What is the best way to optimize your time?

ItWhat is the ebst way to optimize your time? 2Time Labs‘s obvious to most of us that time is a precious resource. Unlike others, it is finite and non-renewable. When we get to a certain point in our philosophical development, we begin to face the fact that we won’t live forever and that our lives as human beings has an inescapable quality: it is marked by an unknown expiry date.

This realization hits us at different times, and perhaps it occurs as a slow, creeping acknowledgment for most. As we live our lives with this concern in the background, we experience a growing urge to make the best of what we have. That is, we try to optimize our lives.

Mathematical optimization  is a field of study that has existed for at least a century. It’s inhabited by operations researchers, management scientists and other applied mathematicians. However, their tools are normally applied to physical objects or physical activities in time.

In Perfect Time-Based Productivity I take the concept the step further, but state that human beings are caught in a tangle of misnomers and misunderstanding. That is, we know that we want to make the best use of the time we have been given. Specifically, at the end of every day, week, month and year we want to be able to look back on the time elapsed with satisfaction and give ourselves a passing grade. The same applies to the last few minutes of life.

However, we have a problem. While we want to optimize our use of time, something is broken which leads us into a state of confusion.

Time Cannot be Managed

Dr. Brigitte Claessens is an Assistant Professor at Radboud university in the Netherlands and she’s one of the foremost researchers in the area of time management. Quite fittingly, she’s in the Psychology Department where she has created waves with her bold assertion that “Time cannot be managed in any sense.” She’s not the first person to make that claim, but she is the first academic of note to pull together her knowledge from a number of fields to state the finding in plain terms. It’s stark, unequivocal stance does more than provoke: it brings into question all the work that has ever taken place in the field. (In the 2Time Labs InnerLab we are conducting a year-long research effort examining this assertion.)

If she (and others) are right, then humans have been looking for all the right answers in the wrong places. And it won’t be the first time.

Weight management, for example, isn’t accomplished by trying to manage weight directly. Instead, we all know that it’s accomplished by jointly managing our food intake and level of exercise. In the language of mathematical optimization, there is an objective function which maps calories consumed and calories burned onto the results shown on our bathroom scale, measured in pounds or kilos.

The same is true for time optimization. We have always thought that optimizing one’s time was a function of managing time but, according to Claessens and others, we are wrong.

In Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I discovered that we manage a psychological object which other researchers have called a conscious intention  but I named a “time demand“. I defined it as “an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.”

A new objective function would be stated like this, as a start: optimized time usage is a function of managing time demands.

The Two Main Ways to Optimize Time Demands

How should we optimize time demands? Immediately, two kinds of activities spring to mind.
1) The activities that take place before a time demand is executed.
2) The activities that take place while it’s being executed.

Perhaps optimization has something to do with paying attention to these practices.

In the first case, we know that a time demand is created in the mind in response to a trigger of some kind. In some cases it’s an explicit thought that represents a kind of internal promise. Successfully shepherding a time demand from the moment of creation to the moment preceding its execution involves a series of steps I lay out in my book in further detail.

My research shows that all functioning, adult human beings create time demands – a skill that we teach ourselves in our early teens. We do so with varying levels of skill: here are some typical flaws in the ways we manage time demands before the point of intended execution.
Flaw 1 – we create too many time demands to be accomplished in a day, year or lifetime leading to feelings of regret or guilt
Flaw 2 – after a time demand is created, it becomes lost. Some of us blame our memory, which psychologists call prospective memory. Others point the finger at the surfeit of data in our environment i.e. information overload. Whatever the cause (and there are many possible culprits), the result is the same: a time demand unconsciously disappears before the intended moment of execution.

In the second case, once a time demand has begun to be executed, the research shows that it’s best to give it our full, undivided attention. It’s the best way to maximize the quality of the end-product, its timely completion, the cost of the effort and the quantity of output realized. Writers such as Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi have written about the flow state – our most productive way of completing time demands.

There is evidence, however, that humans do more than just create and execute time demands like machines. Given the role time demands play as carriers of commitment, they are essential to the completion of every goal we have in life in that require our agency.

Deeper Optimization Techniques that People Use

Relationships, money, well-being, happiness: any of our goals in these or other important areas require the creation, management and execution of time demands. As we enter our teens, we come to realize that this isn’t an easy activity for anyone to perform. It’s a hard job – in the words of Julie Roberts in the film “Pretty Woman”, they are “slippery little suckers.”

What makes things worse is that they are all competing with each other due to limited temporal space. According to Jordan Etkin of Duke University , the fact that some may be in direct conflict makes us feel more time-pressured. As a result, most adults live in a state of anxiety with regards to the burden of their time demands. Apparently, they are anxious that the time demands they create simply won’t be completed due to forces outside their control.

Given this concern, there are a number of techniques people use to mitigate the risk. These techniques are mostly self-taught, according to my research. As a result, they end up with skills that are uneven as the data collected from participants in my training confirm

However, there is another important reason why these techniques are different.

When someone creates a time demand, it appears that they also attach certain attributes to each one. To understand how this happens, imagine the creation of a record in a database of customer names.

While the name is an essential component in the record, it’s also likely that the database creator may want further information to be used, such as the person’s age, gender, address or phone number. There’s no limit to the number of attributes that can be added – we could let our imagination run wild and create a list of infinite length.

However, in a broad sense, we wouldn’t be creating this list without a reason. The “Why?” behind the creation of this database determines which attributes we would pay attention to, and which ones we’d ignore. When we create the database, we’d therefore collect a limited number of attributes – the ones that are important to us.

When we create time demands, we do something similar. A simple time demand such as “pick up the milk” could also have attributes we care about such as urgency, importance, time duration, scheduled start time, physical location, emotional mood, price, and others.

Of course, none of us creates a list of attributes a mile long – we only use those we care about. Like former President George H. W. Bush, we may not have a clue what the price of the milk we are about to purchase might be because we simply don’t care. It’s only natural for us to ignore those attributes which are least important.

But there’s more.

In my book I lay out a theory: we human beings often focus on a single attribute. It’s the one we find most scarce. We then use this attribute to manage all our time demands.

Here are a few examples:

  • a man of limited means walks two miles each way to work in order to save the bus fare. Why? The out-of-pocket cost of the trip is his most important attribute.
  • a woman runs two miles to work each day in order to improve her well-being. She’s optimizing her lifespan by warding off diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle.
  • a senior citizen walks two miles to work because of the inconvenience of the bus routes, which would take 2 hours. This person is optimizing time.
  • an adolescent walks two miles to school because his parent encourages him to enjoy the experience of going to school in the same neighborhood. He’s optimizing the proximity of his location.
  • a teenager walks two miles to her job after school because the fellow she has a crush on often walks that route and she’d like to spend time with him. She’s optimizing the relationship.

This motley group may end up side-by-side at the same intersection, but each is there for a different reason. They are each attempting to optimize an attribute that’s most critical to them, subordinating other attributes in that moment.

These are just a few examples, but the two that stand out are time and physical proximity. Most people who have read several books on the use of schedules focus on the former, while some of those who focus on the latter have been influenced by books like Getting Things Done® by David Allen.

Which Approach to Optimizing Time is Best?

Some do argue that the attribute they happen use is the only one that’s important, and that the use of other attributes is irrational or foolish. However, my research shows that optimizing your use of time demands depends on your concerns in life, and even on the phase your life is in. In other words, one size doesn’t fit all.

What’s true in general, is that as you attempt to optimize your time via your creation, management and execution of time demands, you use a hierarchy of attributes. I would speculate that Pareto’s Law applies: 80% of the time you use the same attribute. Furthermore, your current habits, practices and rituals are geared to optimizing this attribute.

Therefore, the best attribute to use is the one that works best for you, and you alone.

Knowing this fact while being fully aware of the attribute you currently use is the first step. Unfortunately, life keeps changing and with it we need to make adjustments. With full understanding, for example, a young couple who is recently married may start by “maximizing opportunities to be together.” Six years, three children and two promotions later, their needs in life may shift to a different focus: “maximizing time.” When this change occurs, it’s best to make a conscious change in their individual techniques in order to optimize their use of time.

Summary

Therefore, the final answer to the question: “What’s the best way to optimize your time?” is “It depends.” A new objective function might be that one’s optimal use of time is a function of the way one manages time demands, the way one executes time demands and the “attribute of scarcity” one happens to use.

When this awareness falls short, it’s easy to end up trying to optimize your time in ineffective ways. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we aren’t taught these skills. Left to our own devices, we often struggle, especially if all we know to do is try to “manage time.”

Having an expanded awareness and understanding is the key to getting tasks done, completing projects and achieving your life goals over the long term. Knowing when to switch and make an upgrade becomes all important.

Join Our Effort to Determine Whether “Time Management” Actually Exists or Not

At the start of the new year (2015), I’ll be launching a new InnerLab (the 5th iteration) and this one will be different. We’ll be looking to answer a single question over the next 6 months of its duration: Does Time Management Exist?

The result will be a completed Special Report – one that I have already started researching but had to put aside when the book turned out to require more than just a few months’ effort.

Time cannot be managed by Nightingale

That didn’t stop me from making the statement a major premise of the book, however. The idea that time cannot be managed was articulated by Earl Nightingale, the now-deceased motivational speaker and businessman, perhaps in the 1960’s. More recently, Dutch researcher Dr. Bridgett Claessens made a similar assertion in a book, as I noted on my recent article page entitled Big Ideas! Time Management Does Not Exist.

But now it’s time to go further, and delve into the work of philosophers, theoretical physicists and psychologists to discover the scientific foundation behind the statement, which she (and others) have never provided.

Where I Have Reached

I honestly thought that I’d find a single document I could understand that would address this topic in full. But as I dug, I realized why it doesn’t exist. There are at least three ways of thinking about the problem, which I have summarized as the Philosopher’s Point of View (POV), the Physicists POV and the Psychologists POV. In similar fashion to the way I developed Perfect Time-Based Productivity, we’ll be bringing these POV’s together for the first time in the hope of answering the main question.

Based on my reading, I have developed a working definition of “time.”

Time, like distance, is a man-made concept that we all use to help navigate a complex world. It appears that we created the notion of distance, for example, when we observed that two objects existed separately from each other in space. Distance was used as the way to describe and scale this spatial separation.

Something similar happened when we observed that there was a sequence in time that could not be reversed. For example, you cannot unbreak an egg, which means that scrambled eggs always comes after the egg was broken, which comes sometime after the egg was laid. Time was used as the way to describe this temporal sequencing and separation between events.

Both constructs are essential to function in the world and we learn both of them so early and so quickly that it appears to many as if we never did. They are both language based constructs, it appears, that we learn to manipulate in countless ways to produce desired results.

If time is just a construct used to describe events sequenced, can it be managed? Or is this a misnomer like “The War on Terror?”

To test our hypothesis, we’ll need to formalize it a bit for those who like the next level of rigor (pardon me if this goes a step too far your taste.)

Ho: Time can be managed
H1: Time cannot be managed.

We’ll be gathering evidence from different fields in an attempt to disprove the null hypothesis, Ho.

At first blush, this may all seem quite esoteric, but it has practical implications. It’s possible that millions professionals have been wasting their time chasing after an improvement that’s impossible to make. If that’s so, then this effort would help put a stop to a fruitless quest that has occupied people’s minds for centuries, perhaps even since the first clocks were invented in the Middle Ages.

It reminds me of Native Americans who, when asked who owned their land and how it could be bought, answered:

“My reason teaches me that land cannot be sold. The Great Spirit gave it to his children to live upon. So long as they occupy and cultivate it, they have a right to the soil. Nothing can be sold but such things as can be carried away” –Black Hawk

To some Native Americans, “Land ownership” was an absurd man-made construct simply didn’t make sense. I’d say that, based on my research to date, my own reason teaches me that time cannot be managed, so those of us who share this notion in the next InnerLab will be planting a stake in the ground that says, “No More.”

What does your reason tell you? Let me know, then consider joining me for a 6 month effort where we dive into a question that could change the way human beings think about time management.

FAQ: Is the InnerLab free? Yes. The time commitment will be 1-2 hours per week.

InnerLab from Framework Consulting

The Confusion “Time Management” Has Created

The idea that “time cannot be managed” has now entered the popular consciousness, never to go away. A brief search on YouTube or Google yields a growing number of bloggers and podcasters sharing the ideas that time management is impossible showing that this particular meme – so rarely heard until recently – is here to stay.

That’s a good thing, because it’s true. The idea that “time cannot be managed’ is a fact that we have conveniently overlooked for decades, to our detriment.

Time cannot be managed by NightingaleEarl Nightingale, the famous motivational speaker, might have been one of the first to say that “time can’t be managed, only activities can.” He said it often during his career spanning from 1960 to his death in the late eighties. The problem is that no-one took him seriously. The Wikipedia page on time management, for example, doesn’t even raise the question of its existence, let alone quote his statement.

Academics, however, are now echoing Nightingale’s statement. In my upcoming book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I quote two researchers on the topic of time management’s definition and existence. Lori-Ann Hellsten wrote a 2012 time management research summary entitled – “What Do We Know About Time Management: A Review of the Literature and a Psychometric Critique of Instruments Assessing Time Management.” It’s a defining article in the field, and in the opening paragraph she states that there’s manifest confusion:

“Lack of time is a common complaint in western society. In response, there has been a proliferation of ‘books, articles and seminars on time management, along with their assertions, prescriptions and anecdotes (Macan, 1994, p. 383).’ But what exactly is time management? Despite the epidemic of time management training programs… there is currently a lack of agreement about the definition of time management and a dearth of literature summarizing time management across disciplines.”

Into the state of disarray steps Dr. Brigitte Claessens, a Dutch researcher, who plainly states in the book “Time in Organizational Research,” that “Of course, time cannot be managed in any sense.”

While Nightingale made the original statement decades ago his statement has been ignored by most. (David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, remains a notable exception.) Perhaps the the repercussions of accepting Nightingale’s the assertion are simply too ground-breaking. At the very least, it would have meant the end of careers and businesses built around the idea that time management is real and the problems people have are not imaginary in the least. In my library, for example, I have hundreds of peer-reviewed articles on time management. None of them would have been written the way they were if this essential premise had been questioned.

It’s not hard to imagine that the real symptoms and challenges people face each day have something to do with the fact that time management is a topic no-one understands, or can understand. If Nightingale, Allen and Claessens are to believed, we have all been on a fool’s errand. Time management 2.0 actually signifies the end of the journey in which we thought that time could be managed.

However, my intention in this post isn’t to answer the question of whether time management exists. The question is one I answer briefly in my new book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity. My plans are to complete a Special Report in 2015 to provide a full answer, bringing physicists and philosophers into the debate. In this post, I only want to examine a single question: what are the implications of the non-existence of time management. So what if time management doesn’t exist? What is the effect of pretending it’s real, when it isn’t?

1. No Research in “Time Management”
It explains why there are no schools for time management in academia, and there’s not single a department in any university. It could be that after some thought, academics decided that the term “time management” didn’t refer to anything real. Unfortunately, this explanation falls a bit short because the topic is so under-studied, according to Hellsten and others who have done literature reviews. A more likely explanation is that, due to its lack of definition, time management is considered to be a multidisciplinary field. Many academics consider the pursuit of such fields as self-inflicted kiss of death – a trap that prevents rising professors from ever achieving tenure or raising funding. As a result, there are only one or two journals on the topic and no regular conferences. The closest you may find is a conference on time use studies, which brings together researchers who collect and analyze data on how we spend our time.

2. No Solutions to Everyday Problems
If “time management” doesn’t exist it would explain why the unwanted symptoms that are so widespread would continue unabated. Because we have persisted for so long in pursuing a non-entity, we have made little progress. I recently gave a seminar to a group of academics on time management and at the appointed time to start, less than 10 percent had arrived. Also, in my book, I share a story of training a group of extremely bright consultants in which one participant couldn’t stop himself from multi-tasking. Our problems in the area of time-based productivity are startlingly elementary even among the highly educated.

There’s an abundance of evidence showing that technology has not helped our cause – having total, 24-7 access to email, for example, does not mean that your Inbox will be any less of a mess. In fact, it probably means it could be worse.

3. Lots of Bad Apps
Believing time management is real has meant that “time management” apps are badly developed. Developers who aren’t experts in a given field must rely on theoreticians to paint a picture of the world they are trying to simulate. When that picture is flawed, or even worse, non-existent, then the software is bound to be flawed. The same applies to time management hardware.

4 No Education in Time-Based Productivity
Not understanding that time cannot be manage has translated to a lack of standards. With no basic definition, there has been no standard productivity instruction leaving teens to develop their own methods without any guidance. The result is that people end up with self-taught systems that are flawed or uneven, the effects of which are felt for a lifetime.

5. Following Self Management – a Non-Substitute
Nightingale and others have tried to substitute “self management” for time management, but that definition hasn’t gained much traction, with good reason. While it’s accurate that time cannot be managed, and that self management is what we do, it’s not a useful explanation. Every form of management is actually a form of “self management” including examples such as weight management, money management or relationship management. While the substitution is technically correct, it’s not helpful as it takes us no further in our understanding of what to do to prevent problems like lateness or overwhelmed email Inboxes.

6. It Stymies Further Research
Believing time management exists without evidence has led us to completely ignore even tougher questions about whether or not time itself exists. Physicists have trouble defining “time” and many claim that it has no reality outside of human existence. Einstein claimed that time is an illusion. Julian Barbour, the brilliant author and researcher, echoed the sentiment.

Philosophers also have trouble defining what time is. J.M.E. McTaggart came up with the idea of two kinds of time which he named the “A” and “B” series. According to Wikipedia, the A-series orders events according to them being in the past, present or future. The B-series eliminates all reference to the past, associated temporal modalities of past and future, and orders all events by the temporal relations earlier and later than.

These fundamental distinctions have divided philosophical opinion and McTaggart’s 1908 paper, “The Unreality of Time” doesn’t help: it argues that time is unreal because our descriptions are either contradictory, circular or insufficient. He says “Our ground for rejecting time… is that time cannot be explained without assuming time.”

These are fundamental questions that phrases like “time management” cover up. They leaves lay-persons having conversations that are superficial because underneath the common, everyday usage of the term there turns out to be little commonality on which to build.

In Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I introduce a viable alternative – a model of what we do everyday. Human beings uniquely create a type of psychological object called a “time demand” – an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. We start creating time demands in our early teens, no long after we discover the concept of time. We try to manage them in different ways using our memory, paper, calendar, smartphone, tablet, laptop, white board, administrative assistant, Gantt Charts and other means; whatever we can use because their completion is vitally important to us both in terms of our survival, and our success in life.

I argue that time demands are an inescapable reality for functioning adults, given our human limits.

While time itself cannot be managed, we certainly do our best to manage time demands before we even know what they are, or before we can explain what we are actually doing. With adult awareness, we can do much more than unconsciously engage. The opportunities for improvement are enormous.

The Final Post in the New Lifehacking Series

The seventh and final post in the series: The New Lifehacking came out yesterday. It addresses the reasons why we should be wary of new technology and new ideas – before rushing to incorporate them into our individual time management systems.

The entire series lays out a pathway for continuous improvement that replaces the random search for tips and tricks that most of us rely on. Instead, it calls for a systematic effort that builds on an understanding of the time management system that we self-created and now use every day.

The New Lifehacking #7 – Why You Should Be Open to New Stuff, But Wary About Using It.

 

 

Tasks vs. Time Demands, Being a Victim vs. Responsible

As I mentioned in a prior post on the topic of time demands, this distinction is one that we at 2Time Labs were forced to create when the old definition of a task just simply stopped working.

One of the major differences has to do with agency – where do time demands come from?

I’m reminded of the following quotes, the first of which is from A Course in Miracles:

I am responsible for what I see

“The default way of thinking about conversation is that it is ‘just talk’ and that it is is a poor cousin of Action. But that misunderstands the formative power of language. My promise is to bring you a way of utilizing language so that what you need is created rather than ‘just talked about’.” David Firth TEDxCSU video

The power of using the concept of a “time demand” is not just a matter of labeling “the stuff we have to do” with a different name. New language opens up new meaning according to David Firth, and also a possibility. Here’s the definition we share in our classes:

A time demand is an individual commitment to complete an action in the future.

Implied, but not stated in this definition is a new kind of agency or responsibility. No time demands exist until you, the individual, bring them into being. Picture this – nothing is there, and all of a sudden you create a time demand, triggered by a conversation, memory, television advertisement, etc. Someone else sees the same ad and nothing happens, demonstrating that your willpower is required to create a time demand each and every time.

Some people in my programs tell me that their boss or spouse creates time demands, and I ask them not to confuse the trigger with the source. You can always elect to refuse a request, while accepting the consequences. Or you can simply ignore it. Failing that, you could quit the job or get divorced. Ultimately, you even have a choice whether to live or not.

Something psychological happens when we create a time demand, however, and it always involves some obligation. When it gets created in your mind, it includes some action to take, by definition. General commitments (to one’s family for example) are not time demands, but a promise made to oneself to pick up the milk on the way home certainly is.

One the other hand, when you don’t have the distinction at work in your way of being, you are left in a delusion that the stuff flying at you to be done everyday is out of your control, like being caught in the middle of a blizzard in which each time demand is a snowflake.

In their experience, they are victims. The best they can do is struggle and fight to stay alive against an onslaught of overwhelming data, information, requirements, invitations, obligations, promises, etc.

It’s what we do: sign up for every newsletter in sight and then complain about getting too many messages while griping that we don’t have enough time to read them all.

The great thing about taking responsibility for _all_ the time demands we create is that doing so empowers us to stop creating so many. At the same time we can start a serious efort to manage the ones we do create.

This isn’t ordinary thinking, but it’s the start of a transformation.

If you examine your day, you’ll see that your mind is always creating time demands. At the moment of creation, your mind simultaneously might tag on some more information: a likely start date/time, the duration, plus some level of commitment to get it complete. You may also add other information such as who else must be involved, where it is to be performed, other resources that are required, etc.

Skillful professionals don’t allow all this information to float around in their heads – they immediately capture it somewhere so that they can keep track of it outside their heads. They appreciate the fact that it’s much less risky to do so.

What do you think?

P.S. This distinction is at the core of my book – Bill’s discovery of time demands is where everything good starts happening for him. It’s so important, I have created a new page here on the website to bring together my most important posts, a podcast and a video on the topic of Time Demands.

 

 

 

New Thinking Around Time Demands

On line traderIn a prior article on the topic of time demands I made a statement that is the cornerstone of my training:  a time demand is an individual commitment to complete an action in the future.

I mentioned the fact that we create them in our minds, using a combination of imagination and volition. Until this event takes place, a time demand doesn’t exist – it hasn’t even been born.

What then of an unread email message that includes an important, and urgent time demand? According to the strict definition, it is not actually a time demand until it comes to our attention.

But does the email have some importance? Is it worth tracking? Is it worth separating from the other spam that’s in our Inbox, or lying on a gmail server in cyber-space?

After the fact, it’s clear that the email contains something that’s important before it’s read, so I’m coining a new definition: a “potential trigger.”

A “potential trigger” is a piece of information that may trigger the creation of a time demand once it’s read. As I mentioned in the article linked above, it may exist in the form of an email message, a tweet, a voicemail or even a letter in an envelope. Potential triggers are sent to us 24-7, and as working adults we have an agreement with our employers to take them seriously, collect them in some way and to examine them for time demands.

In other words, if a colleague sends you a potential trigger, you are obliged to process it in some way.

This isn’t rocket science by any means, but it appears to clear up some of the confusion in the way I use the term “time demands.”

 

Podcast – an Interview with Val and Jayne – Time Management Experts from Pink Shoe Power

Val-Jayne-Red180x150In this interview with Val McDougall and Jayne Jennings of  Save-Time.org and Pink Shoe Power, we explored the degree to which the work we do overlaps. We all strongly believe that one size doesn’t fit all and that we need to provide a way for learners to improve their skills, even as they find their own way.

[podcast]http://www.2time-sys.com/Storage%20Audio/Val%20and%20Jayne%20Podcast%2030_May_2013_18_02_06.mp3[/podcast]

You can also download the podcast from this link.

I hope you enjoy the broadcast, which lasts a little under an hour.

 

 

Time Management Traps Where Women Struggle Most

This guest post was generously contributed by the dynamic team of Valerie McDougall & Jayne Jennings of Pink Shoe Power.com and Time Management Styles.com.

jugglingwomanlowresDo women suffer more time management grief than men?

Our research shows this can often be the case. Some put it down to the wiring of our brains but cultural issues play a huge part, too.

Here we’ll deal with two common issues and discuss why women need to be particularly wary of them and what they can do about them.

Gender Trap #1

First, is that bane of today’s world: multitasking!

We hope we hear you agreeing that multitasking is to be avoided.

Trouble is, evidence shows that too many of us feel we’re not ‘achieving’ if we aren’t doing at least three things at once!

You’ll have seen women supposedly having a coffee break, or lunch while talking on the phone and putting on their make-up or checking email at the same time. And now there is the phenomenon of ‘dual screeners’ particularly amongst teenagers and young adults.

They engage in a TV show at the same time as texting and checking emails on their phone or tablet.

Many studies show that multitasking may feel as if you’re getting things done but it’s inefficient, can actually cost you far more time and is bad for memory retention and for optimum outcomes.

Our more gender-specific problem stems from women being generally better at multitasking than men. Research says it’s because our brains are more symmetrical than males.

Think of the evolution of our species. Our brain wiring grew from the time when men had to focus on hunting—needing concentration on one thing—while women kept an eye on the children, the fire going while chatting and often making something with their hands plus as the gatherers, had to be on the lookout for food.

However, as the world has made multitasking more of a virtue, we’ve tried to use our skills in ways never intended—for tasks that really need our full attention to do them properly. Men tend to be able to focus on one thing far more easily.

Multitasking not only lowers our ability to do the given jobs to their best but can elevate the feeling of being overwhelmed—a great producer of stress.

When you come to terms with the value of ‘being in the moment’—which in this case, means giving any one task its due focus—you do justice to your abilities. You can shine.
It means prioritising your tasks and using your calendar in the smartest way to set specific times for those tasks. Whether you’re a man or a woman!

Gender Trap #2

The second alarm-ringer for us is that women are more likely to be the ‘go-to’ people for others and because of this can struggle with their time management. You know the ones: they’re quick and able, willing helpers but awful at saying no!

To go back a step, we identified these gender traps after developing our breakthrough approach to time management.

Through our research we realised—just like Francis in his work at 2Time Labs–that one-size doesn’t fit all when it comes to time management.

We then developed a system so that people could identify their own time personality—or as we call them—their Time Management Style. We also developed a clever Profiler, backed by an algorithm, to help you identify your Time Style in an objective way.
We identified five main Time Styles (plus many variations) and we give them names for fun and helpful identification.

The first Gender Trap of multitasking particularly affects those we call Juggling Julie or Juggling James. They’re creative and accomplished but let themselves down—or stress themselves out—by letting their ‘juggling’ abilities get out of hand.

This second Gender Trap of struggling to say no particularly hampers Helpful Helen or Helpful Harry.

They’re willing helpers and can be great teachers. But because of their reluctance to say no, they often find themselves getting bitter and put-upon when they help others so much that their own work suffers.

The nurturing roles of most females can emphasise Helpful Helen tendencies so they have to be particularly aware of this to start changing.

If you find yourself taking on too much of other people’s issues and tasks, reconsider your position. Start learning to say no to small things—practice with a script, if you need. Find other ways to help—suggest to them that you guide them while they do it themselves. Often, they can do it anyway, they just know you’re an easy way for them to save their own time!

Both these Time Styles have splendid strengths, too. Knowing your Time Style will give you faster insight into how you can use your strengths, deal with your challenges—including how you sabotage your time—so you can use your time effectively using strategies suited to you.

We’ve helped men and women throughout the world identify their challenges and strategies to improve their strengths. Start with the Profiler—it takes only about 15 minutes—but delivers on-going ‘a-ha’ moments so you can make the most of your time.
Women should go to www.PinkShoePower.com and do the Profiler. Men, please shoot us an email as we have a special link for you!
Valerie McDougall & Jayne Jennings are the authors of Pink Shoe Power: What your Time Management Style means for your success in business and life. They help businesses and individuals make the most of their lives by working with their own ‘time personality’.

All About Time Demands and Other Guest Posts

The blog tour to promote my new book continues with a post I did for Sharon Lowenheim’s blog entitled “All About Time Demands.” It’s the first time that I have taken this concept out to the general public (other than in The Bill Book) and it was challenging to write, but more than a bit satisfying.

Here are some of the other blogs that have been posted:

Stepcase Lifehack is running a series of 7 posts that I have written on the New Lifehacking. THis is #2 and the topic is “Understanding Your Own System” based on the idea that the best improvements don’t come from one-size-fits-all systems, but from a deeper understanding of your own habits. How to Understand Your Current Time Management System.

On the Alpha Efficiency blog, I came out in support of a post written by Bojan Djordjevic who has decided to switch to his own time management system after using GTD, a popular commercial system. He did it in such a Time Management 2.0 that I felt I had to comment…  Another Angle on the “Why I decided to switch from GTD” blog post.

Productive Superdad.com – on Timo Kiander’s blog I looked at the difference between being a good follower of another person’s system, versus taking ownership of YOUR system: How to Take Ownership of Your Time Management System.

I also did an interview with Janice Russell for her blog on the various misadventures that take place in time management. Her blog is called Minding Your Matters and she’s someone I hope to do some more work with especially in the area of working with Time Advisers. How to Stop Misadventures in Time Management.

Last thing… if you are a time adviser of any kind (coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer) here’s a post I wrote at the ICF site on why baby steps are so important in time management.

How to Prevent Yourself From Becoming a Tip-a-Holic

vintage decor with chemical bottleThe headline for this post may be playful but the problem is a very real one.

Many professionals want to improve their time management skills. The simplest method that we hear broadcast over the Internet is simply to pick up the right tip, trick or shortcut. Choosing the right one will magically transform everything.

Like magic. Or should that be snake-oil?

They promise the same thing: put little or no work into using this tip, and you’ll be able to save hundreds of hours per year / triple your productivity / never fall behind on anything ever again. Apparently, there’s a lot of money to be made selling these “solutions” to people who want to believe that they can pretty much get something for nothing.

I have just initiated a 7 part series over at Lifehack.org that starts with the idea that we should stay away from these trivial bits of advice, and look for substantial help backed up by research.

Here’s The new Lifehacking #1: Why You Should Stop Feeding Your Addiction to Tips, Tricks and Shortcuts.