New Research: The Benefit of Developing Advanced Scheduling Skills

New research emerges showing that keeping a specific schedule of what you plan to do each day in the future is better than other options.

The Problem:

For some time here at 2Time Labs I have highlighted the general problem of time management books that neither cite relevant research nor update their recommendations based on the latest research. Many claim, even indirectly, to be “the final word” on the topic, refusing or ignoring the idea that something better will come along someday.

Such hubris harms learners who need to continually adapt their individual time management systems to life’s changing circumstances and technologies. Getting stuck on the skills described in any book or program isn’t really an option in today’s fast-changing world. Learners need an evergreen approach to building their skills – relentlessly absorbing the latest ideas, newest findings and best equipment, while discarding stale notions, obsolete tools and useless apps.

evergreen

Despite the best intentions of some authors and program creators, this need stubbornly persists even as they do their best to build higher walls and deeper moats to prevent their followers from escaping.

One question that typifies the tussle between guru-driven recommendations and new research is the question of whether or not a learner should center one’s daily activities around a list or a schedule. There are two distinct schools of thought.

List’ers
The more traditional, older school argues that tasks belong on lists. A calendar should only be used to record “hard” appointments that involve other people, or deadlines with “major” consequences. As you may notice, this guideline is inexact, and most authors leave the definition of “hard” and “major” to the learner. Major proponents of this point of view include David Allen and Michael Linenberger.

Schedule’rs
The younger school argues that tasks belong on schedules, and lists should only be used to supplement a calendar. Once again, the guideline is inexact, with the choice being left to the learner. Major proponents of this point of view include Peter Bregman and Daniel Markovitz.

The two schools clash from time to time, with the most dogmatic claiming that success can only come through their virtuous point of view, implying that failure comes through the evil alternative.

Our Both/And Hypothesis
At 2Time Labs we believe that both approaches have merit. Some learners prefer lists and others prefer schedules. Beyond the issue of personal preference, we believe that each person needs to understand the options, and make a conscious choice about the one they plan to follow, and for how long.

For some time, however, we have also argued that Schedule’rs are able to manage a much larger number of tasks. These scheduling skills are harder to learn, and rely more on the newest technology, making the learning curve steeper. But they ultimately bring a significant benefit.

We therefore support both approaches, and focus instead on helping learners make informed choices.

The New Research
In the face of this debate emerges a new study: Consider It Done! Plan Making Can Eliminate the Cognitive Effects of Unfulfilled Goals by E.J. Masicampo and Roy F. Baumeister from Florida State University. They not only shed critical light on the argument between List’ers and Schedule’rs, but they also offer a bit of evidence that our Both/And hypothesis at 2Time Labs may be supported by some independent evidence.

Research Goals
The researchers started out with the following notion: “Unfulfilled goals persist in the mind… The standard assumption has been that such cognitive activation persists until the goal is fulfilled. However, we predicted that contributing to goal pursuit through plan making could satisfy the cognitive processes that usually promote goal pursuit.”

Their results were clear:
“Committing to a specific plan for a goal may therefore not only facilitate attainment of the goal but may also free cognitive resources for other pursuits. Once a plan is made, the drive to attain a goal is suspended-allowing goal-related cognitive activity to cease-and is resumed at the specified later time.”

In summary, creating a specific plan is superior to having no plan at all.

Some would argue that this isn’t enough to support either side, thinking that a list is a kind of plan. Their specific experiments clarify any confusion.

“In several studies, we activated unfulfilled goals and examined the extent to which these goals persisted in the mind, remaining active in memory and intruding upon subsequent tasks.”

“Our emphasis was on highly specific plans of action… we asked participants to commit to plans that specified how, when and where they would attain their goals.” They add “A specific plan is like a script that a person can follow mindlessly to completion.”

In other words, what they mean by plan-making is what we call “creating a Schedule” and not what we refer to as “compiling a List.” In their purest forms, schedules, and not lists, are used by learners to define when something needs to be done.

In particular, one study performed by the researchers (5B) focused on these differences as they were tested in three groups.

Group 1 – Participants in the unfulfilled task condition (group) reflected on one task they had to complete in the coming days. Those participants then listed multiple possible courses of action for completing the task, but they did not commit to using any one of them.

Group 2 – Participants in the plan condition (group), in contrast, reflected on a task they had to complete in the coming days and made a specific plan for how they would complete it.

Group 3 – Participants in the control condition (group) reflected on one task they had recently completed.

Their findings were:
“…participants in the plan group (Group 2) reported significantly fewer task-related thoughts than did participants in the unfulfilled task group (Group 1). (The study) replicated the elimination of intrusive thoughts about an unfulfilled task after a specific plan was made.”

In Conclusion they state:
“… the activation and interference effects abruptly ceased among the participants who formed plans for their unfulfilled goals.”

“Unfulfilled tasks made people’s mind wander… But participants who made a plan to get their personal tasks done were able to <perform> with less mind wandering.”

“It has been well documented that specific plans increase success,doing do in part by making goal pursuit more automatic. Once a detailed plan has been made, one no longer has to think about the goal to execute it. Apparently, a plan reduces the amount of thoughts and attention that are typically recruited in service of an unfulfilled goal. Thoughts of an incomplete goal will not interfere with current concerns so long as a plan has been made to see the goal through later on.”

It’s not hard to summarize that having a Schedule leads to a number of positive effects that having a list simply doesn’t produce. In these experiments, makers of a schedule were more productive than those who didn’t make schedules.

Support for the Both/And Hypothesis
In the Implications section of the paper the authors state:
“In most cases, the unconscious achieves self-organization quite well, including in the realm of goal pursuit. (This paper) however, suggests that interrupted goals represent a special case that exceeds the self-organizing capacity of the unconscious. Only when a conscious plan is made does an unfulfilled goal seem to settle into a stable state. Until then, the disturbance from unfulfilled goals seems to persist in the mind, intruding into one’s thoughts and interfering with other tasks.”

In other words, there is a tipping point. When there are too many tasks, the unconscious mind needs a conscious plan or else there is a decline in productivity. As I implied before, their “conscious plan” is what we call a “schedule.”

The Bottom Line
From my perspective here at 2Time Labs there needn’t be two separate camps, as I implied in our Both/And Hypothesis. The problem has been created by authors who go too far and claim that their approach is not only useful, but uniquely correct. In their zeal, they over-reach and state general conclusions that are unfounded in fact, and based on little more than individual experience and/or conjecture. When they make such statements their followers are lured into thinking that their way is the only true way, leading to a fundamentalist mindset that blocks open learning.

In my book, Bill’s Im-Perfect Time Management Adventure I created a character, Vernon Vaz, who is taken over by this mindset and the trouble it causes. The tension between Vernon and Bill is one that is taking place in workplaces around the world and the lack of research in time management keeps it going for far longer than it should.

Thankfully, there is research such as “Consider It Done” that sheds the kind of light that brings data to dogma, and can help us all get past the tension and towards solutions.

P.S. I did a series of posts and videos on the results of Dr. Dezhi Wu’s research that also indicated the value of individual schedule building.

 

 

Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is It Really Not About Time Management?

Poor, poor old “time management.”

It seems that it’s open season on the concept as writers and bloggers around the world take their turn in saying that whatever time management is, “it” is not about “that.”    What are they saying, and why is it that they have a point… but only a very, very small one?

David Allen weighed in on the issue with an article entitled “Time Management is Not the Issue” in which he argues that “GTD® is not about time management—it’s about how you manage yourself and your choices, within that time.”  He goes on to add that “If it were, just buying and using a calendar (and a good watch) would handle it.”

He concludes by saying: “When I ask people, “What’s the next action?” on big projects they’re procrastinating about, the answer is often, “Find time to….” Well, you won’t ever have time to change your corporate culture, write the book, or lose weight. Until you define the very next action, you don’t know how much time you really need. “Pick a date and email my assistant to set the senior team meeting about changing our culture” only takes two minutes—less time than it took to read this essay.”

I confess, that there are some statements in the above excerpt that are a bit puzzling, so I don’t really understand the point he’s making.  Before I make an attempt, here is what Tony Schwartz author of the Harvard Business Review Article “Manage your Energy, Not Your Time” has to say.

“Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute”

and

“As with all rituals, setting aside a particular time to do it vastly increases the chances of success.”

and

“__ There are significant gaps between what I say is most important to me in my life and
how I actually allocate my time and energy.”

I suspect that the point he’s trying to make (once you get past the misleading headline) is that both time management and energy management are important.

Elisha Goldstein picks up a similar idea by proclaiming that “It’s About Attention Management, Not Time Management.”  She says “What more and more business leaders are finding is instead of doing more things faster, you need to learn how to prioritize your attention and do the most important things really well. So whether you’re trying to be more effective and less stressed at your current job or schooling, or more effective at finding a job because you just got laid off, attention management is the key to being effective in today’s New Business World. In other words, the issue isn’t so much time management, but attention management in work and life.”

According to other authors, they agree that it’s not about time management, but it’s about something more important that they happen to be selling, such as “commitment management,” “time allocation,” “goal management,” “productivity,” “ego management” and “culture change.”

This might be a case of wanting to craft interesting, grabby headlines than gaining true understand –  I can’t tell, but I do wonder.

Many of these authors make the point that time actually cannot be managed.    Time passes, regardless of what we do or don’t do, much in the same way that the planets move around the Solar System without our opinions or actions being taken into account.

On this basis alone, it’s possible to argue that it’s never about time management, period, because it doesn’t exist.

Try to explain that one to your grandparents over a hot cup of  cocoa…

The fact is, the only thing we can manage is our selves, inclusive of our habits, practices and rituals. When we use the term “time management” here at 2Time Labs it’s not because we are committed to studying topics that don’t exist… LOL

Instead, there is a popular understanding of what time management is — which is closer to the definition of self management.  It’s the reason why people describe programs like GTD as time management, no matter how many times David Allen insists that it’s not.

When we manage ourselves, it always has a time impact.  When we manage our spiritual growth, health, weight or emotional well-being, there is also always a time impact to be considered.

While it’s not possible to manage time, it’s also not possible to live in the world and ignore it, which is what some of the gurus are trying to say… “forget about time management, and instead, focus on this thing instead…”

The idea that we should give up something we know in order to get something new makes for good marketing slogans, but it’s hardly a good strategy to lead one’s life.  It’s better to manage multiple aspects concurrently, and not try to drop any one thing in favor of another.

That’s an old idea that perhaps should be put to bed.

Instead, we should adopt the notion that it’s always about time management, and lots of other things as well.  They must all be carefully tended in order to live a productive life.

Why GTD is Like My Mother’s Recipe for Ox-tail Stew

istock_000011945640xsmall.jpgRecently on Facebook, I had the chance to answer a question about my motivations for creating my recent video:  Permanently Fixing the Weekly Review.

Here was my original post:

I just finished a video that focuses of fixing the problems many of us have been having with the weekly review. It calls for a major upgrade in time management
systems based on systems that use lists, like GTD
®. I’d love to hear
your thoughts! http://mytimedesign.com/wordpress/fixing-the-weekly-review/

Here was the response I got from Coach Kelly, who works with GTD®, I believe.

Getting Things Done – Official GTD Page

Coach Kelly here–Francis, perhaps it’s just me, but I can’t tell if you are a fan of GTD or not? Your approach seems to be about what’s wrong with GTD. It’s fine to realize GTD does not work for you (it’s not for everyone) but does there have to be something wrong with GTD (or other approaches) for your approach to work? Seems like a negative approach.

Here was my response:

When I bumped into some limitations I was forced to do some things differently — which I think most people do at some point. Then the game changed for me — instead of trying to “follow it” I started to use what I learned from it and other systems as the starting point in upgrading to a system that worked for me.

But I’m no different from most people, I think. Only a few people are able to follow the system perfectly — most have to make their own modifications to fit their life, culture, job, family situation, techno-savviness, etc.

In the case of the video I just did, there are lots of people having trouble with the weekly review (as I did), and it happens when the number of time demands they have to deal with exceeds their ability to use GTD’s recommendations around “scheduling” and “listing.” That doesn’t happen for everyone, but it happens for many people, some of whom could benefit from the “re-balancing” I talk about.

Now…. that might be WAY too much of an answer for a Wall post… hope it doesn’t take up the whole page!!! LOL 

I didn’t quite say everything I wanted to, due to space limitations and I thought I’d add a bit here that might illuminate the angle that the 2Time blog takes.  It involves Jamaican ox-tail stew.

When I was a broke university student, I was forced to start cooking for myself one summer to preserve cash.  A friend convinced me that cooking Jamaican food wasn’t that hard (even for a beginner like myself) and  I called home to get some recipes, including one for my Mom’s Jamaican ox-tail stew.

I followed her recipe as closely as one could given the distance between Kingston and Ithaca, NY.  The result was close enough… a good tasting ox-tail stew.  Kinda like what I remembered.

That was in 1986.

Over time, I actually learned how to be a better cook, and eventually learned to follow the recipe more closely, replicating more of it by using better ingredients.

However, the time came when I wanted to cook ox-tail using my own recipe, not my mother’s.  When I had learned some more about the fundamental principles of cooking I experimented a bit and over the years I developed my own recipe, which is spicier and sweeter than hers.

I still love hers… but I wouldn’t trade it for mine.

Getting Things Done, or GTD®, and ALL the time management systems that I have found in books, tapes, websites, programs etc. are all about selling good recipes for time management.  They tell you exactly what to do, in excruciating details at times, and lay out the exact steps that must be followed in order to implement them.

Of all the commercial systems I have found, GTD® offers the best recipe to follow.

However, I think it’s more powerful to each people how to cook… or in other words, how to craft their own time management system, or upgrade.

What I have tried to do here on the 2Time blog and in the NewHabits and MyTimeDesign programs is to do just that — teach people how to do their own upgrades — in the belief that when people know the fundamentals of how stuff works, they are empowered.

This seems to be particularly true in the field of time management, which is about building habits, rather than selecting cooking ingredients.

Our habits are personal… and idiosyncratic.   We each have our own, and the vast majority find them difficult to upgrade. With better understanding comes more success, and systems that work better because they match our individual needs and habit-patterns.

Cookbooks and recipes are much easier to change… simply add another tablespoon of salt, and take away the pimento, while substituting fresh onions for onion powder, and a different result is produced in a matter of minutes or hours.

Perhaps it goes without saying that habits, on the other hand, take a long time to change.  Simply handing someone a fresh set of habits to follow in a new system isn’t enough.  Most people respond by instantly customizing  what they are given into something that they can actually use without being overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, this blog is the only one that I know of that aims to help people learn the fundamentals of time management, in order to be able to take charge of, upgrade and implement their own system.

Hmm… that sounds a bit arrogant.

Here’s a better way to say it:  This blog is the only one that accurately describes what people are already doing… taking charge of , upgrading and implementing their own time management systems.  Precious few are picking up commercial systems and implementing them as they are designed, and instead they are doing thing THEIR way… to paraphrase Frank Sinatra.

So, at the end of the day, I love my mother’s recipe for ox-tail, and I love GTD®.  I just don’t follow either set of instructions any longer.

They simply aren’t substitutes for what I can do on my own, now that I understand how to cook, and how to upgrade my own time management system.

P.S. Here is the link to the GTD® Facebook group:  http://www.facebook.com/gettingthingsdone

 

Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.

Vid – Why Most People Fail

Here is a brief video I did that explains why most people fail in their efforts to implement new time management systems.

I posted an article with some similar ideas over at the Stepcase Lifehack website, and I received a comment from a user who called the idea of upgrading rather than replacing a “gentler approach.”

Wow.

Scoring 100% in Time Management

istock_000004921432xsmall.jpgAn article I wrote over at Stepcase Lifehack received a nice thank-you comment.

Scoring 100% in Time Management is all about implementing time management systems and mistakenly thinking that we can implement ALL of the habits and practices built into the approach.

This is a mistake in our thinking that produces stress, and it causes too many people to abandon GTD® and other systems too early.

 

Mission Control Productivity, FranklinCovey, GTD and Getting Things Done are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company (davidco.com.)  2Time is not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company, Mission Control Productivity or FranklinCovey.

A Public Fight Between the Gurus

boxing-gloves.jpgA bit-based fight has opened up between the productivity gurus, Tim Ferris of 4 Hour Work Week (4HWW) fame and Mark Hurst, author of the book “Bit Literacy.”

It all started with  an article in Entrepreneur Magazine written by Lena West entitled Escaping Email Overload.  In the article, Hurst had a few critical words to say about the 4HWW approach, which Tim took exception to his blog post entitled Time Management Guru-itis:  Mark Hurst vs. David Allen and Tim Ferriss.

Hurst replied to Ferris’s post with one of his own, entitled “My Take on the 4 Hour Work-Week“.

While I don’t encourage anyone to get caught up in the gossipy side of the argument, I think that there is an underlying tension that is useful to distinguish.

When a guru (of any kind) describes a system for others to follow, it often becomes something that they start to identify with, and therefore grow to defend against criticism.  If you have ever seen someone react to a dent on their car as if it were a broken leg, then you might know what I am talking about.  The human tendency is for our concept of ourselves to gradually include our successes, our possessions and also our ideas.  We will sometimes resort to killing other people when the threat grows to be too great.

The problem is that each approach has merits, and none of them is complete.  None of them were created with the intention to be the end all and be all, final answer to every question.  They each describe a particular approach that works for the guru in question.

It is a fact that there is no-one on the planet other than the creator of each approach who is using it the way it is designed, down to the last habit.  Instead, users are taking a bit from here and a bit from there to fashion time management systems of their own.

This makes the squabble unfortunate, because what people want is help to design unique systems that work for them, and they could be helped greatly by getting some assistance in understanding the underlying principles behind the recommendations that the gurus make.

For example, Tim Ferris recommends a particular approach to responding to email that involved checking it twice per day (to choose a random example.)

Users want to know…. “Why?” What’s the logic behind the recommendation?  How can I use that logic to craft my own approach that works for me?

Part of the criticism that he actually received in the mix of posts and comments came from people who just don’t understand why  he makes that recommendation.  Some think the motive is to cut the raw number of email that is sent.  Others think that it has to do with cutting the total time spent processing email.

Both are useful goals, and I have my own ideas about why I would make such a recommendation (which I do) but it’s clear that users are struggling to apply the idea in their own lives ina way that works for them.

As the argument continues, the burden still remains on the user to dig behind the words on the page, or in the blog, to find the underlying principle, or fundamental, that underlies the specific recommendation or approach that the guru advocates.  Once these fundamentals are understood, it’s not so hard to assemble a unique system that works.