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much turn into an awful laidback environment where I couldn’t get anything done.

At first I laughed at and refused to engage in the local practice of calling ahead to “confirm” a meeting. After a few mishaps, I realized its practical value as a method to remind the other person they had a meeting in the first place. This tactic was about making sure you weren’t going to be the only one at the meeting. I had never had to do that in any part of the USA.

Humbled (and a bit humiliated), I didn’t know what to do to cope with my failures. After all, I used to be the expert in the front of the classroom, not the novice without a clue. Someone, somewhere must have solved this problem already, I reasoned, so I opened a new browser window after carefully saving a half-written post.

Googling away, I searched for terms like “developing country time management,” “extreme time management” and even “war zone time management.” Hadn’t someone figured out how to be productive in an unpredictable environment?

Maybe now, in 2014, such a book exists. But back then – nothing. Nada. Zilch. Just the same tired prescriptions I had given to others as a productivity workshop instructor:

“Follow these exact productivity practices. They work for me, and they’ll work for you.”

“You need the discipline to use these habits – find it, somehow.”

“There can be no deviation from this method – if you do, you have no right to expect success.”

Now, I felt a pang of guilt. My own mother had taken my productivity program years before and afterwards admitted: “I don’t need this stuff. It’s too much for me, son, I’m retired.”

Later on, I’d tell people, “When your own mother tells you that your baby is ugly, it’s probably time to listen!” In that moment, however, I had changed the subject, because everything I knew to say to rebut her objection sounded stupid. “Maybe that’s why I am no longer leading these programs,” I muttered.

Closing the window, I went back to writing my post on timewasting bureaucrats, but now, my anger had dissipated. They wouldn’t be fired, so why write about them?

I leaned back in my chair, staring at the ceiling.

Two things were once again swirling in my mind. And then, a third.

First, I saw a rubric. I had used one during a short stint in a white-collar sweatshop. The State of California had contracted with a company in Florida to score its ninth-grade standardized tests. Located a few miles from where I lived in Miramar, I figured I had nothing to lose, so I applied and got accepted, probably because I held the required Master’s Degree.

It turned out to be little more than a drudge, sitting in an air-conditioned office with a few hundred other graders, working on a computer, marking the English papers of fourteen-year-olds. Four hours in the morning, lunch, then four more hours in the afternoon.

“It’s what management consultants do when business is slow,” I joked to myself.

But during my single hour of training, I heard a word used over and over again that I had never heard before: “rubric.” Or, maybe I had come across it and forgotten. When I got home, I had to look it up.

Today, Wikipedia tells me that a scoring rubric is a “standard of performance.” My team of graders used a predetermined scale developed by experts to determine the level of skill a student demonstrated on a standard, handwritten test. Our managers hammered home the mantra: “Just follow the rubric!” They were serious, I discovered. Apparently, the software we used tracked our use of the rubric, and those who didn’t follow it were soon asked to leave.

Second, I remembered a workshop a friend of mine had invited me to deliver earlier that year. He used something like a rubric, called a “competency matrix.” The ones he put together for his training looked like ladders ranging from low to high levels of performance.

Thirdly, I realized that the vast majority of Jamaicans had never attended a time management class of any kind. Not that this is a special case – it’s true for most of working adults around the world. But in Jamaica, it led to a deep gap between their skills and those of North Americans.

As these three thoughts bounced around, I said to myself, “I need a ladder – one that touches the ground. The real ground.”

It would be a blend of rubric and competency matrix, for time management skills. At the bottom would be weak skills, and at the top, world-class skills.

Now, I leaned forward, staring at my imaginary ladder. I could see someone moving from one level of skill to the next, seeing the next step clearly and directly.

I knew from triathlon swim training that it was essential to focus on one skill at a time. Terry Laughlin, the Total Immersion swim instructor, made that clear in his books and videos, which I loved.

But then, a doubt entered: “How does that help me?” I paused and imagined that I could find space on this ladder that I needed to climb – a way to get better.

With that vague answer in mind, I clicked to close my bureaucrat rant and opened a new post. Out came my first ladder, on the topic of “Capturing,” right in the middle of my blog on moving back to Jamaica, where it didn’t belong. (“Capturing,” as I described it then, is our way of “writing down new tasks.”)

I started by writing out the worst behaviors and the best, at the bottom and top. Then, I filled in the gaps,