Bypass surgery is complex, requiring years of training to determine the handful of simple cuts needed to complete the procedure effectively. It’s the reason why neither Band-Aids nor your steak eating skills could ever get the job done.
In the chapters to come, I’ll introduce you to another complex system: the everyday combination of habits, practices and rituals you use to manage your time. But it’s not just about some cool insights. One thing I learned from reading swim coach Terry Laughlin’s book is that while you’re sitting down to read its pages, you aren’t getting better. You start getting better only after you close the book, make your way to the pool with a superb improvement plan and jump in the water to implement it.
By the end of this book, you’ll also have in your possession a superb, Leonardoesque plan for improvement: simple, but sophisticated. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. said, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
In Part One, you’ll get the background knowledge you need to make this journey safely. The research I’ll share might confirm some of your suspicions – you’ll learn that time management doesn’t exist, because time cannot be managed. Instead, you’ll learn that all these years you have been managing something called a “time demand” an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.
You’ll also discover an astounding fact: you started creating time demands as a pre-teen, just after you discovered the concept of time (at around ages seven, eight and nine). By doing so, you sparked an awesome period of development that changed the course of your life. During the following years, you also began to craft personal methods for managing time demands, laying the foundation for every success you have experienced as an adult. I’ll share research that reveals the fact that we can’t escape the human need to create time demands and keep them alive: we need them to achieve our goals, aspirations and dreams.
Furthermore, your discovery of time demands will help you understand why gurus, academics and trainers have been so confused, even as you find a way to rise above the contrary advice that’s been given by them over the years.
To back up this learning and sort out the knowledge from different disciplines, I’ll link you to my Lab Notes, which are included at the end of this book. There, you can delve into the logic I used to arrive at these and other conclusions and sink your teeth into the academic research that backs them up. Where I used intuition in the absence of hard evidence, I’ll let you know, so that you see where all of these ideas are coming from before you apply them. A few people may want to visit the source materials listed in the References, which include the sources most relevant to this book. My website’s Library also includes references to the cover pages of over one hundred additional papers. See http://bit.ly/WLy6EY.
In Part Two, I’ll take you through an actual improvement cycle in which you can start making real-time changes. We’ll tap into your power to innovate in the area of time-based productivity, which you might have set aside in the last few years. Slowing down the rapid but forgotten process you used as an adolescent, you’ll do an in-depth assessment of your current methods. In order to do this assessment, I’ll explain what world-class behaviors look like through seven core skills: Capturing, Emptying, Tossing, Acting Now, Storing, Scheduling and Listing.
This is not just an intellectual exercise – you will define new targets and plans right away. At the end of the seventh assessment, I’ll show you how to bring these plans together into a single Master Plan that’s feasible and inviting, even though it may span several months or years.
While your plan at the end will be simple, it will be based on a sophisticated understanding of how human beings manage time demands, and more importantly, the results of your assessment. Your new self-knowledge will be the primary driver: prepare yourself to discover the complexity of what you do each day and, perhaps, the degree to which you skills were developed unevenly in the past. This, you’ll find, is typical: for most of us, it’s the product of a teenage mind working on its own without help of guidance. Rube Golberg meets MacGyver.
An accurate self-evaluation will let you take some important shortcuts on your path of improvement. You’ll find yourself conserving time and energy as you focus on the handful of improvement activities that make the biggest difference, rather than trying to do too much at once. Your skill at defining a feasible Master Plan is key.
For some, the day you complete the plan will be a good time to lay down this book and take a pause, as Part Three looks at advanced topics that help you implement it. In these chapters, you’ll take a deep dive into “the flow state” and the reasons why it’s important to be aware of this high state of productivity. Then, I offer four advanced skills: Interrupting, Switching, Reviewing and Warning – that you may also include in your Master Plan. They also represent skills that were developed in your teenage years.
The last three chapters are meant to prepare you for real-world challenges. As professionals, we are bombarded with new productivity ideas, can’t find the software and hardware tools we really need and face obstacles to being effective in the workplace. You’ll learn how to navigate these issues.
As I mentioned in the FAQ, along our entire journey, we’ll have a lot of help from researchers in multiple fields. As professionals, it’s important we work with facts rather than anecdotes, balancing science with intriguing stories. Bringing findings from different fields together in one place is the only way to gain the insight we need to create a powerful Master Plan that doesn’t ignore a single possible improvement.
To help pull this plan together, you will be completing several forms: the most recent versions are available by download from the following page on my book’s website – http://goo.gl/Ohe9ju. You will use them to complete your self-evaluation, drawing a profile of the methods you use today.
As important as your Master Plan and current profile are, you should finish this book with much more than a plan on paper. My ultimate goal is to give you a clean start in developing your time-based productivity skills. With it, you can fix problems, alleviate unwanted symptoms, and achieve unforeseen peace of mind. You can also use it to prepare yourself for a future that’s likely to bring more time demands than ever before through new 24-hour-a-day technology that can never, ever be turned off.
What I want for you is a new beginning: some solutions to hard problems that give you a way to reboot your improvement efforts with a fresh set of insights and newfound energy. More than a mere method: a new mindset.
It’s just what I wanted after running into problems in 2006: a way to begin again.