Perfect Time-Based Productivity in Audio, Spanish and Portuguese

As you probably realize, ScheduleU is one of the first (and so far few) websites committed to the idea that people can learn how to schedule everything.

The second edition of my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity also may be the very first to share what it’s like to make the transition to Total Task Scheduling via the use of an auto-scheduler. In the first chapter, I share the shock I went through, just after the first edition was published, to discover SkedPal. It offered a steep learning curve back then, as I truly was entering territory no-one had even described to me before.

Fortunately, there’s some help available today here at ScheduleU. No-one need be alone as they transform their habits and software.

The book is available as a Kindle or paperback on Amazon, but there’s more.

Via the diligence of others, it’s also available  in Portuguese and Spanish.

Furthermore, I spent the early part of this year finishing up the audio version, which can be purchased here.

I hope one of these versions fit in with your learning needs.

P.S. The French version only covers the first edition, but if it’s ever updated, Kindle promises to update the buyer with the new version at no cost.

Kindle / Paperback Audio / EnglishSpanishPortugueseFrench (1st ed)

How CEO’s Optimize Their Time Budgets

If you are a top executive, you face a unique challenge: The weekly demands on your time regularly outstrip 168 hours. Yet, as you know, most CEO’s receive little formal training in time management on their journey to the C-Suite. Fortunately, new research can help close this gap.

Harvard’s Michael Porter and Nitin Nohria recently published the results of a multi-year study of CEO time usage. Their findings can help you allocate time more efficiently, even despite variations by industry, nationality, and tenure.

Four Major Findings

1. CEO’s schedule a whopping 75% of their working hours. Most of their day is occupied with meetings, translating into precious little time spent alone in blocks of uninterrupted time. Recommended: use your calendar as a tool to carve out quality solo efforts.
2. CEO’s work, on average, 62.5 hours per week, which include 3.9 hours per day on weekends, and 2.4 hours per day on vacations. They also spend about half their non-working, awake time with family. For many, this pace isn’t sustainable. Given their long days (9.7 hours per weekday) they must be strict to meet their own minimum standards. Recommended: Follow a set schedule on both off-hours, and off-days. Include time-slots to do “nothing.”
3. CEO’s spend some 43% of their time on their core agenda, and the rest on routine items or unplanned surprises. Recommended: Use your administrative assistant as your partner to ensure that your schedule continually reflects your priorities.
4. On average, few CEO’s track their time. Sadly, they have no idea how they’re really doing against these average numbers. While they know much about their financial budget, its time equivalent remains a mystery or at best, a vague gut feeling. Recommended: Commit yourself to this commonsense habit, via the use of suitable tracking software.

The CEO’s Two Social Problems

However, applying the researchers’ recommendations isn’t enough. Every CEO I have met faces two ripe areas for improvement which are difficult to tackle: They spend too much of their precious time processing email and attending meetings. Fortunately, these twin problems have a common root.
Case 1: The CEO who replies to every email within five minutes may seem, at first blush, to be “on top of things”. To wiser heads, it’s a clear sign that he’s doing little else but playing an elaborate, wasteful game of email ping pong.
Case 2: The CEO who avoids calling meetings, may think she’s making the most of her time by working on tough problems behind a closed door. However, her lack of communication leaves people guessing about her true priorities, causing a level of infighting she pointedly ignores.

Both of these practices are typically hard to solve. Anyone who has rolled their eyes while suffering through a pointless meeting or email message knows the feeling. The demand on your psyche it creates slowly creeps up, robbing you blind of time and energy. Before you realize it, you have become trapped in a sticky web of social waste.

Furthermore, this all takes place on an open stage. People watch what executives do in meetings and email for hidden cues as to their true, unspoken intentions. As such, they represent far more than personal logistical challenges. They are public performances undertaken by actors who are mostly unaware of their platform. It’s why their unwitting, mixed signals quickly become other people’s marching orders.

Where is the escape?

Launch Improvement Projects

Fact: The average employee spends two hours per day processing email. She also devotes four hours per week preparing for status updates meetings, 67% of which are failures.

However, individual employees who try to solve email or meeting problems frequently fail. There’s just not much a person can do on his/her own if they are part of a wider culture.

Fortunately, the CEO is in a unique place. As the sole person who unifies all employees, he is in a position to affect this kind of change. Therefore, a CEO who fails to launch campaigns to improve these twin evils is allowing productivity to erode.

While specific causes and remedies to these two complex challenges are beyond the scope of this article, there’s a mindset every CEO can initiate immediately. It starts by declaring the truth about this rampant loss of productivity. It continues by creating a series of company-wide games to “Achieve the same results, using far fewer emails and less meeting time.”

As the CEO, if you engage a critical mass of your staff in such a goal, it should provide an immediate, positive impact on your time usage. Instead of losing steam in email and meetings, you should be able to create more long blocks of solo, creative problem-solving, plus more time with your family. This should be a welcome start, but it requires all employees to cut away the wasted time and effort inherent in these two practices.

This article is adopted for one published in the Jamaica Gleaner.

Why Auto-Schedulers Are Like Magic 8 Balls

You may recall the Magic 8 Ball.

This gimmicky toy was popular after the 1950’s, when it was invented. The player would ask a question, and the game would “reply” with one of 20 pre-set answers such as “It is certain” or “Very doubtful.” The answer would pop up through a transparent window after a  quick pause.

Why are auto-schedulers like SkedPal, Focuster or Futurenda like the familiar Magic 8 Ball?

At the end of most tasks and sometimes right in the middle of one) we ask ourselves, “What’s Next?”

It’s shorthand for “Of all the time demands I have created, which one should I start to work on next?”

A good auto-scheduler responds within a few seconds. Unlike its real-life counterpart, the answer it gives is just not a random choice.

Instead, the auto-scheduler goes to work in the background using the attributes you have provided to come up with an optimal response. In the beginning, the task is suggested probably won’t make sense.

Perseverance is a must: over time, this digital companion to your calendar must be trained to give improved responses; to meet your specific needs. Then, it behaves exactly as you would expect and you won’t have to rely on your memory.

As you may already know, this frees you from the Zeigarnik Effect .

But this only happens if your auto-scheduler can be trusted. This emotional bond won’t be built the first time you use it – it takes time, training and continuous use to get the app to provide the support you need.

On Using an Executive Assistant

Check out this podcast (or transcript) which makes heavy reference to the role of an executive assistant.

As you may know, here at ScheduleU we realize that the only thing better than an auto-scheduler is a competent executive assistant. In my book and the training on this site, we refer to the fictional Mrs. Landingham as our role model. (She was the President’s secretary on the television show The West Wing.)

The article is linked from the ScheduleU page on Facebook, so make sure to “Like” it while you’re there to receive similar updates.

Is there such a thing as a basic time management training program?

“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!

As a manager, you may advise a subordinate: “You need a basic time management program.” While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.

Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit so you want to help.

But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them, in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated—it’s all important.

Yet, their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe, you think, “They don’t understand the basics of time management.”

While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.

  1. They are adults, not kids

In the world of adult learning, there’s a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it’s because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.

In this context, teaching people Latin isn’t the same as teaching us our local slang or dialect. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.

With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.

To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create “time demands” – your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Over time, you evolved, having learned the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and family.

However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools… the question is, “Which ones?” Only nuanced (not basic) training can help them uncover and close these gaps.

  1.      They need personal diagnostic skills

Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours (the stuff of basic programmes) adults need to learn how to analyze and improve the habit patterns they are currently using: the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.

In the second edition of my book, Perfect Time Based Productivity, I condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.

The first step is to E*valuate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.

Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveals that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there’s a unique way they use the program. Over time, you each developed routines which are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.

Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with a deeper than average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical employee, or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?

  1. Instant, magical change won’t happen

A “basic” training which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.

This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills which don’t change overnight. To help, I recommend the remaining steps of the ETaPS formula.

–          Ta*rget new levels of accomplishment for each skill.

–          P*lan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps.

–          S*upport each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.

The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.

If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalized plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then, show them how better time management could improve every part of their life:  relationships with significant others, children’s performance at school, work-life balance, health and engagement in their community and family.

Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all “basic” training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, fool-proof changes.

This article was adapted from one written for the Jamaica Gleaner.

New SkedPal Video

The power available in today’s auto-schedulers remains a huge secret.

As a result, few people can describe what these powerful apps actually do and why they are so very different from Outlook or Google Calendar.

This video offers the first clear explanation. (I was part of the team that conceived it so I am quite biased!) It describes the app as a “GPS for All your Tasks.”

Becoming Like the Elite Part 3

In this post I share some of my results from playing the RandomCheck Game for five weeks in May-June 2017 – seven months ago. I had a cohort of 6-7 people along for the ride.

As you may recall from prior posts in Part 1 and Part 2, I set up a fun effort to improve my “On-Calendar” percentage:  a measure of how well I follow my plan for the day.

The overall idea is that I am more effective when there is a match between my schedule and actual activity. If I can create a way to track my On-Calendar percentage I might be able to improve the underlying behavior.

The metric was defined as the number of times I am On-Calendar when a random check is performed. Fortunately, there are a number of apps which can be used to generate these random check-ins. I used one called RemindMe.

My alerts were set at random times in three time slots:

  • 2 on weekday mornings from 8am-1pm
  • 3 on weekday afternoons from 1pm – 6pm.
  • 3 on weekends

Week 1 Report

This week I got an average 92% score on weekday mornings, 93% on weekday afternoons and 67% on the weekend.

So far I have learned that there is a pattern to my scores. My mornings are highly scripted and I am usually On-Calendar. This makes sense: I rise early and follow the same weekly routine, barring an occasional surprise.

My wife and we have synchronized, scripted schedules for the most part. On Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Saturday mornings I am exercising, and on the other mornings I am writing/working. I wake up between 4am and 5am like clockwork, without an alarm, courtesy of an early bed-time.

However, the afternoons are awful. I lose steam at around lunchtime when I usually eat and nap between 1 and 2pm. After that, it’s quite likely that I go Off-Calendar and stay that way until the following day. I notice that I don’t have the habit of rescheduling my calendar in the afternoon which is the reason why I mess things up. Too tired?

I also see myself making a deliberate attempt to stay on target, so some new behaviors are entering the picture:

  • I go into my calendar and adjust it more regularly, a few times each day. This keeps me On-Calendar.
  • I think about where I am at each point of the day.
  • I don’t want to report a bad score to our team, so this has kept me on my toes.

Overall, I am far more aware of what I am doing. I have never been this aware of my On-Calendar status, not ever. Of course, having a team of people watching my progress and also playing the game allows me to benefit from the Hawthorne Effect.

Week 2 Report

My lower scores reflect the hectic nature of the week…
Weekday morning – Overall average fell to 83%. This week I only hit 7/10.
Weekday Afternoons –  Overall average fell to 77%. This week I scored 9/15.
Weekend Score – Overall average stayed at 67%. This weekend I had 4/6 successes.
I wonder how far my cumulative average will fall before it settles down. Not an exciting thought, as the game will end in a few weeks and all my fellow game players will disappear, along with Mr. Hawthorne.

Week 3 Report

This past week saw us losing power, Internet and water… in part due to floods across the island of Jamaica. So, it was quite challenging to stay On-Calendar.

Weekday mornings: 8/10

Weekday afternoons: 9/15

Weekend: 4/6

My moving averages are now at 82%, 72% and 67% respectively.

I have decided to continue playing until the end of the fifth week, just to get a bit more data.
But…I’m increasingly concerned at this point about what will happen once the game is over. If I were to turn off the RemindMe program, I’d be sure to experience even more time Off-Calendar. This indicates I’m far from seeing the development of a permanent behavior.
As I have noted in other articles, there is a danger in relying on external/extrinsic motivation: at any point, the agent supplying the trigger for the behavior might disappear.

Week 4 Report

 Morning/weekday – 8/10 (82%)
Afternoon/weekday – 13/15  (76%)
Weekend – 3/6  (63%)
Overall scores are in brackets.
Week 5 Report
This is the final week of the game and my final report shows the following:
Week 5 mornings:  10/10
Overall score for mornings: 83%
Week 5 afternoons: 13/15
Overall afternoons: 77%
Week 5 weekend: 3/6
Overall weekends: 63%

 

While playing the game, I had one person (Trish) who stuck with it all the way through to the end and another (Joyce) who also participated consistently. Others may have played, and not shared their progress.

Conclusions

Today is December 30th and some time has passed since I ended the game. I’m glad I waited this long before writing this report because I can see the effect the game had on my mid-term behavior more clearly.

When the game ended, I kept tracking my data but the RemindMe app turned out to be buggy in the extreme. In around November, it stopped popping up altogether.

Then, when I tried to access the data I had carefully downloaded, I ran into further issues. The developer appears to have abandoned any support, so I am actively looking to replace it.

  1. At this point in time, I can honestly say that I am far more conscious of being On-Calendar. However, it’s not yet a habit with an intrinsic trigger.
    Bj Fogg, the habit change expert, describes a new behavior as a function of motivation, ability, and triggers. as shown in the diagram below.I think that my triggers to stay On-Calendar lie just on the cusp between Failure and Success, along that green line. They amount to no more than a stray thought which pops up every other day or so.

    So, following the thinking from my article How High Performers Convert Single Behaviors Into Habits I need to find a way to create an internal trigger that is reliable.

  2. The fact that I was playing a game with an audience I convened help me pay attention. Most of the others who started dropped out, but I couldn’t, which helped.
  3. Having a tool like SkedPal made a huge difference – I could reschedule my calendar with the click of a button.  So did a simple plugin for Google Calendar which I accessed with a button in the browser bar. I could have been even better with a button for SkedPal in or beside this icon on the browser bar.
  4. Setting up these games isn’t easy, from a technical point of view.  If I hadn’t used an, I could never have collected such detailed metrics. It just wasn’t built for this purpose.
  5. My overall moving averages dipped at first and then appeared to hold up. Now, I have a Google reminder set up me to get back On-Calendar – but only for the absolute worst day of the week – Tuesdays.
  6. As you can see below, there appears to be a difference between my performance on weekends and weekdays. It’s almost as if they are independent of each other.

Further Improvements

One of the reasons I embarked on this journey was to find a repeatable way to use gamification to help create a permanent habit. I think I have found a few elements that helped start me off in the right direction, but the fact that I still don’t have a permanent habit in place means that I have some way to go.

I’m glad I set this game up and played it to the end – it provided a far superior experience to simply making a quiet, personal effort.

I also need to report that I thought RandomCheck would be one of a number of games in the effort to increase my On-Calendar percentage. I tried hard to create other games, and even worked with one of my colleagues to try to devise another game.

I failed for a number of reasons which may become the subject of another article. Inventing a game that works in all respects is hard, even for something as simple as staying On-Calendar.

So, my search continues for a “final” answer.

Becoming Like the Elite part 2

In the prior post in this series way back on June 30th, I promised to share the game I set up to become like the 11% who get everything done each day. I left off describing the fact that I had a group willing to play together to achieve the result.

My first step was to, share the overall challenge for the group: to increase the match between what is on our calendars and what we actually do at any moment in time.

For Total Task Schedulers, this is a big challenge. If you undertake to manage your tasks via your calendar, you are putting into writing your daily plans and pledging to account for them in a visible way. By contrast, people who make mental plans for each day don’t have to confront their failures in this area, due to the lack of written dates.

I also shared that I wanted to play games which would improve this score. In the group I formed, I shared that we could all play the same game or different games, but the overall idea was to learn, grow and have some fun at the same time.

Reminder: “Being On-Calendar” in any moment means that what we are doing is in our calendar. The opposite is “Being Off-Calendar.”

Game #1 – RandomCheck

The first game I made up is one I had tested for about a month.

The game was simple: to record the times when I was On/Off-Calendar via random check-ins each day. If the times truly were random, then I should be able to generate some unbiased data.

To help me pick random times, I downloaded an app called Randomly RememberMe that provides a notification at random intervals throughout the day/week.

The Game I Played in May
I decided to set up different reminders for weekday mornings, weekday afternoons and weekends. For the weekdays, I set 3 reminders per day, one in the morning and two in the afternoon. On the weekends I cut out the morning reminder.

A few people opted into this game and played it with different levels of intensity at different points. However, as the convenor, I didn’t give myself the option of dropping out. Call it social pressure.

In the next post, I’ll describe the results I realized.