A New Auto-Scheduler

In the past few days, a new auto-scheduler has entered the market on the iOS platform. It’s the newest version of Sorted, version 3.

Here’s a brief video by Francesco at the Keep Productive vlog on the app.

Scheduling and Creativity

There’s an interesting article I just added to the social proof page with links to articles, videos and podcasts on the topic of time blocking, and scheduling everything.

It’s entitled: How following a schedule improved my creativity.

According to the FastCompany author Srinivas Rao,

In my experience interviewing 700 experts for my podcast, the Unmistakable Creative, I discovered a clear pattern among every single person who does creative work for a living. From entrepreneurs and graffiti artists to peak performance psychologists, high performers create on a schedule.

Some argue that a schedule is constraining but there’s other research cited at FastCompany which shows that constraints can spark creativity. It’s a similar argument made by those who insist that creativity is a function of professionalism. That is, people who treat their performance achievement like a job they show up to every day are said to produce better results, just because they follow a regular discipline.

In other words, they don’t create when they are “in the mood.” They do so when it’s penciled in their calendar.

New apps page

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I just launched a new Apps page which lists all the software available for Total Task Schedulers. I list both auto-schedulers and manual calendars suitable for the goal of scheduling everything.
So far, it’s the first/only list I’m aware of and I plan to update it regularly.
Check it out here.

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.