The idea was simple enough when I first envisioned it. (Here are my original 2 posts on the topic.)
Any good system needs a way to warn its owner or operator when things are about to fall apart. A warning light on your dashboard is a perfect example. It tells you when a system is about to exceed its operating limits, and indicates that it’s necessary to intervene in some way.
Unfortunately, up until recently, I have been stuck in this area of time management. My original vision was for a dashboard of some kind running on top of Outlook, that would operate as a warning system of sorts. Unfortunately, writing about such a dashboard and actually having one to use are two different things! I sometimes wish that there were a team of software designers sitting someplace, ready to turn all my ideas into useful commercial programs.
Alas… that hasn’t happened. I stopped at that point and waited… but nothing happened.
That meant that I couldn’t possibly progress to a Green Belt, because my Orange Belt in Warning couldn’t be upgraded until some software miracle took place. Now that I write about it… that was a pretty weak position to start from.
After reading portions of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography I realized that I was taking the low road. After all, he spent what seems to be hundreds of hours analyzing his writing skills in order to improve them. He engaged in a variety of exercises designed to compare himself against the best writers he could find, enhancing his skills over time.
I got inspired and started to ask myself what I could do, without technology, to give myself more Warning indicators, and perhaps earn an upgrade to a much coveted Green Belt.
As an aside, there are those who would argue that I should just change the rules, and make it easier to get a Green Belt. After all, I made up all these belts, and their corresponding standards, and no-one would ever notice that I cheated just a little bit… Frankly, in an age of Madoffs, Stanfords and Marion Jones’, I’d hardly be doing anything wrong by taking an itty, bitty shortcut.
It’s not exactly the path the high achievement, according to “Talent is Overrated” and I’d really only by fooling myself. Right?
OK — back to “the coveted Green Belt.”
What could I track or measure that would give me an indication that my time management system is about to fall apart? Here’s what I use today, after a week or two of upgrading:
Warning #1 — triggered when my Inbox isn’t empty. There are moments when I decide to keep something I have read in my Inbox for a few hours, violating the Zero Inbox principle. When that number gets above 2-5 time demands (they might be in a single email) then that’s a sign that I’m about to get into trouble.
Here’s my “warning rule…”
Small warning: 3 time demands in Inbox
Big warning: 4+ time demands in Inbox
Warning #2 — when I Capture, I am sometimes unable to Empty within 24 hours, which results in my manual Capture Point becoming overfull. I use a small paper pad, which has 16 lines.
Small warning: 2 pages of Captured items
Big warning: 3+ pages of Captured items
Warning #3 — when I experience too many items falling through the cracks, it’s a sure sign that my time management system is broken. I have started to keep a daily report in my Habit Tracker to write down the number of time demands that slip through the cracks in my system
Small warning: 3 items falling through the cracks in 7 days
Big Warning: 4+ items falling through the cracks in 7 days
This is what I call my daily “crack score”
Warning #4 — incoming paperwork that is unprocessed sitting in a pile
Small warning: 2 unprocessed pieces of paperwork
Big warning: 3 or more pieces of unprocessed paperwork
Warning #5 — a few weeks go, I missed an appointment entirely and completely. When I scanned my diary for the day, I happened to not scroll all the way down the page, and a 4pm appointment was completely skipped as I drove my way from one errand to another.
Small warning: not setting up my calendar for the next three days so that it’s overlap free, and has enough space between activities
Big warning: missing or being late for a meeting or appointment
Warning #6 — missing the start of an activity by being deeply engrossed in another activity
Small warning: skipping past a reminder in Outlook now and then
Big warning: consistently skipping past an Outlook reminder, or having no interruption whatsoever
Warning #7 — Switching from a hard task to a recovery activity (i.e. Facebook) and getting lost in cyberspace
Small warning: ? The truth is, I don’t know how to measure this — any ideas?
Warning #8 — allowing the list of Warnings to get stale
Small warning: the list includes one or two stale items
Big warning: the list of warnings is completely forgotten
(Note to self… schedule time to review Warning List.)
There are some automatic warnings that I’m sent when something goes awry in the some of the 11 fundamentals, such as:
= A “Storing” Warning from Mozy.com, my backup service, when it hasn’t been able to do a full backup within the last 7 days
I can think of a number of other kinds of Warnings to set up, but the truth is that they don’t reflect problem areas for me. For other people, however, they might very well be a problem. For example, I don’t need a warning to tell me that I haven’t Reviewed my time management system in the past month because of the kind of work I do for a living… I Review my system every time I write a post, coach a client or deliver a workshop!
This reinforces the notion that each person must build their own system for Warning, and their own checklist. My list won’t mean anything to most people, or even to most “Orange-Belts-who-are-on-the-verge-of-a-Green-Belt.”
Well, this is further than I have ever gone in this area. Coming up with all these bright ideas aren’t worth “a bucket of warm spit” if I am not able to develop the practices to support them, and turn them into habits. Once again, the temptation is to find a way to give myself a Green Belt for trying really, really hard… after all, isn’t this post evidence of superior effort?
Thanks to you and other readers of this post for following this website, and helping to keep me straight. Without your participation, I’d probably just find a way to sneak around my best intentions!