This is a debate I don’t particularly want to get involved in!
There are some strong feelings on both sides of the issue that are examined in more depth than I have ever seen by Lifehacker in their article: How to Schedule Sex and Still Enjoy It.
This is a debate I don’t particularly want to get involved in!
There are some strong feelings on both sides of the issue that are examined in more depth than I have ever seen by Lifehacker in their article: How to Schedule Sex and Still Enjoy It.
|Saied Arbabian, creator of SkedPal|
|Melanie Wilson, author|
|Misha Maksin, writer and software engineer|
|Elizabeth Grace Saunders, author|
|Kourosh Dini, author|
|Paul Minors, author|
|Penny Zenker, author|
|Steve Prentice, author|
|Janice Russell, Productivity Coach|
|Garrick Van Buren, author|
|Francis Wade, author|
Read on, as ten experts give their point of view on how you can maximize the use of your calendar by using it as a tool for managing (almost) all your tasks. There are some important differences of opinion, and a variety of approaches depending on which approach the expert happens to use. It’s the first post of its kind on this topic anywhere, so I’m glad to have you here!
Ultimately, successful people live their lives by design, i.e. an effective plan of execution. When we plan to use concrete resources such as space, or money, we’re very conscious of the available resources vs the demanded resources. But, when it comes to time, it’s much harder to plan because time is not perceived as a concrete resource like space.
Those who have been successful with concretizing time used their calendar as the framework to transform their time demands into tangible blocks. However, there are very limited number of skilled individuals that have made it to this level of discipline. What hinders most people from scheduling all their tasks in a calendar are interruptions, lack of control over mood and energy, shifts in priorities and incorrect estimates of task duration. So, any attempt to schedule tasks leads to frustration.
Fuzzy Planning is the middle ground between not scheduling, and scheduling. It tries to offer the benefits of concretizing time, yet provide some slack in the execution to make it as practical as possible. It leverages machine thinking to augment the planning process. So far, in SkedPal beta we have converted many people with a to-do list to Fuzzy Planning to reduce the overwhelm in their lives.
Our first implementation required total task scheduling. In other words, every time demand was thrown into the calendar. Our study and analysis of user behavior showed that this method was very highly prone to the planning. Once again, we tried to find the middle ground and offered a new solution where we encourage scheduling tasks for only the near term and leaving the rest of tasks on a conventional list. This way, users can maintain a small list of active projects in their current focus to be scheduled using Fuzzy Planning. This has led to a greater success rate, and has dramtically reduced the number of failed plans.
I have found three things to be key in making calendaring my tasks work for me.
First, there have to be blocks of time that aren’t scheduled. The more I try to do, the more unscheduled time I need. Even within the working time blocks, I give myself a break. So if I’m scheduled to work on a writing project for an hour, I take the last ten minutes of that block as a break.
The second key is to use blocks of time for certain tasks based on my ideal schedule. I work on blog and podcast tasks from 1-3 in the afternoon, for example. Limiting related tasks to that timeframe helps me get more done and feel that I am moving all my projects forward. In the past, my tasks might be scheduled all throughout the day, leaving me feeling scattered.
Finally, when I finish scheduled tasks early, I do not schedule anything else. This means that in using Skedpal (my scheduling program of choice), I do not hit the Reschedule button. Doing so makes me feel like the work never ends. A scheduled list should function the way a traditional to-do list does in that once it’s done, you’re done.
Let the old fable of rocks, pebbles and sand guide us through this simple framework for scheduling.
You see, the purpose of total scheduling is to not to fill up every minute of your day, but rather to free up good chunk of your day for the most meaningful and fulfilling work of your life. What is it for you? Raising your kids? Helping people in your community? Making a dent in the universe with your creations? You can achieve any and all of your dreams, if only you would work on them every. single. day. In your waking 16 hours a day, do you think you can have 3-4 chunks each 2 hours long – to do things that are most important to you? I’m sure you can, and here is how: you take the glass of your daily schedule when it’s still empty, and place these rocks of Deep Undistracted Work sessions in there. Done. And you still have at least 8 hours a day left.
Pebbles, beach… The thing about these arch-important Deep Work hours is that they require your full presence and attention. And attention is limited resource. Good news is that it is also a renewable one. So, to ensure peak performance, stick a few recovery activities in between. It might be a healthy meal (you know, the one that doesn’t put you into food coma), or a trip to gym (that might be a Rock itself – an example of how you can kill two birds with one Rock :), or play with your kids (another likely Rock), or just a walk around the block (or to the cooler). No, checking your Facebook feed is not a good recovery technique – it actually drains your attention reservoir. And don’t forget about THE recovery activity – sleep. But how you possibly could – it already blocks 8 hours out of 24, right? By now, we have ensured that we have both time AND energy to move the proverbial needle every day, even if little by little.
Guess what? There is still time left in the day! You can spend this time however you want, completely guilt-free. Checking your email, or your site stats, or chit-chatting with a friend, or whatever gives you the kick of immediate variable reward (or the kind of reward you prefer). And even these can be scheduled strategically, for checking off a bunch of little things can give you a) momentum and b) peace of mind. In other words, it can make you feel productive (feeling is a good thing, as long as you don’t confuse it with actually being productive), and it curbs the temptation to do these when you are trying to focus on work that really matters. For these reasons, you can even do some shallow work before (gasp!) deep work, just don’t let it eat into the deep work time. And again, beware of the little things that shatter your ability to focus. But hey, sand on beach feels so good.
In the extended version of the fable, a student takes the turn and demonstrates the wise professor that the glass full of rocks, pebbles and sand can still take in a surprising amount of liquid (vodka or beer, depending on the origins of the fable-teller). And in our framework, water plays an important role too. “Be water” is Bruce Lee’s way of saying “go with and not against nature”, and our way of saying “the best schedule is the schedule that works for YOU”. Water moves everything in the river for the optimal flow. Likewise, experiment and find the exact placement of Rocks, Pebbles and Sand that keeps you in the Flow.
Curious to see this framework in action? You can see my actual workday schedule here
|Elizabeth Grace Saunders||@RealLifeE|
If you desire to manage all of your to-do items in your calendar, I’ve found it’s effective to treat larger projects and smaller tasks differently. With larger projects, I recommend blocking out chunks of time to complete them.
For example, you may put in two, two-hour blocks to work on a proposal. Or you may block out a couple of days to work on a large project. This is important because larger projects can’t just be “squeezed in.” Setting aside the hours needed to get them done helps you to visualize how the work will fit in your workweek. It also gives you a sense of realism for how much you can actually accomplish.
For smaller tasks, making note of the exact time you’ll get them done can get cumbersome and tedious, so I’ve found it’s helpful to take a modified approach. One possibility is to put them in as tasks or all-day events that appear at the top of your calendar on the day you intend to get them done. That way, you know that you need to complete them but you can have flexibility around when they fit in throughout the day. A second alternative is to schedule a calendar event for grouping small tasks such as “finance work” or “client follow-up.” Then within the description or notes section of the calendar event, you can record the specific tasks that you need to complete as they come up.
Francis Wade asks, “What is your best advice for managing all your tasks in your calendar?”
I find blocking time to be very useful in several situations: when I’m overwhelmed when I’m facing a lot of empty and unscheduled time with several tasks on deck, or when I feel that I am just not dedicating myself to a task enough.
However, more generally, I work from a well-curated small list of tasks. So-called “hard landscape” items, such as meetings, line my calendar. Projects and batches of small tasks find their way in between as the day progresses, by some finely tuned balance of task review, habit, and even whim.
So, with Francis’ permission, I’ve changed the question to:
“What is your best advice for managing tasks in your calendar?”
When managing tasks on your calendar: Consciously buffer time to close your sessions of work.
Blocking time is a useful method to help set aside other work. When we have a sense that other work can wait, we have a better chance of focusing on our present work.
However, there are other ways to lose focus within the session, too. If we realize that we are making a mess, we may start to worry if we’ll start the next project in time. Or, if we’ve made a mess in a previous session of work, that session’s files become clutter and can distract our present work.
Therefore, the better we set work aside at the end of a session, the better it will stay off our mind during other work.
However, doing so takes time.
Setting work aside consists of:
Because all of these benefit from time in thought, it is often useful to set an alert as to when you would like to consider ending your current session of work*. Doing so allows you time to close the session.
Notice, setting an alert to close a session is quite different from the usual practice of setting an alert as to when to start something. When you set an alert to start work, often, if not always, you are in the midst of something else. That leads to either dropping what you’re doing while leaving a mess or starting the next work off schedule, either of which can be problematic.
Instead, as you begin your session of work or when you realize you are creating a mess:
Often, you’ll find better focus, better quality, and even an enjoyable engagement.
To make time blocking a regular habit:
1) conduct a weekly planning session where you plan and block out activities for the upcoming week and
2) keep your calendar open each day, refer to it often and re-plan appointments on the fly as you go throughout your day and based on how long tasks actually take so that you have a record of how you spent your time.
Visit my website at https://paulminors.com
“What is your best advice for managing all your tasks in your calendar?”
Total task blocking is irresponsible.
Hold on, I am saying this because it is unrealistic. All tasks are not created equal and should not be treated as such. Really, you know better.
1. Only schedule the tasks that you are actually going to do.
You create more wasted energy in re-planning and the disappointment of not achieving something. Evaluate the time it takes to do the task and then schedule what is most important. You can have an overflow list to look at when you have extra time.
Notice, have you have moved the task more than 2 times? If so, evaluate if you really need this task to be on the priority list or if it should go to the overflow list.
2. Evaluate excuses
Evaluate the excuses you use when you move it or delete it. Why are you moving it? Did you just delete it? It obviously wasn’t a priority if you deleted it. Stop scheduling tasks that just get deleted.
It isn’t about getting things done but getting the right things done. That isn’t new. But the dopamine that is released when we get stuff done has us focused on unimportant stuff because the important stuff may be harder, or outside of our comfort zone so we opt for what is easy.
3. Focus on the Result
Listing out each and every task in my experience doesn’t get me the result faster or more effectively. I focus on the result and chunk my tasks.
To me, listing it all out is an unnecessary planning effort. You are looking to achieve the result so start putting more focus on the result than the task.
By doing that you may find a better way of doing things and being open to the fact that the tasks might change.
4. Build in flexibility
Build in flexibility and become more strategic in your thinking versus tactical.
Take inventory of all the recurring daily tasks and set them up as a recurring activity.
For example, if every day, you need a sum total of 1.5 hours to handle the day’s emails, then enter a 1.5 hour block on your calendar and make it a daily recurring activity, let’s say from 9:00 to 10:30.
Now we all know emails don’t come in like that; they come in throughout the day at random. But by reserving the time as a continuous block, it allows you to realistically understand exactly how much time you really have left for other tasks. So, do this for all your known recurring tasks: email, meetings, anything you know you have to deal with every single day. Reserve that time now. This will show you just how much time you really have for those other activities.
If an item on that list needs to be done today, drag it onto your calendar and make it a real appointment. Make it tangible. Make it account for its own duration.
Give yourself time to communicate with the people who are expecting responses from you. Let them know the status of the task, even if it is going to be taken care of later than they had hoped. Managing expectations reduces your stress level, which helps increase productivity.
Working with your strengths rather than against them is a critical, yet underutilized principle of Total Task Scheduling.
You account for your strengths when you manage your energy, focus, and environment in ways that maximize your productivity. Optimize your efficiency and increase the number of tasks completed.
Your energy level naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day. When you have the most momentum is the time to schedule tasks that require the most brain power. Similarly, planning more routine obligations, or those of less value, during low energy hours allows you to maximize your efforts without draining your energy.
Focus management relates to energy level. Your ability to focus will vary according to your interest in the activity, its level of difficulty, and the number of distractions while working.
Unfortunately, interest-level and duties are sometimes at odds with one another, especially in our professional lives. If we only did tasks we enjoyed, many jobs would never even be started! As such, it’s advisable to schedule less appealing assignments during a stretch of higher stamina because that’s when we have the best focus. Note, I didn’t say during your “highest” energy. We experience a continuum from very low to very high momentum. As such, some tasks require our peak energy and others need sufficient stamina-neither the highest or the lowest.
Another aspect of focus is the complexity level of the assignment. The higher degree of difficulty, the more important it is to reserve a high energy time-slot Alas, we are prone to procrastinate challenging tasks which usually means we’re tackling something hard when we are tired. It’s important to reverse that trend!
When using your calendar for Total Task Scheduling, design your day around your energy capacity and focus level to increase your overall effectiveness.
How does your “environment” correlate to organizing tasks? When your workspace is arranged in ways that appeal to you, it is easier to main your energy and focus. Here are some environmental features that you may want to consider: noise level, accessibility of materials, comfortable as well as ergonomic furniture, amount of light, and water bottle for hydration.
If Total Task Scheduling is your goal, it is crucial to take advantage of your strengths. Take a moment and answer these three questions:
Choose one area and experiment with small adjustments until you find what works best for you!
|Garrick Van Buren||@garrickvanburen|
When I ask my clients where they found the biggest benefit in my How to Use a Calendar program, they often reply: “Scheduling for 30, 60, or 90 minutes.”
It’s tempting to block off a massive chunk of time for a big project. Whether that massive chunk of time is an afternoon, a day, or a series of days – doing so subtly encourages procrastination in two ways;
Overcoming both of these requires peeling apart the project into smaller, more discreet, incremental tasks. Then estimating the time to accomplish each of those specific tasks. Finally, scheduling those tasks with their corresponding estimated duration on your calendar.
This has three subtle benefits:
I encourage my clients to use the following estimation framework I talk about The Power of When:
• 30 minutes for a small, known* task.
• 60 minutes for a small, unknown task.
• 60 minutes for a large, known* task.
• 90 minutes for a large, unknown task.
• Tasks taking longer than 90 minutes should be broken up into more smaller, more specific tasks.
*known = something you’ve done before and can confidently complete within minutes
Now, what if you reach the outcome before the estimated time is up?
Most people describe Total Task Scheduling as a method for placing all their tasks in their calendar. But there’s another opportunity that can transform your performance: you can use it to consciously program periods of super-high productivity.
“The Flow State”. “Deliberate Learning”. “Deep Work”. These are all examples of periods of intense focus described by authors and researchers. They are times we produce our best work, using our most developed skills to accomplish a short, challenging objective.
The big problem is that the modern workplace is not set up to facilitate these sprint-like sessions. Instead, you are expected to sacrifice them on the fly for meetings, email, slack messages, watercooler talk, and other even lesser reasons. Plus, if you have the misfortune of being seated in an open floor plan, you must also be prepared to overcome visual and audible distractions.
While open plans represent a huge cost saving for the person who writes the checks for furniture and rental space, there is a huge, invisible price to pay. Now, you must scrounge around to find quiet spots in the basement, or stay at home, or spend afternoons at Starbucks; all in order to “actually get some work done.”
If you are serious about “Flowing,” you simply cannot leave these sessions to chance. But even more important than finding quiet places is the need to schedule them far in advance. In fact, they need to become a regular feature of your calendar because time is the only element that’s required: the others are optional.
The most productive people set aside containers of time, using as many recurring appointments as possible. They may not know exactly what each session will be used for, but it doesn’t matter. The mere fact that it exists means they have a unique resource banked for later consumption.
Now it’s easier to stay on track. Before the session starts, the time is protected against arbitrary meetings. While it’s running, barriers are erected against interruptions. They can be used to gain the kind of momentum Arno Rafael Minkkinen talks about, where one discovery leads to others.
My breakdown of the core behaviors of Flowing shows them to be exquisite and rely on a number of other skills, such as the ones we teach at ScheduleU. If you’d like to gain some valuable insight into your Flowing skills, here’s a free assessment. It’s part of an introduction to the MyTimeDesign Plus+ program where we take a deep dive into Flowing.
As you can see from these ten expert contributions, there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution.
Novices mistakenly believe that scheduling everything means blindly throwing every task into your calendar. As some of the experts point out, that’s a recipe for disaster, even if you use a powerful auto-scheduler. The truth is, “Scheduling Everything” means using your calendar in nuanced ways, assisted by technology to achieve peace of mind.
I encourage you to find the approach that fits your circumstances as a first step. Then, make a plan for the development of your future skills which uses the best technology. Learn how to take these steps by signing up for my complimentary program – A Course in Scheduling.
Are you being bad and ineffective if you don’t schedule everything?
One of the mistakes occasional visitors to ScheduleU make is to conclude that if you aren’t putting all your tasks in your calendar, it means that you are doing something wrong: That only someone who is a Total Task Scheduler is correct, productive and doing things the right way.
If that’s not what they are doing, they feel judged. Put down. Diminished. They get defensive, arguing that their way is either just or good, or better. They are being attacked by ScheduleU’s teaching.
This experience sometimes comes from a place where one answer is believed to be best. It’s a point of view promoted by authors who promote simplistic, single answers: the ones they have found and use. As a result, they imply, others should follow their example without deviation. There’s a hardening of positions which echoes the political, religious and nationalistic jingoism which is apparently in vogue.
How does this apply to ScheduleU? Well, as you know, ScheduleU is the “School for Scheduling Everything.” I liken it to a “school for sprinting.”
In this imaginary athletics school, other kinds of running are not diminished. Neither are other sports outside of track and field. It’s just that a school for sprinting focuses on producing the best result in a single discipline.
Furthermore, people who hang around top sprinters like Usain Bolt are surprised to see how little preparation time is spent running anywhere near top speeds. The ultimate end-result – a world record or Olympic medal – is not produced by practicing a single activity, but many.
In much the same way, the purpose of ScheduleU is not to simply teach the mechanics of putting all your tasks in your calendar. Instead, it exists to support anyone who has an interest in keeping their peace of mind intact amidst an increase in time demands. This commitment naturally causes people to wonder whether or not they are using their calendar effectively.
When this curiosity is heightened, it’s a good idea to find ways to continually evolve your scheduling techniques. The fact is, better calendar skills and tools are required in order to manage more tasks effectively. After all, we all face the same time limitations and each additional activity occupies some more of it. There is no escaping the fact that there is a limit your capacity defined by your setup of skills and tools at any point in time.
If you find yourself adding more time demands, and even more, then you must confront the limits of your current setup. The good news is that you are not alone – others are pushing past these limits, providing us with brand new possibilities.
For the most part, technology is taking the lead in breaking down these barriers. What’s coming is hard to predict, so it’s a bad idea to rest on your laurels, and assume that you already use the best stuff, thank-you-very-much, full-stop.
I know, because I fell into this trap.
When I published the first edition of Perfect Time-Based Productivity in 2014, I thought I had completed a comprehensive volume which would stand the test of time. So why am I currently writing a second edition?
It only took about a month after the book’s release to bump into new software (SkedPal) which I began to use. Today, it’s an essential part of my daily workflow. So now, rather than believe I know what’s best, I assume the opposite: that the discovery of even better behaviors and tools are just around the corner. Once they arrive, I’ll use them to keep my peace of mind even as they help me build new capacity.
ScheduleU is all about helping people like the persona I was in 2014 – it’s the resource I wish I had many years ago as I jumped from one technique/tool to another, without any guidance. I set it up to help people who want to be on this journey, so they can uncover important nuances such as the one I put in the subject of this post: that Everything doesn’t mean “everything.”
The fact is, you can't put everything on your calendar! #totaltaskscheduling Click To Tweet Here are some human activities you can’t, or shouldn’t try to schedule:
In other words, “Scheduling Everything” really means “Scheduling Everything you need to schedule to accomplish your goals.”'Scheduling Everything' = 'scheduling everything you need to schedule to accomplish your goals' Click To Tweet
Given the fact that you are unique, and one-size-doesn’t-fit-all, you are the only one who can determine what “Scheduling Everything” actually means. Consider ScheduleU to be your partner on this adventure!
There are a number of reasons why, according to a recent Linkedin study, only 11% of professionals get their planned tasks done each day. This is an elite group, and one reason people use the resources here at ScheduleU is to improve their chances of finishing the day with all their tasks crossed off.
But it’s not easy, even at the higher skill levels discussed in A Course in Scheduling. Many people use methods which are simply unsuitable for the number of tasks they are trying to complete. Without an upgrade to their behaviors and tools, they will never get there.
However, even if they are using the appropriate tools for their circumstances, there’s still a challenge.
I noticed that, even with the use of SkedPal, there were moments and days in which I would be doing something different from what I had written in my calendar. I gave it a name: “Being Off-Calendar.” (I also dubbed the preferred state “Being On-Calendar.”)
While there is no way to completely avoid a day’s disruptions, I imagined that there must be a continuum from very bad to very good days. I supposed that the more productive someone is, the more likely they are to have good days in which their actions mirrored the contents of their calendar. The opposite would also be true.
While it would be impossible to be perfect, there should be some ways to be better, I reasoned. They key would be to change some behaviors I had never focused on before.
If you have read any of my recent writing on improving task management apps, you may agree that one of the best ways to engage yourself and others in changing habits, practice and rituals is to introduce elements of gamification. If they are used skillfully, they can make behaviors stick by making a transformation fun, challenging and immersive.
I decided to use some of these principles, inviting others to join me in playing an “On-Calendar Game.” While fewer than ten people responded, I had a feeling I would be far more focused if I had even one other person watching my progress. Accountability works.
So does fun. Who wants to play a game alone?
In my next post in this short series, I’ll share the initial game I created and why it ended up being the only game I could feasibly invent, given a number of limitations. In a subsequent post, I’ll share the results and lessons learned.
I strongly recommend that if you are, or aspire to be, a Total Task Scheduler, you must pay close attention to the latest software developments.
Here is an article which outlines some of the most popular calendar apps. I think it leaves out a few good possibilities, and it completely ignores all the auto-schedulers. However, if you are a manual scheduler, it could be useful.
The sheer volume of productivity advice you and I face each day is mind-boggling. As we look to a future in which we must make further upgrades just in order to keep up, we cringe.
Are we doomed to surf the internet for random tips, tricks and shortcuts that might fit? How many “Top 3”, “Best 10” and “Secret 99″ lists will we have to read or listen to? Hundreds? Thousands? Really?
In the area of time management, the end-result is “improvement overwhelm.” It’s a feeling that with so many potential upgrades to our practices and tools, it’s impossible to choose the best one. Exhausted, we collapse into doing nothing at all. But can there be a better way?
Deep down, we hope there is. We know that the future is likely to demand more from us. Getting stuck using old, inefficient tools is not an option.
Today, it’s as if we have no other choice than to somehow filter an increasing number of recommendations. This is a losing strategy: at some point, even the best curator will fail.
Instead, we need to transform the problem.
To keep improving the way we have in the past, we must learn to drive our personal upgrades from a different place: the inside. Rather than being pushed by advertising, blogs, and random notifications we require an internal source.
Our journey to the inside begins with a deeper understanding of human development. Psychological researchers tell us that we all follow a similar path in the way we forge a unique time management system. The road we take is described in the diagram below.
In almost all cases, the personal system we create is self-taught: it’s all our own. As a result, you have a different set of specific habits, practices and tools from everyone else reading this article. When put together and seen as a single system, it’s not hard to see it has strengths and weaknesses which are uniquely yours. Here is some data that backs this up: it’s borrowed from the hundreds of people who have completed my training programs.
As a result, one-size-fits-all, super-simplified solutions may be easy to grasp but rarely work as advertised. The data suggests that they can’t: when people are in different places, using different behaviors, giving them all the same prescriptions won’t work. While it’s simpler for an author to write a “Just-Do-What-I-Do” article or book, it makes things harder for readers who can never become junior replicas.
Unfortunately, very few people appreciate this fact. When they discover a blogger’s “Top Ten List of Time Management Hacks” they believe that the writer’s description of an El Dorado of ideal behaviors must also apply to them. When they discover otherwise, time, money and energy have all been wasted. Sometimes people even feel guilty, believing that failure must mean something is wrong with them.
There isn’t. They are not to blame.
Most simply don’t understand that issues in time-based productivity are a result of stale practices and tools. They worked fine in the past, then suddenly, it seems, they didn’t. Fortunately, this usually means that the changes needed to be made are closer to small tweaks, steadily applied over time, than they are to total makeovers.
But developing these solutions, even the tiny ones, isn’t easy. You need to develop three extraordinary abilities.
Most people are quite weak in picking up on small but important changes in their productivity. Hoping for the best, they ignore them, believing that things will work themselves out.
This especially applies to their personal system for managing time demands. As I mentioned in the diagram above, each one is an “internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.”
Lacking a practical knowledge of the processes they use to manipulate time demands, they suffer. They just don’t know what to look out for. As a result, only big failures gain their attention, attached to painful symptoms.
Take the example of Geoff, an executive. He has access to all the latest technologies, changing his smartphone regularly. However, he will readily tell you that he’s “not that good with email.”
Attending a webinar, he’s shocked to learn that the most effective people practice a technique called Inbox Zero, in which they empty their inboxes once or twice per day. Only then does he realize the advantage they have over people like him who practice an unstructured “Skim and Leave Behind” method.
On reflection, he realizes that the 10,000 unprocessed email messages in his Inbox are concealing all sorts of tasks he is supposed to do. Recently, his boss warned him that he shouldn’t be dropping the ball by failing to keep up with email. “It lets down the entire team” he advised, before forwarding the email about the webinar.
Geoff learns that this situation did not have to become such a big issue. He missed the warning signs.
It’s the very opposite of what Sherlock Holmes would do. If you have ever seen him in action on the screen or in a book, you may remember that he constructs an entire narrative based on a few easily overlooked observations. He paints a picture others cannot see, but it all starts with an uncommon superpower: keen observation.
He operates a bit like Spiderman who miraculously developed “spidey-sense” when his alter-ego, Peter Parker, was bitten by a radioactive arachnid. With it, he’s able to discern imminent danger even before it occurs.
With respect to time-based productivity, anyone who has the ability to detect lead indicators is rare. In fact, it’s a superpower which enables them to see around proverbial corners, and pick up on future issues with their system.
For example, you would know that a sudden increase in time demands is a strong predictor of trouble. So is the adoption of a new tool, or an unexpected surge in late nights at the office.
These are three examples of early warning signs few bother to notice. Focused on just getting through the day, they fail to see the larger indicators. Neglecting their personal systems, they leave the door open for repeated failure.
However, when this superpower exists, you operate like a skilled mechanic who can listen to an engine, picking up on problems others can’t. They must wait for a catastrophe to occur.
With this skill, your ability to intervene on a small scale prevents disasters from happening, but they also help you take the next step to uncover root causes.
Andrea sat in my class, stunned. She had just learned that she wasn’t incompetent because she couldn’t mentally keep track of all her time demands. In fact, she was quite normal.
Her panic dissipated: now she could imagine herself being promoted without the pressure to remember more stuff. Relieved, she could see that it was all a classic case of misdiagnosis. She had correctly identified unwanted symptoms, but assigned them to the wrong causes.
Television’s Dr. House is the opposite. His character possesses a fantastic ability to perform expert diagnoses that stump other professionals. Physicians assure me that the show is an exaggeration: in real-life, no single physician covers so many fields of expertise. It portrays a superhuman, but fictional, capability.
In the world of time-based productivity, you need skills which touch on these heights. With study and practice, your development of a diagnostic superpower can be a reality. It starts by undertaking a deep examination of your personal system for managing time demands.
Without it, you make mistakes. A 2010 survey showed that 87% of people who purchased an iPad intended to use it to increase their productivity. Unfortunately, studies have shown that it has little impact. Instead, it allows for better entertainment and greater convenience.
Imagine if Andrea had wasted several months training to improve her memory?
This superpower helps prevent such errors. Once you gain an in-depth understanding of how your system for managing time demands actually works, you can diagnose true root causes.
Our work at 2Time Labs should help. We have narrowed the practice of managing time demands to 11 observable behaviors: 7 Essential fundamentals supported by 4 Advanced.
Because we are self-taught, we unwittingly introduce errors at an early age. They continue into adulthood, where we are often strong in some fundamentals and weak in others, as the data I shared earlier shows. When we assemble them into a single system, it produces defects such as forgotten commitments, email overload and lateness.
With this superpower, and an understanding of technology, you can diagnose the root causes of these and other everyday problems in your life. In turn, this helps you focus on the next step: making the right adjustments to your behaviors and tools.
Arriving at the Australian Open in January 2017, Roger Federer hoped to beat one or two players. In his mind, it was only a warmup tournament for a year in which, by April, he’d be able to play decent tennis. Coming off a six-month layoff, it was the best he could expect.
When he won the singles title, it was testament to careful preparation during his time away. After a complete and in-depth examination of his injury during the previous summer, he made a multi-month plan that included rehab, diet, running and sprinting. In the fall when he finally stepped back on a tennis court he also tweaked his return of serve plus a few other strokes.
“It was just being clever with my scheduling, making sure I’m not getting hurt,” he explained.
Now, he’s spending a chunk of his time off the court studying what it takes for his 35 year-old physical self to compete with younger players who could be his kids.
It’s a great example of the inside-out method one needs to take to change a long-term behavior.
In time-based productivity, I recommend you use a similar approach to implementation, a weak point for most of us. Here is the ETaPS method we developed at 2Time Labs.
E — Evaluate your current standard of behavior against those which are best-in-class using objective criteria. Look for break-downs of complex practices into small ones which can be measured easily.
Ta — Set Targets for new behaviors. Pick a level of expertise or skills which corresponds to your desired goals.
P — Plan to make changes for new habits, practices and rituals by stretching them out over time. They should appear to you as baby steps which makes the plan realistic, but easy to implement.
S — Support the plan with the right mix of internal and external elements, such as a checklist (internal) and a coach (external.) Put in enough supports to make failure almost impossible.
Federer’s approach follows these four steps quite closely. Other players might have been impatient, injuring themselves in their recovery, because they failed to set up a sufficient support system. The fact is, long term change isn’t easy and we often overestimate our ability to make permanent shifts.
This superpower, more than any other, keeps you focused on the small changes you need to make. Now, suggested improvements from outside your life show up in the right context. If they support your overall plan, you entertain them. If not, you can safely filter them out of your attention.
To be clear — we are always declining improvement opportunities. But if you have this superpower, you do so effectively and powerfully, in ways others may not understand. Like Federer, who resisted the impulse to shortcut his recovery, you say no.
These three capacities are not completely missing for most people. We all possess them in small quanta at the very least.
Developing them into superpowers does not come naturally or without effort. It requires hard work and diligence to achieve that level of performance. Just ask Federer. Or Dr. Anders Ericsson, of Deliberate Practice fame. His study of high performers shows that they rarely accomplish the top echelons without 10 years or 10,000 hours of diligent effort. Much of it involves focuses on the weakest skills in their repertoire, under the guidance of a skilled coach.
Those who are fortunate become highly skilled in these superpowers, facing the future confidently. They aren’t afraid of all the suggestions and recommendations flying around because they understand what they need and why. It comes from their plan, not the external world, so improvement fatigue is something they are aware of, but don’t experience.
However, they are open to fresh opportunities. When someone offers a new behavior or technology, they know how to evaluate them against their needs. They are careful, even suspicious, knowing that it’s unlikely that a random suggestion will fit into their plan at just the right moment in time.
It’s a level I failed to reach while writing my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity. A few months before publication I had my first exposure with SkedPal, an auto-scheduling app, but didn’t believe it would work. My hasty dismissal led me to publish without even a single mention of this new AI-driven technology. Now that I use it several times per day, my prior lack of planning is appalling!
Studies show that many people become cynical and resigned about their inability to cope with a future of increasing time demands. They simply don’t see a way out.
People armed with an improvement plan are free from this trap. They relax, working with what they have, rather than complaining about the stuff they don’t. Their acceptance of the way things work and how they can be upgraded is essential in overcoming the challenge of improvement fatigue.
Thanks to editors Brendan Bain, Doug Toft, Nicki Franklin, Wim Annerel, Jolene Brown, Catherine Munson and Arlene Henry. This article was originally published on Medium.
To learn more about developing your three superpowers, visit http://plus.mytimedesign.com
Kourosh Dini recently shared his thoughts on the concept of time blocking: On Time Blocking.
He makes a very good point – the technique is not for the beginner, for that would be like asking someone to lift heavy weights on their first visit to the gym.
That’s a great analogy!
One of the benefits of becoming a Total Task Scheduler is that you can set aside entire blocks of time or days to accomplish whatever you think is most important.
Most people don’t think about scheduling anything other than hard-core work, but the fact is, anything important can be managed through your schedule.
One example is the need to set up the occasional (or not so-occasional) lazy day.
Here’s an interesting article: “To Boost Your Productivity Start Scheduling Some ‘Lazy’ Days.”
News broke this week that Todoist, the popular task list management app, now features real-time Google Calendar integration. What does this mean for the Total Task Scheduler?
Well, if you are looking for alternatives to apps which already exist, this is good news. SkedPal, TimeTo, Focuster, Sheldonize and SELFPLANNER have been your only options for some time. My analysis shows that SkedPal is the most advanced of the bunch. (Disclaimer — Iam a SkedPal user and am not unbiased in this regard.)
For current users of Todoist who are interested in Total Task Scheduling, this is wonderful news as you may tell from the comments on the article. It comes on the heels of the announcement of “Smart Schedule” in November; it was the app’s prior step on the journey to becoming an auto-scheduler.
That announcement was also well-received.
However, there appears to be a pattern. Todoist users hail the arrival of these new auto-scheduling features, but then once they actually start to use them, they find there are problems. In the case of the prior announcement, the most recent comments are from annoyed users. Also, I couldn’t find a positive review of the new feature, even after a lengthy search. It was as if all the happiness that users expressed when the new feature emerged turned into its opposite. What’s happening?
To help understand, see the diagram below.
It shows the path an average user takes as they upgrade their tools. Todoist is a typical example of a Complex Task App, used by people who manage their time demands using various kinds of lists. Each one its tagged with attributes such as importance, urgency and duration in the program.
With the latest features, Todoist is attempting to make the jump to Level 6 by adding the typical features of an Auto-Scheduler.
The challenge is that the program’s users all have habits which are suitable for Level 4. Now, they must make a difficult adjustment, without much explanation and with no training. It’s a bit like giving someone a racehorse to ride when they have only ever ridden a donkey.
At first, it seems like a good idea… in theory. But when you actually start riding for the first time, a whole new reality emerges.
I don’t know if Todoist has figured out what they are asking their users to do from a behavioral perspective, but they must do so. It’s the only way to prevent the annoyance that ensued when the last feature was rolled out. Fortunately for them, this need not be a matter of trial and error, hit or miss. In A Course in Scheduling on the Schedule U website, there is a road map of behaviors which must be mastered by users of all auto-schedulers. It’s inherent in the way human beings relate to their tasks and calendar.
In other words, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel. The addition of these features is leading users down a well-defined path. Where certain capabilities are needed, but lacking, users will experience a predictable level of frustration. For example, there are already complaints that users can’t manage projects and notifications the way they want. Plus, some want to sync some tasks their calendar but not others. Many want to “cross off the item once it’s complete” which is one of the reasons people like using lists, and Complex and Simple Task Apps.
How can this frustration be alleviated?
Maybe there’s a way to show Todoist users the path they are on… that this is more than just a few cool features being added to meet some user’s requests. It actually involves a completely new way to manage tasks. This is a fact Total Task Schedulers know from experience.
This implies that there needs to be more than just added functionality… there should also be a level of transparency at first, then the offer of education and training.
Or maybe not.
I could be wrong — there has never been a company which migrated its users from Level 4 to 6 by adding new features. All I have is the experience of people who made the jump by letting go of one app and adopting an entirely new one altogether.
It will be interesting to watch. Obviously, Todoist isn’t interested in losing its users to other apps so the addition of auto-scheduling features is a must. I described the dilemma app designers face in a prior series of article s—What Task Management App Developers Can Do to Catch Up with Pokemon Go.
Will Todoist find a way to prevent the predictable frustration that will unfold? Is it sufficient to leave it up to users to figure out the path they are on and how they should educate themselves? Only time will tell.
Check out this story about Stephen Hawking from Cal Newport’s blog: Stephen Hawking’s Productive Laziness.
Hawking follows his schedule fairly strictly, apart from those days when he is close to a breakthrough. Then he works up to 24 hours straight.
I just finished watching a movie about his life, The Theory of Everything, so this is particularly fascinating.