing and Scheduling – these 2 skills happen to be 2 of the fundamental practices of all time management systems.
There are other hard research references available in my Library, plus other posts that point to the notion that Level 4 isn’t a forbidden skill that shouldn’t be contemplated.
Instead, they are both important. These two levels of skill exist quite happily in the real world, with many people doing one and not the other. A few are aware that both levels of skill exist, and don’t try to make one better than the other. However, the people who need to operate at Level 4 often find themselves with few unscheduled hours each week, and find that if they don’t schedule meals, time to work out, time with family and time to relax… then these activities often don’t happen.
Third, if you are interested in making the switch, explore all your options and once you decide to give Level 4 a try, do so slowly, and in an experimental fashion. Be prepared to quit the experiment, or to persevere – the choice is always yours and no-one can make it for you.
If others try to convince you that Level 4 is impossible, ignore them. Do what you need to do, and move in the direction that allows you to best deal with the number of time demands that you must address each day.