Almost the Last Day to Vote for My Proposal

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In a prior post on Sep 20th, I mentioned that I had entered my proposal to write a new, hopefully revolutionary, manifesto on the skill of time management.

What I have neglected to mention is that since my last update on Sep 23rd, the proposal has garnered 435 votes. So far, it’s the most popular proposal of the 11 being offered up this month.

I have no idea what the threshold is to be asked to take the next step and “write a manifesto” but… if you haven’t voted, please do so.

The final date is Friday Oct 19th.

The title is “On Time Management: Toss Away the Tips, Focus on the Fundamentals”

Click here to be taken to the proposal.

Vote Here for a New Paradigm in Time Management

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Recently, I made a proposal.

On ChangeThis.com I recently proposed that the old methods of thinking about time management as a bunch of little tips is bankrupt, and that a new paradigm is needed.

The cool thing is that if you are impressed by the proposal I submitted (reproduced below), you can vote on it. If the proposal gets enough votes, then I will be asked to “Write a Manifesto” which they will post on the site. (There is no cost or payment involved.)

So, should I “Write this Manifesto?” — let the world know and follow these steps, if you’d like:

1. Read the “Proposal” below

2. If you like it, vote for it by clicking here to be taken to the site and then click on “Yes, write this manifesto.” Then pass on the link to others so that they can vote on it also.

3. If you LOVE it, visit the 2Time blog that outlines the 11 Fundamentals of 2Time Management

4. If you go beyond loving it, let me know by sending me an email — francis@fwconsulting.com or by leaving a comment on the 2Time blog.

I will post the outcome after October 19th, when voting closes.


Here is “The Proposal”

On Time Management: Toss Away the Tips, Find the Fundamentals

Author(s): Francis Wade

There is a stew of tips floating around on how to improve one’s time management skills, confusing the professional who is trying to become more productive.

However, neither a professional basketball player nor a concert pianist becomes great by learning a bunch of tips. Instead, their expertise comes through practice, learning, coaching and reflecting on the fundamental techniques they learned at the very beginning.

To witness Michael Jordan sinking free-throws, or Leonard Bernstein practising scales, is to know that their public triumphs were won long before the bright lights were turned on. Working professionals have never been taught the fundamentals of time management, and are stuck chasing after the latest tips and coolest gadgets.

Imagine MJ chasing after the latest sneakers…

What are the unalterable, fundamental elements of time management? How can they be learned? How can they be practiced? How can they be coached? How can they be perfected?

The Answer Is…

Remember, if you like it, vote for it by clicking here, and then on “Write this Manifesto” and pass on the link to others so that they can vote on it also

Structuring a Game

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A few months ago I read the most interesting article that is still available on the internet on how to structure software apps by “Putting the Fun in Functional”.

It was one of the most insightful presentation I ever saw, and it only came to me via a friend of mine.

The presenter, Amy Jo Kim, talks about what makes video games, or any worthwhile experience, a sticky one — in the sense that the experience is one that people want to return to time and time again. She dissected the experience to distill the principles underlying the design of good online websites.

Here are the five principles:

  1. Collecting
    People like games that allow them to collect stuff, and show off their collections. Think of the attraction of baseball cards, stamps, coins, paintings, antique furniture, marathons. They particularly like the idea of completing sets, like doing a marathon in each of the 50 states, or all the stamps in a set. A complete set gains more bragging rights than individual pieces.

  2. Points
    People like an opportunity to gain points. They like the idea of being able to increase a score, and love it when they can redeem points for other gifts, and also to use points to compare with other people who are also collecting.

    Frequent flyer programs are classic point-based games.When points are assigned, it becomes possible to assign levels, such as different levels of frequent flyers.

  3. Feedback
    People like to receive feedback, and to find out whether they are on track or not. If system or a person can givem ongoing coaching on how close to they are to some target, the more they are likely to engage in it.

  4. Exchanges
    Sticky systems allow the members of the community to interface with each other either to create open conversation, share information, trade content, give gifts or acknowledge success.

  5. Customization
    When a user can customize their experience to suit their own tastes, they are quite likely to return to use it again and again. At times, the system does the customization for them (like telling them the time they last logged in, or by recommending books to read a la Amazon.)


I am trying to include as many of these ways of thinking into the design of the 2Time Management system.

Basically, the idea is a simple one. I believe that I can design a superstructure around 2Time that will allow a user to:

  1. Collect belts as they move from one level to another, along with a certificate and some other tangible award.

  2. Gain points as they add different skills, and move up from one belt level to another

  3. Gain feedback from a coach as they move up from one belt level to another. Also, as part of an online community, they will be able to gain feedback and ideas from others who are also a looking to improve their time management skills

  4. Exchange tips and celebrate accomplishments as users move from one belt level to another.

  5. This is one part I don’t know how to do. The entire 2Time Mgt system is based on the idea that each person’s needs are different, and that they must continuously be customizing their time management system. Perhaps that is all that is needed – a way to be recognized for having a unique system and a way to change it on an ongoing basis in a structured way.

    Maybe this customization can continue in their relationship with a coach and a community who understands their idiosyncrasies, and can look at a chart of their progress to date and help them to move from one level to another.

    One way that they can help to customize the course itself is by contributing to the design, by adding in their own experience, perhaps through a wiki, and certainly through the 2Time blog. Perhaps in exchange for a certain quality of input and involvement in improving the system, a user can gain points that helps them to advance to the highest level.


For those who might be interested in deep game mechanics, here is an excerpt from the lostgarden blog.

Game mechanics are rule based systems / simulations that facilitate and encourage a user to explore and learn the properties of their possibility space through the use of feedback mechanisms.

It is a simple definition, but it offers a good amount of insight into why games work and how we can make them better.

Feedback loops
Central to the model is the concept of feedback loops that encourage learning. Here is a diagram that should explain the concept in a more visual format:

(click to expand the diagram)

  • Player performs an action.
  • The action causes an effect within the simulated game world. The simulation contains public and private tokens and the causal rules that affect the states of the tokens. The player rarely knows all the rules and is highly unlikely to be able to instantly describe the complete possibility space described by the rules. The unknown portion of the simulation is a “black box” that the player must attempt to decipher.
  • The player receives feedback.
  • With new tools and information in hand, the player performs another action. Using what we’ve learned, we pursue additional pleasure.


Time Management: The Martial Art for Working Professionals

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In one of the prior blogs on Time Management, I made the point that within every time management system there lies a structure that is always present.

I compare it the bone structure that makes up the human hand.

Although hands might be different, a fully functional hand must have all the component parts. They each serve a distinct purpose. While it is possible to function without all the parts, there are a few essential bones that must be either present, or replaced, in order for the appendage to work.

In the same way, a time management system must have certain basic components, without which it does not function. These basics are Capturing, Emptying, Tossing, Storing, Scheduling, Acting now, Listing, Reviewing, Switching, Warning and Interrupting.

While no two hands are the same, functioning hands share certain basics. The same applies to time management systems.

In fact, an effective time management system in 2007 must be able to do things that a time management system in 1970 just was not designed to do. Here is why:

  • between 1950 and 2000 human knowledge doubled
  • scientific information doubles every 5 years
  • A single Sunday New York Times has the same amount of information that a person in 1750 was exposed to in their entire lifetimes
  • internet traffic doubles every 100 days

The sheer volume of information has increased rapidly, and is increasing more rapidly. A time management system created today will probably be a hindrance five years from now for those professionals that do not understand the basic components and how they need to work together.

The great thing about understanding the basics is that it reduces the temptation we might have to go out and buy the newest system that is advertised. Instead, we can make an intelligent choice about whether or not to include the new gizmo in our system — does it enhance the basics, or not? Does it fit my habits or not? Will it work with my basic components?

This is not to encourage professionals from upgrading–in fact, new technology is a must if we are to continuously upgrade our time management systems. There is a simple fact behind this need for constant upgrading.

The better a professional is, the better able he is to manage his time. The better able he is to manage his time, the more that others with whom he works are willing to give him to do.

There is an old saying: “If you really want something to be done, give it to someone who is busy.”

Clearly, there are a range of practices that a professional can use, some of which are more effective than others. For example, when given a task to perform in a meeting you may have noticed the following practices for Capturing:

Practice 1 — I’ll remember it without writing it down

Practice 2 — I’ll write it on a Post It note

Practice 3 — I’ll record it in a reliable place (e.g. a notebook) for later processing

These are all approaches that might work, in faithfully translating the given task into action. However, Practice 3 is clearly superior to Practice 1. Professionals who use more of Practice 1 than Practice 3 are likely to be less reliable.

It’s not too different from the way in which a Black belt is different from a White belt in the Tae Kwon Do. To the unpracticed eye, they might all look like they are doing the same moves, but to those experienced in the martial arts, there is a world of difference.

Professionals that are expert in time management know the different practices that are available in each of the basic components or disciplines.

In the system that we are developing, professionals will also have a chance to use a system of belts to understand where they are in the development of their own time management system.

One major difference from Tae Kwon Do is that every professional has some system that they are using to manage their time, so the starting point need not be at the bottom of the ladder, as if they know nothing.

Instead, once they understand the basic components, they will be able to decide what level they currently are at in each of the components. Our experience tells us that very few are complete Black Belts, and almost no-one is a complete White Belt. Instead, professionals tend to be a complex mix of capabilities in each component.

Therefore, the plan for each person will be different as they integrate, and learn new practices. we plan to encourage people to plot their own path, and to phase the introduction of new techniques over time, essentially giving themselves an opportunity to adapt and change to incorporate new habits that, for most people, change slowly.

The biggest mistake that we have seen professionals make in learning new time management habits is to try to learn too many new habits too quickly. The result is frustration, stress and ultimately failure as they build too steep a learning curve for themselves, innocently underestimating what it takes to change entrenched habits.

Instead, our new system will encourage them to move themselves from one level to another slowly and comfortably, adjusting their knowledge and habits as they go along. From the little that I know of Tae Kwon Do, it takes years of practice to progress all the way up the ranks.

Professionals in the workplace would do well to think of their time management practice as their own martial art.

P.S. The follow-on posts to this discussion on Time Management have been moved to an entirely new blog: The 2Time Management Blog at http://2time.wordpress.com/

Ways to Use a Calendar

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In a prior post, I talked about how the most powerful time management system is one that a user designs for themselves. When users know the principles behind a good system they are much better equipped to design a unique approach that works for them.

One area that is often misunderstood is the use of a calendar in an overall time management system.

I have observed that people use calendars in ways that are unproductive, because they are stuck in an old paradigm of The Appointment Calendar.

The Appointment Calendar probably originated with the kind of calendar used in a Doctor’s office. It was a tool the receptionist used to ensure that different patients were not being scheduled at the same time. The doctor would glance at it from time to time, but he/she did not actually use it themselves. Instead, they would advise the receptionist when they would be in surgery, when they needed extra time with a patient and they were taking an afternoon off to play golf.

With the invention of different paper-based time management tools, and an increasing onslaught of time demands, professionals gradually began to use calendars themselves. First, there were filofaxes and DayRunners, then along came Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, followed by PDA’s and even phones that can carry schedules.

Many professionals, however, and most those here in the Caribbean still use their calendar as an appointment book — a tool to schedule meetings.

This is the most basic of uses, and the advent of electronic tools (and the best paper tools) means that their calendars are probably being under-utilized.

How so?

The technology of calendaring is changing — making it easier for us to imagine a time when the rule will be that most of the time in a day is scheduled, rather than than less.

Starting with the idea of a Paper Appointment-book this is rather hard to imagine. Many of them only allow weekday scheduling, with one line each from 9-5pm. Even a nice pencil with a good rubber (OK, eraser for Americans) would not do the job.

However, a good time management system takes advantage of the power that is resident in the new technologies, and even the paper-based professionals could learn a thing or two here.

If the calendar could feasibly hold other things, what could it include?

In a prior post that really should have come after this one (as it uses these ideas) I wrote about the power of using the calendar as a tool to schedule three different kinds of actions: recurring tasks, actions needed to move projects forward and also an adequate amount of “goof-off” time.

The underlying principle here is simple: the mind is a terrible thing to waste, and one way we waste it is to try to get it to remember too much. Over the past five years, courtesy of hard practice, I have tired to get to the point where my time management system does all the remembering for me.

Caveat — I am an extreme case — most designers of their own time management systems will not necessarily want to start at the place I have ended after years of refining.

They may, however, want to start by using an electronic time management system to schedule the following weekly, monthly and annual repetitive activities, for example:

  • exercise
  • pay bills
  • buying Christmas presents and cards
  • remembering birthdays a week ahead of time
  • starting to plan for vacations
  • paying taxes and completing returns

This is just a sample, and probably way more than someone who is just starting would schedule. I have discovered that an amazing amount of the actions I take are repetitive, and that I help myself if I use my calendar to remember them rather than my memory.

In this way, a calendar is much more than something used to plan appointments and meetings. Instead, it becomes a powerful memory assistant — a place where commitments are translated into actual, planned hours and minutes.

The logic here is obvious — by actually using real, planned time, the user is less likely to make unrealistic commitments, because each new activity that one says “Yes” to, must co-exist with every other commitment that is already in place.

This is a long, long way from just having a schedule of appointments.

However, today’s tools are simply imperfect “memory assistants,” given that they were designed to replace appointment-books. They are not easy to use, and many professionals in the region are just getting used to the idea of “doing email” themselves.

Given the tricky nature of the electronic tools, it is important that a user customize the way in which they use their calendars. There are several dimensions that they need to consider when deciding what combination of paper and electronic tools they include in the design of their time management system, and what kind of calendar choices they have.

  • what tools are available to them? Which ones are they comfortable using right now?
  • does their job involve travel? Being away from their desk?
  • are they knowledge workers?
  • do they need to be on call at all times (e.g. most receptionist positions)
  • does their daily schedule change a great deal from moment to moment?

With respect to how they actually use their calendar, there are different approaches that a user can elect to follow. Of course, they all follow the basic rule of not scheduling mutually-exclusive tasks at the same time.

  • an Activity-Based Calendar allows completely free movement of individual activities
  • a Responsibility-Based Calendar only allows activities to be scheduled that match with the hats that one wears e.g. 6-8am Father, 8-830am Individual, 830-11130am Project Leader, 113o-1230 Individual, 1230-430 Counselor to staff, 4:30-10pm Father. Each slot would be designed to accomplish only a limited range of activities.
  • a Location-Based Calendar would recognize that between different times, the physical location would determine what would, or would not, be scheduled e.g. for someone who drives an ambulance: 6-9am Home 9-12 In the Ambulance 12-1 At Lunch 1-4 At Office Desk 4-8 At Home
  • a Project-Based Calendar would split the work day into different projects, allowing the user to focus on a single project at any given time
  • an Energy-Based Calendar would guide a user in designing the day around something like a biorhythm, perhaps using research that shows that there are two spurts of energy the average person experiences — early morning and early evening. More routine time demands would be scheduled during the other available time
  • an Interruption-Based Calendar would scheduled the most important work at the times when interruptions are less likely. Many professionals get their best work done very early in the morning, late at night and on weekends, when most people are away from their work and unlikely to interrupt them
  • an Appointment-Only calendar limits the calendar to meetings that are scheduled with other people that are difficult to change once they are agreed upon.

There is no right or wrong way to use a calendar, but the user must be educated as to the rules they must follow to make the system work. There is a delicate balance that is being created that they must monitor over time as their habits change, their responsibilities expand, and the amount of time demands increase.

The general rule is that, over time, the user should be using less and less of their memory to manage their time demands. As far as I can see, that means using more technology, not less.

This may seem daunting to some.

However, it is a fact of life — professionals that can use more computer and internet based tools are more effective than those who are not willing or able to learn.

At the moment, my observation is that time management is so poorly taught, and so rarely formalized that few professionals stand out in terms of their productivity, and if they do stand out their success is not ascribed to a system they are using. More often than not, they and others, use life and daily circumstances to explain the difference.

I believe that this will change: much in the way that athletic success has changed. Today, professional athletes use the best tools, inputs and assists that are available and leave little to chance. Not too many years ago, athletes are whatever they wanted whenever they were hungry. Today, nutrition is seen as a critical factor in performance.

The rise of the Australian Test team and the demise of the West Indian cricket team is perhaps a good example of systematic success.

In the future , the most productive professionals will be the ones who learned very early on how to take their time management system seriously, with a commitment to continuously improving it. After all, it is one of the few tools that EVERY professional shares, bar none.

Time Management and Using Lists

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In a prior blog, I made the point that one of the inescapable elements of time management was a step that comes after Emptying, called Listing.

Listing: placing a time demand on a list for later use.

There are many ways in which lists can be used to temporarily store information related to time demands. All of the ones that I can think of are valid, yet all cannot be used by a user that wants to retain some semblance of sanity.

To quickly review, a time demand is born when it is “captured” in memory, on paper, in an inbox or some or other location. It is “emptied” at some moment in time when it is either stored, discarded, put into a calendar, acted on immediately or put into a list.

The purpose of Listing is to place the time demand in some location from which it can be reliably retrieved at a time that satisfies the user.

There are many ways to organize lists, and there are only a few that are required because they serve a particular and unique functions:

  • Next Activity List: a list of all items that are ready to be executed immediately, and are on the list waiting for an appropriate time-slot
  • Someday List: a list of all items for which there is an interest in executing someday, but not immediately
  • Waiting For List: a list of all items that are awaiting some critical input before being executed
  • Thinking About List: a list of all items that are being worked on in the background from time to time

The user must develop a strategy for reviewing these items — some more frequently than others. Each person’s approach to these lists will be different, but their importance lies in the fact that they each play a different but important role in managing time demands.

Other kinds of lists that are variations of the Next Activity List can also be arranged according to different criteria:

  • a Meeting List — items to be discussed in various meetings
  • a Conversation List — items to be brought up in the next conversation with an individual
  • a Location List — items to be looked at when in the Office, At Home, At Church etc.
  • a Daily List — items to be scheduled on particular dates in the future
  • a Browse List — items to be browsed on the internet
  • a Shopping List — items to be purchased
  • a Call List — people to call
  • a Vacation List — stuff to do on vacation
  • a Project List — a list of activities to be done on a project

The list of Lists is an endless one.

The danger of lists is that they can easily grow to be unmanageable, and when they get to that point, they are impossible to work with. At this point, the user can start feeling guilty, overwhelmed or tired from the contents on the list.

Each list is best managed with a limit — a number of items beyond which it should not grow. The only exception to this rule is the Someday List, which some users are comfortable growing as large as their imagination will permit.

These lists must be used on conjunction with the Calendar in a careful balance. When the lists get so large that they are not being used, there is a problem, and where they are not being used at all, that creates a different problem also.


The Inescapable Elements of Time Management

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In our development of a new, Caribbean-based approach to Time Management, I have stumbled across what I think is an irreducible framework lying behind all efforts to improve productivity. It may well provide the basis for a flexible kind of system that anyone can create for themselves.

In the same way that ALL bicycles are designed in a particular way in keeping with certain physical laws,
all time management systems must account for certain basic facts of how time is used and experienced by humans. For example, not being able to be in 2 different places at the same time is a simple law that many of us try to break, but are not able to, despite our crazy efforts. Also, it is impossible to leave Diego Martin to get to Arima, or from Barbican to get to Spanish Town for a 3:00pm appointment by leaving at 3:00pm.

While the system may be customized and enhanced and tailored and even automated, it still must make a certain kind of basic sense to each and every user, regardless of profession.

(For the purposes of this discussion, all the stuff that flies at us each day in the form of requests, appointments, email, voicemail, new ideas that pop into our heads, bills, etc. are called “time demands.”)

A functional Time Management system needs to be reliable in:

  1. Capturing: temporarily storing information related to new time demands in a reliable place or places. Possible candidates for “reliable” places include our memory, email inbox or Post-It notes. For example, our daughter tells us to call her cell at 890-6543 at 3pm on March 16 (2 weeks from today) to give her directions. We could use any of the three places listed above to temporarily store the critical information.

  2. Emptying: moving information on new time demands from the place of capture, to another place where it can more reliably help us to act at the right time. The act of emptying is a decision point — when do we empty the “reliable place of capture” and what do we do with the information?

    To continue the example above, do we trust ourselves to remember to call at the right time, and just memorize the information and create a mental reminder? Or do we sit down at our computers and convert the email into a reminder with an alarm on the morning of the call? Or do we take the Post-It Note with the information and stick in on the fridge or on the screen of our computer? These are just a few of the choices that we have.

    The following steps all come after the decisions based on Emptying.

    2a) Tossing: throwing away information we don’t need. In our example, it could mean taking the Post-It note off the fridge after the appointment, and tossing it in the garbage.

    2b) Storing: putting away useful data for later use, in a safe place that we can later find. Some bad examples include putting a Post-It note in a drawer with 100 other bits of random paper, leaving an email in an inbox of 4000 other un-read emails or just hoping that we can remember the numbers she told us. A much better example would be to place her cell number under her name in Outlook Contacts. A good storage place allows us to find the right information at the right time.

    2c) Scheduling: allotting time in our calendar to make the call. This is a way to help ourselves to plan our time properly. This personal appointment could help us to to plan the afternoon of that day. For example, our boss might come to us after lunch on the 14th to set up a 2:45pm meeting. To prevent a problem, we would check our calendar before committing to a meeting longer than 15 minutes. Having a calendar is one way to deal with it — another is to hope that we remember.

    2d) Acting Now: taking immediate action. We might decide to take an immediate action so that we can forget about the issue altogether. In the example above one option would be to spend 5 minutes sending her an email with the directions. Another option would be to call her brother and ask him to go with her instead. another would be to call her voicemail on her cell, and leave her detailed directions that she can use on the 16th. In any of these cases, we could forget about this particular time demand.

    2e) Listing: placing a time demand on a list for later use. We could add the information to a list of items. we might add it to a list of things to do that day, a list with her name on it or a list of phone calls to make that week. Of course, we could just try to remember it, and hope that our memory kicks in at the right moment in time, with the right information.

    Not only would a functional time Management System need to do all these things, it would also need to be able to monitor itself to ensure that it doesn’t break. The way to do that is ensure that it can do the following functions, and also be reliable in:

  3. Reviewing: setting up appointments to look over the system to make sure that it is working well. An example would be to look over the week’s appointments to ensure that there is sufficient time to travel from one to another.

  4. Switching: moving from one appointment to another, ensuring that the prior activity is complete, and wisely choosing the next activity subject to factors such as interest level, available energy, time of day, etc. One practice that some users have is to schedule meetings at least 15 minutes apart to allow themselves to mentally and physically regroup.

  5. Warning: sending a signal to the user that a piece of the system is near the breaking point. At any time, the system could break from a variety of causes — sometimes just due to user oversight. For example, the system could be set up to warn the user when the list of items to be done on a particular day exceeds 50. if the warning came early enough, the user could decide to re-schedule the items on the list for that day.

  6. Interrupting: creating an audible or physical interruption that cannot be ignored, advising the user that they must stop what they are doing or else they might create a problem with their appointments. The simplest alarm that many people use is one to interrupt their sleep in the morning. Other examples include alarms built into the Outlook Calendar, an egg-timer with a loud ring or even a scheduled cell-phone reminder.

These elements are the basic capabilities of any Time Management system. Any system that does not account for one or more of these distinct elements, fails to meet one of the requirements of the busy professional.

Most people’s systems (developed during their late teens and early twenties)are well beyond the breaking point, as the number of items that they need to capture and put into their system has overwhelmed their habits. To put it simply, their “systems” were not designed to deal with the level of complexity their lives have attained. The result is an increase in stress.

A good system must be flexible enough to deal with not only increases in volume, but also changes in technology. As new tools are created and introduced, they can help professionals to be more efficient if applied wisely. For many people, however, their email inboxes have just become another burden.

Once the basic requirements have been understood, a user can design a system using as much technology as they want to meet their needs.