Put on Your Thinking Cap! [Guest post]

Most people arrive at their desks and the only thing scheduled in their calendars are meetings; that is, places to put their bodies.  If you are slightly more evolved in the management of your time and productivity, then along with meetings, you also have scheduled actions like writing, going places, research and making phone calls. But what most of us never schedule is time to think, create, ponder, imagine or dream.  Of course, you do think, ponder and dream. But instead of designating specific times in which to do it, you fit it in around the edges, or you do it as part of another task like writing a report, researching an article or presentation or while doing something non-intellectual like going for a run or a hike.

According to Noreena Hertz, author of Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World, the most successful people (many of whom she interviewed for her book) set aside time specifically to think.  Thinking, rather than researching, reading, scanning the Internet or writing, is when your brain is allowed to roam free. The difference between that and simply thinking about what to write for the next slide in your presentation is that your brain may want to wander away from the presentation, and when you are at work on something, your job is to contain the wandering brain and refocus on the task at hand. That’s a great way to accomplish a task, but not a great way to innovate or create novel thoughts and ideas.

But when the task at hand is to think, you give your brain free rein to roam.  Ideally your time to think should be in a relaxed state.  If you are a runner or swimmer you may have found, as I have, that your best ideas happen while on a run or swim. For others it happens in the shower or while lying in bed to sleep or before rising in the morning.  When your dopamine centers within the brain are in a state of contentment, your creativity flows.  For most of us, creativity is what we most need. New ideas. Better ideas. Novel thoughts.  Those ideas fuel our success and innovation, they provide the fodder for our friendships or our product or service development, and make the strategic difference in how we face challenges we have or those we expect to have.

So how can you use this information in your own life or business? Well, start by scheduling 30 minutes a day to think. Put it in your calendar. try an experiment to find what relaxing activity will make your brain secrete dopamine and relax you.  You may take the time to go for a walk or lie on the floor and stretch or just recline in your chair, close your eyes and let your mind wander.  Don’t judge where it goes, just surrender.  One important caveat is that this is not the time to surf the web, hang out of Facebook or otherwise distract yourself.  Give your brain a chance to invent and grow its own material, without the stimulus of other peoples’ thoughts or content.  Given how flooded we are with stimulus, it may take a few minutes or a few attempts before you learn how to do this without the aid of a shower or a jog to give your brain a kick-start. But soon, you will start to be able to switch off your normal, all-day racing to the next task, and switch on the free flow of ideation your brain was made to do.  Let me know how it goes.

Republished with the kind permission of Amie Devero, author of the article.

Amie Devero

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Posted in Master - Advanced Schedulers

Answers on Quora

I just put a post up on the 2Time Labs website with links to some interesting time-based productivity questions I have been answering on Quora – the question and answer, social website. I invite you to come on over as it’s the most active place to receive answers to everyday queries from real people.

Here is the link to the article.

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Posted in New Ideas / Research

Dr. Melanie Wilson interview on SkedPal [podcast]

I sat down a few days ago to have an in-depth chat with Dr. Melanie Wilson about the different ways we are using SkedPal.

It was a fascinating conversation that really just scratched the surface of what we have discovered in the past year. It’s the first podcast I’m aware of on the topic and it coincides with some good news – I am adding more people to my Private Beta of SkedPal.

Once again the time is limited, but you can join my community of Advanced Schedulers here.

Listen in to the conversation with Melanie.

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Posted in Podcasts

Technology that Stops Meeting Time Grabbers in Their Tracks

Time Grabbers are colleagues who have found novel ways to waste your time. In this column, I explore their ability to do so via meetings that either should never have been called, or are badly run. I suggest a few technologies that already exist plus a new one that I hope someone will invent soon.

Each of them can help your organization cut an important source of waste out of the picture in the new year, while giving you back a little piece of your peace of mind.

Click here to read the article on Medium.

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Posted in New Product / Service

Places online to have a time management conversation [Infographic]

I regularly visit the best forums on the Internet to find conversations related to time-based productivity. Unfortunately, they are scattered far and wide so I put the best ones together in one place on this page, right here on this website.

If you are looking for a community to call home, I hope you find this useful.

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Posted in New Product / Service

Explaining My Absence and Why You Are Invited… to Join a Beta

I’d like to share with you a discovery I recently made and why I’d like you to join me in a private Beta Test.

Some may have noticed that I have disappeared, dropping from my regular routine of updating my blog and podcasts. The reasons aren’t happy ones, but I learned a lot in a short space of time about how to manage time demands when a major disruption occurs. (If you were even a bit annoyed at my unexplained disappearance, I offer an apology.)

The sad news is that I lost my father to pancreatic cancer in the span of just a few weeks. It was a sudden and stunning experience – the first time anyone close to me has ever passed away. So, it’s no wonder I was surprised by the effect it had on my life, starting from the moment he was diagnosed in early July.

There were a host of new emotions to contend with, many of which came on sharply – without warning. I found myself riding a roller-coaster of ups and downs, laughs and tears as I started to adjust to his permanent absence.

While these unexpected emotions were taking their inevitable toll, there were extraordinary events to plan, manage and execute. A viewing was first, followed by a funeral, cremation and a ceremony to scatter his ashes. Then his will and estate needed to be sorted. Fortunately, he left his affairs in immaculate condition, but they still needed to be handled in accordance with his wishes.

In the background, of course, there was a job I had to do as a consultant – that didn’t stop being demanding because a close family member had passed away. I still had to travel to work on projects overseas.

The net effect is one that you may recognize if you ever been hit by a personal tragedy. As Allen Saunders said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” In an instant, a host of new “time demands” must be created and managed.

If you haven’t read my book, here is a short primer: a “time demand” is an individual, internal commitment to complete an action in the future. It’s different from what we call a “task” which is defined by the Webster-Merriam Dictionary as follows:

task (noun): “a piece of work that has been given to someone, a job for someone to do”

The key distinction is that time demands are only created by the individual, with full agency.

In the instant my father passed, my routine shifted from visiting him each day in the hospital to handling a number of new time demands. Now, there was time to be spent mourning, planning, disposing assets and supporting family members. Whatever other plans I had beforehand were now constrained; the 168 hours the make up each week were simply not enough. Some time demands had to be “Tossed” or discarded, to my surprise.

I realized that many of the ones I created before my Dad passed had to be revoked or rescheduled. As I saw myself struggle, I noticed that I was undergoing something new. To understand it better, I took an idea from my book: human beings gradually evolve new methods of managing time demands. I now see that there are four main ways to respond to a tragedy, depending on the practices you happen to be using when it strikes. Fortunately, as you will see, I had some help.

Method 1. Mental Overload

When a person has my book calls “White Belt” skills in most of the 7 fundamentals, (Capturing, Emptying, Tossing, Acting Now, Storing, Scheduling, Listing) they try to manage time demands using their memory. This is a difficult place to start, as you may imagine. In the event of a sudden tragedy such as the one I experienced, the mind becomes a disorderly place. According to Dr. Augustine Nwoye, prospective memory (used to manage time demands) becomes something to be “healed” in the grieving process.

I saw myself losing track of time demands that weren’t well-captured to begin with. That is, if they were only being kept in memory, they were likely to disappear. It helped me confirm a major premise in my book – that the number of time demands we can store effectively in memory is sharply limited. During a major tragedy, that number is further reduced.

Furthermore, as you shed time demands, the worst place to do that from is memory. At moments, I wound up feeling as if un-managed time demands were flying around me like a swarm of insects… out of control and taking up valuable energy and attention.

Method 2. Infinite To-Do Lists

When a tragedy triggers a surge in time demands, people who use one or many To-Do lists often respond by simply adding new items to their lists. This approach is better than using memory, for at least the items are being stored in a safe place.

If the number of time demands on the list is small (e.g. less than 10) then this technique might work well. However, the Type A person with 100+ time demands, perhaps shared between 10+ lists could experience a problem. Lists, are by design, infinite in length with respect to the time they consume. It’s quite possible that, under stress, someone is likely to add more items to their lists than they could possibly complete in a timely fashion.

Just adding more time demands invites disaster as the individual is forced to make a gut decision about how much time is truly available. The most likely result is over-commitment, which leads to stressful failures.

Method 3. A Manual Schedule

In my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity, I lay out the case for replacing single or multiple To-Do lists with a single schedule/calendar of time demands, but only when there’s an increase above a certain point. Some of the experimental evidence I provided comes from work done by Peter Gollwizer and others. Their work shows that a time demand with a due date and/or pre-allocated time-slot is more likely to be completely than one without.

However, in reality, given our current tools, there is an inevitable scaling problem. Managing a lot of time demands with a calendar is difficult and my anecdotal evidence suggests that most people who try to teach themselves how to do so end up failing. The overhead activity required to lay out a calendar and change in response to life’s interruptions is just too hard.

In my case, I had a major interruption that represented the tip of the iceberg. What followed were multiple interruptions that led to days filled with surprises. Manually manipulating a schedule under these circumstances would have been almost impossible, even if it were done in digital (rather than paper) form.

Method 4. A Breakthrough – An Auto-Schedule

Fortunately, I was a bit lucky. Early in February a colleague of mine shared a post with me related to a new software program she was using. She was achieving great results, she reported, with SkedPal.

I started using it amid great confusion. I had heard of it before, but the on-boarding materials left me further puzzled. As I struggled on, however, a clearer picture gradually emerged.

In short, SkedPal is a calendar optimizer. With the click of a button, it reschedules your calendar according to your preferences. Therefore, when your carefully laid plans are disrupted, (which happened to me multiple times per day right after my father passed away) you can survive by simply clicking a button and starting all over again.skedpal

How it does that was a revelation to me.

Firstly, SkedPal preserves your fixed time demands (i.e. appointments, meetings, conference calls, etc.) and only reschedules your flexible time demands. It can do this by relying on Outlook and Google calendar’s multiple calendar features. (It’s the first program to exploit these features that I’m aware of.)

Secondly, it translates your current preferences, practices and heuristics into what are called Time Maps. (An example might start with my habit of doing my best, creative work from 8 AM – 10 AM). Time Maps are easy to create, “heat maps” of your current practices and represent a powerful way for you to translate today’s behavior into rules that SkedPal can use. Therefore, when it’s rescheduling your calendar, it’s not just shoving stuff randomly into the future… it’s really optimizing your calendar. (This “little” feature took a few professors and several programmers thousands of hours to perfect. If you have a background in Artificial Intelligence or Operations Research you may understand that “little” is an understatement. It’s a breakthrough application that’s currently being patented.)

The results are outstanding. In a few seconds SkedPal’s engine pumps out a new calendar.

This means that you can click the Reschedule button as many times per day as you want and watch things fall into place, according to your Time Maps. As you go along, you keep refining your Time Maps so they become a better reflection of your priorities – as you discover what’s really been important to you all these years. You just never had the time, energy or bandwidth to put into words.

I found the time saved to been awesome. But there’s more. As my days went off in unpredictable directions, I found a new peace of mind. For the first time, I didn’t panic because I wasn’t hovering over my calendar, scrutinizing it as the day shifted unpredictably.

I learned that I could always check into SkedPal, and with a single click, have a brand new, feasible schedule. Even on those crazy days when I didn’t get to my calendar at all I was still OK. For the first time in my life, I had a calendar system that could forgive my inattention. All my time demands were sitting there waiting for me when I returned.

Everything I had to do was off my mind, managed in a system I could trust with all my time demands.

Thankfully, this whole episode confirmed a decision I made only weeks before my father passed away – one that I never had a chance to share with him. Based on my copious feedback to SkedPal’s founders, I was invited to join their  Advisory Board.

If you have read Perfect Time-Based Productivity you may recall my rant… that developers had it all wrong by not focusing on the right things… i.e. time demands and the 11 fundamentals. Privately, I feared that it would be years before some decent software comes along.

Little did I know… while I was pushing my book through to its completion, SkedPal was releasing its Alpha version. Thanks to Melanie, I was rescued.

These are all reasons I asked for permission to open up a free, private Beta trial.

The fact is, we need some help from someone like you.

As may tell from its Beta status, SkedPal is far from perfect. There is a long list of changes that need to be made to ready it for the general public, including changes to its Graphical User Interface (GUI), on-boarding assistance and help features.  Part of what we hope to learn is which of these changes are most important – a piece of information that can only come from real, live people like you using the product for your benefit, while giving us feedback.

So here’s the deal. In exchange for feedback, SkedPal is offering you free access to the current version. You’ll use it for your own benefit and see for yourself why I have become more than a fan.

Also, you’ll be joining a group / online community that I’ll be personally guiding. I’ll help you make the most of SkedPal and its features, plus learn from others who are just as productive as you are. There are a bunch of smart people out there who are using manual methods instead of SkedPal, and we’ll all be making the transition to higher productivity together.

Plus, you’ll share the direct link I have to SkedPal’s developers – a hotline for tech support that the public doesn’t receive.

If you would like to join my private Beta group called “Masters of Scheduling”, click on this link – http://wp.me/P3hu5l-eX and access my signup page. This community will form the core of those who Beta Test the program in this early stage.

Thanks for reading – I know these disruptions happen to everyone, but perhaps the struggle with a demanding schedule doesn’t need to be so hard.

See you inside the group,

Francis

P.S. If you want to forego my private Beta group and just try the current version of the software on your own without assistance, visit http://SkedPal.com. However, you will miss out on some good things… such as free lifetime upgrades.

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Posted in Master - Advanced Schedulers

Implementing Strategy? Try Holding Meetingless Meetings

Meetingless Meetings

What should executives do about their strategy execution problems? Here’s a simple idea: schedule time to execute strategy with Meetingless Meetings.

The idea is a simple one. After leaving a strategic planning retreat and assigning each project to an individual, block out time in each executive’s calendar for strategy execution. Using today’s scheduling tools, it would look like a meeting request from the CEO, set with the highest priority.

Except for one thing… there actually wouldn’t be a physical meeting, or even a virtual one. Instead, each executive would be free to engage in whatever strategy execution activity they deem fit for the duration of the “meeting.” It would be a non-negotiable commitment of time – an absolute requirement for every member of the team.

For example, a CEO might decide to have a Meetingless Meeting on Monday mornings from 10-1145 AM, immediately following the weekly executive meeting from 9-10 AM. Before 12PM, she could ask each executive to leave a short note describing what was accomplished during the Meetingless Meeting. They may have summarized a white paper while sitting alone at their desk. Or chaired a meeting in which a decision is made. Or coached a direct report whose performance is flagging. Whatever the activity is, the short note would describe the activity and explain the link to the aspect of the corporate strategy they were working on.

Why is such a meeting required?

According to the McKinsey Quarterly January 2013 article “Making time management the organization’s priority,” there are some powerful reasons to set aside specific time for strategic activity. Frankki Bevins and Aaron de Smet argue that “leaders who are serious about addressing… challenge (of not having enough hours in the day to get things done) must stop thinking about time management as primarily an individual problem and start addressing it institutionally.”

They are specific about the solution: “Senior teams can create time budgets and formal processes for allocating their time.” Not only should they treat time like money, but it must also be managed collectively. That is, it’s also a finite resource to be carefully allocated to high priorities.

They have observed something quite similar to Meetingless Meetings in a global chemical company. The top administrative assistant “allocates time of the CEO and the top team to specific issues and stakeholders.” She happens to “own the master schedule for corporate officers and uses it to ensure that te executive team meets on important topics.”

Furthermore, she “regularly checks to ensure that calendared time matches the stated priorities.” If there’s a mismatch, she asks rather pointed questions such as “Do we need to clear the decks to make more time for strategic priorities?” and “We haven’t been to Latin America yet this year – is that an issue?”

If she sounds like the kind of administrative assistant you would dream of having, read on.

She also “create(s) ‘quiet zones’ of minimal activity ahead of significant events” that require prior preparation. This is the germ of the idea for a Meetingless Meeting, which shines an even brighter spotlight on activities that otherwise would not occur. The added benefit of all executives working at the same time is that they can’t schedule meetings with each other during that time. Plus, they all benefit from seeing a buildup of weekly momentum.

According to the authors of the article, a recent study at a professional services firm shows that “senior partners were spending a disproportionate amount of time on current engagements, to the exclusion of equally important strategic priorities.” This problem afflicts all senior management teams I have ever worked with, but you don’t need a heaven-sent administrative assistant to get started. You probably don’t have a lot of time to train executives in better time management skills. Just go ahead and schedule the time to work psychologically together, but physically apart, on your highest priority but non-emergency activities. Call it a Meetingless Meeting if you will, but make sure that strategic progress is made by scheduling it in advance. It’s right in line with the words of Peter Drucker: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.”

 

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Posted in New Ideas / Research

Optimizing Your Time… What’s the Best Way?

The best way to optimize your timeRecently, over at the 2Time Labs blog, I wrote an article about optimizing your time. It’s an interesting read and it’s gotten a bit of traffic – if you have already completed the book it may explain a few of the trickier concepts from a new angle.

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Posted in What's Different?

Interview with Michael Einstein

MichaelEinsteinRecently I interviewed Dr. Michael Einstein via podcast on the topic of email overload. Specifically, we looked at what must be done to manage all the different channels of information we have access to, plus all those that are likely to be added in the future.

Take some time to listen in.

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Posted in Podcasts

Are You a “Type A” Personality? Here are Some Facts You Need to Know

type a time-stressRecently, I wrote an article based on the research in Perfect Time-Based Productivity. It addresses the behavior of Type A personaities, many of whom are high achievers, executives and top-class athletes.

Here is the article on Linkedin.

 

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Posted in Executives and Entrepreneurs