Lifelong Learning — A Way to Think About Time Management

scale-feetonscale.jpgThere’s simply no way to create a great time management system from bits and pieces of tips dug up from here and there.

But that doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?

A quick search of Twitter for the phrase “time management” or the hashtag “#timemanagement” reveals how many people are looking for tips, shortcuts, and back doors.

We all want to be able to take a pill and wake up the following morning able to manage our time better.

Rather than looking for tips, we’d all be better off treating the issue as if it were a matter of lifelong learning rather than a miraculous flash in the pan.

In other words, it’s not as if people arrive at the perfect system at some point in their lives, and all they can do from that point on is hold onto it for dear life.

Instead, it’s more important for someone to treat their time management system as if it were something like they were their weight management system.

Trying to manage your weight at the age of 45 in the same way that you did at 25 is a recipe for disaster.

In the same way, trying to hold onto the same time management system, regardless of changes in the following aspects of your life, is just as crazy:

  • Retirement or working
  • Type of job
  • Commuting time (or working at home)
  • Number of kids
  • Technology availability
  • Marital status
  • Ability to remember

It’s a better idea to see time management skills as something that you must change over time — and continually redesign. One thing we do know is that a poor time management system can lead to regrets of all shapes and sizes, particularly as your life draws to a close.
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Instant Time Management Improvement! With No Effort!!!

freebies.gifI have become an avid, daily user of Twitter, and from TweetDeck  I have an ongoing search that updates itself continuously, letting me know when someone has tweeted using the phrase “time management.”

I just checked the results of the latest search, and found that 3 of the first 14 posts actually used the phrase “time management tips.”  This echoed a trend I have noticed lately — there is a great deal of interest in “tips” in the area of time management.

As I have said in earlier posts, there is nothing wrong with  tips per se.  According to Dictionary.com, a tip is:  “a useful hint or idea; a basic, practical fact.”

However, it seems to me that when someone is looking for a time management “tip” they are looking more for a “hint” than a solid “idea.”  In other words, they are looking for an easy-to-implement piece of advice that requires little effort on their part to implement.

For example, a simple-seeming enough tip could be “purchase iPhone.”  Seems easy enough, as long as the price isn’t an obstacle…  but as I point out in an earlier post, the choice of which technology to implement turns out to be quite an important and difficult one, when seen correctly.  When it’s just  a matter of logging on to Amazon and using a credit card to order a gadget, however, it looks very, very easy.

When I wrote the free e-book  offered on this website I used the following by-line: “Toss Away the Tips, and Focus on the Fundamentals.  At the time, I had a sense that people were focusing on the wrong things, which was triggered by an article I saw listing “The Top 100 Time Management Tips.”

What I didn’t say in the ebook is that I think that we humans absolutely love to hear that something is easy, effortless and free.

We want to believe that greater productivity is simply a matter of putting into place a few tips here and there that require little or no effort.  In other words, the unspoken question is: “how can I get something for nothing?”

In time management, the answer is simple… you can’t.  Here’s why.

Each person on the planet who is aware of the concept of time uses different habits to manage themselves, in an effort to make the most of the time they have.  No two people are exactly the same, and no two habit- systems are the same either.

They were all learned after years of trial and error, most of which took place without conscious effort.  For some, what they have created and implemented works for them.  For many, it doesn’t.

The end-point is the same, however.  Each person has a set of routines or habits that are executed over and over again, and they are now baked into their muscle memory where they are executed without thinking.

However good these habits are, at the same time they are difficult for anyone to break, and therein lies the problem.

When someone makes a decision to become more productive, manage their time better or procrastinate less, they are doing more than asking for a few tips.

Instead, they are setting up an internal battle between their new intention, and their already ingrained habits.  Very few people are any good at willfully, deliberately changing habits, even when there is powerful external pressure to do so.

I once had a friend who was a constant smoker.  A few years ago, he literally smoked himself to an early death, unable to stop the habit that took him on a one-way death march to the grave.  Millions of others do the same each year – testimony to the power of ingrained habits.

The problem is that there is not a single time management system in the world that can be implemented without the development of new habits.  Even the smallest of tips are useless if they cannot be converted by the user into a new habit of some kind.

Given our weakness at “habit management”it’s no wonder that the failure rate is so high.

The problem is that it’s difficult to promote the idea of “hard-to-change habits” and it’s much easier to advertise “10 easy, effortless tips.” I know which option I’d sign up for!

What I have noticed is that developers of time management systems downplay the challenge that users have in making the necessary conversion, and few offer the kind of long-term support that is needed to craft new habits.Unfortunately, habit breaking and making is a time consuming business that requires lots of practice, months of repetition, plenty of emotional support, constant reinforcement of the costs of quitting – all until new some muscle memory begins to develop.

In the book, Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell, he notes that it takes some 10,000 repetitions on average, to become good at something, and he uses Mozart as an example of someone who almost HAD to become a genius because of the time he devoted to practicing his music.

That is not good news for most of us.

But it’s the truth, even though it might not sell books, programs or workshops.

Also, I’d be shocked if lots of people started tweeting about changing “time management habits”.

If anything, I believe that there will be a gradual dawning of the fact that the constant pursuit of tips is a fool’s errand, and that real change will only come from a steady investment in incremental behavior change.

After all, it’s the only way to produce a top ballplayer, musician or chemist.  Why shouldn’t it be the only way to produce a top of the line, highly productive professional?

Meetings and Precious Time

This article from the New York Times reminds me of times when I was trapped in endless meetings as a young employee, wondering why this was happening, and what I could possibly do about it!

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/jobs/18pre.html?8dpc : Meetings are a Matter of Precious Time

One thing I know now is that once a meeting has gone off in the wrong direction, it’s difficult to bring it back on track after only 10-15 minutes of intoxicating, aimless chatter.  Taking the initiative to define the PAL (Purpose, Agenda, Logistics) within the first five minutes probably saves ten times that time it takes.

Toss Away (Some of) the Tips

Awhile back I wrote a manifesto for publication on the ChangeThis.com website that was entitled “The New Time Management: Simply Focus on the Fundamentals and Toss Away the Tips.”

I have not changed my mind about the value of the fundamentals, and the vapid nature of the tips, but as I have said elsewhere… some of these tips are kinda sexy.

So,  just in case you love empty calories, here is a link to a very interesting article that is full of tips… entitled The List to Beat All Lists: Top 20 Productivity Lists to Rock Your Tasks.  Enjoy, but don’t over-indulge!

P.S.

I suggest that you not try to implement all these tips, and instead focus on perfecting the 11 fundamentals of the 2Time system.  There is no short-cut to higher levels of productivity, no fancy new software or nifty new PDA that will magicallytransform your habits.  Instead, the only way to get there is by hard work… in much the same way that people get to Carnegie Hall.

To download the manifesto that covers the 7 Essential fundamentals, visit http://changethis.com/45.04.NewTime.  Incidentally the manifesto continues to make its way up the ChangeThis.com rankings and is now listed at #135 out of 270 in terms of downloads.  Thanks to readers who have downloaded a copy.

Open Door Policy?

door-bartels-designer-sliding-door.jpgThe idea of an open door policy has become something like a religious belief. It has gone from a good suggestion to a badge of honor, and is now an established management dogma.

The fact is that the most productive managers DO NOT have an open door policy, and this with good reason. When taken to its extreme, managers think that they should be available to interruptions as long as there is no-one in their office. The impact of this unconscious decision is that a manager never creates a space in which they can be deeply productive, unless they come in early, stay late or come in on weekends.

I say to managers that they need to schedule their times to have an Open Door, and allow themselves to be interrupted only when there are emergencies. This takes careful scheduling, plus an effort to notify others about the exact nature of this “modified” open door policy.

The result, however, is more quality time for both the employee and the manager. The manager is able to give 100% of his attention to the times when he has to do uninterrupted deep thinking, and the times when he has the employee in front of him in need of his attention, without his mind straying to other activities. The employee gains by being able to gain the full attention of the manager.

A modified open door policy is a win-win for everyone.

The Four Hour Work Week: Forget About Time Management

4-hour-work_week.jpgI have just finished listening to the audio book “The 4-Hour Work Week” which I enjoyed immensely, even as I disagreed with some of the points made by the author, Time Ferriss.

One chapter is entitled “The End of Time Management”.

He argues that one should forget all about time management!

Of course, this is more of a fancy title for a chapter than anything else, as he is mostly focused on doing the right things, rather than merely trying to maximize output or efficiency. He pooh-poohs the idea of trying to be more efficient, and looks back at his days when he was focused on working harder and harder, on God-knows-what.

But the truth is, he must have the same problem that the rest of us have, in the 11 fundamental elements. Even though he may only work 4 hours per week, he must still Capture, Empty, Schedule, Toss, etc. because he is subject to the same physical rules that we are, and has the same memory constraints that we do (or soon will, given a few more years of age). Continue reading “The Four Hour Work Week: Forget About Time Management”

Blogs on Productivity

The following blogs on productivity are pretty useful to know:

Personal Productivity Required Reading List: 100 Kick-butt Lifehacking Blogs


Lifehacking is all about finding ways to streamline and improve your life. These bloggers can help you do just that, offering clever tricks and tips for making your everyday life more effective. Check them out for some of the best ingenuity the Internet has to offer. Continue reading “Blogs on Productivity”

A Simple Technique to Overcome Procrastination

From JimGibbon:

One Simple Technique to Help You Overcome Procrastination and Start Writing Now

August 5th, 2006 | Productivity

For the last three weeks I’ve been using something called “contingency management” to write more, and more consistently, than at any point in my entire life. I now write an average of three pages a day (typed, double-spaced) during one 30-minute session. I’ve also used this technique to jump start two projects that were stalled for months.

Only a small fraction of my writing would be publishable, but I now have over 60 pages of new ideas, hunches, questions, and possible solutions that simply didn’t exist a month ago. On top of everything, I no longer cringe when I think about writing and my self-confidence has skyrocketed.

Contingency management has been around for years, but I just learned about it in a great book by Robert Boice called Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing. This is required reading for writers in all fields who want to overcome the inertia of writer’s block and procrastination. Continue reading “A Simple Technique to Overcome Procrastination”