How to Help Client’s Understand Their Inbox Health

Ever wished you had a tool to help clients see the impact of their poor email habits? Here’s some applied research we conducted at 2Time Labs that might help.

Recently, I just concluded LiveLab 02, the second podcast in the new format at 2Time Labs. In this show, we devise an email health index.

In other words, it’s a quick and dirty way for anyone to gauge the health of their inbox using some key metrics. While most people use a single metric – number of unread messages – I think we could agree that this measure is quite crude. In other words, it masks a number of of key factors.

In this series of three episodes, I work with Dr. Michael Einstein to derive a reasonable way to estimate email health. Use it with your client to provide a useful way to check the health of their inbox and give them sound, objective feedback. Or, use the principles we incorporated to become a better coach in this importnat area that few have mastered.

Click here to listen in.

 

A Powerful Index of All Productivity Techniques

Several years ago, I stumbled across Dr. Melanie Wilson’s blog in which she was in the middle of a one year effort to personally test one new productivity technique per week. It was an impressive feat.

Fortunately. she has documented her findings in a book – A Year of Living Productively.

Her book was released in December and happens to mention the work we have done here at 2Time Labs. More to the point, if you’re a productivity coach, consultant, trainer or professional organizer, this is an indispensable resource.

In each chapter, she outlines her personal experience of each, summarizing the conditions in which the use of the tool in question would be ideal. This should save the time adviser hundreds of hours, plus bring them to a level of expertise that allows them to take care of client questions and concerns about alternate methods.

Don’t miss getting a copy of  this one-of-a-kind  resource for your shelf or reader.

Announcing: A New Podcast Format

During the month of December I’ll be undertaking a relaunch of the 2Time Labs podcast.

Gone for the most part will be the old format of interviewing an expert who has written a book, or about to publish one. In its place will be at attempt to create a useful product, service of job aid in every episode.

Or, to be more accurate, in each conversation. At the moment each one is spanning several episodes and takes more than a few hours.

Why so long?

In a nutshell, I have given up trying to cram a thought-provoking conversation into a short listening experience which amounts to little more than an infomercial. Instead, I invite an expert onto the show with an explicit goal – to solve a problem by producing an interactive “object” that a real person can use. In other words, it’s a design conversation, just like the ones I used to have as a researcher / consultant at AT&T  Bell Labs.

For those who are a bit younger, in its heyday “The Labs” were the top of the industrial research laboratories, enjoying reputation like Google Labs or similar outfits at Microsoft, Apple or Facebook. Every day, a bunch of bright people had thousands of conversations on all levels – from highly theoretical to abundantly practical. (A few won Nobel Prizes for the former.)

Way over on the latter end of the spectrum, I enjoyed these discussions. IN fact, I plan to replicate them on the podcast with my guest.

 

These aren’t short salesy chats… but you can find out more here, by listening to my introduction episode intended to describe what will happen in the next few weeks. I have taped four LiveLabs so far ranging over a total of about 10 hours and they are quite different from anything I have ever heard.

If you are a consultant, trainer, professional organizer or coach, this may be a good opportunity to hear us pull together existing ideas into sophisticated end-products. My guests and I are quite aware that each conversation is a risky proposition… our well-meaning deep dive could yield little of real value. Yet, here we are…trying our best.

Listen in here.

 

What do you tell clients to do with lots of low priority tasks? [Podcast]

A few months ago, I recorded a podcast with Augusto Pinaud on the topic of scheduling low priority tasks.

While that may sound like a trite topic, it’s anything but…these tasks accumulate leading to all worts of unwanted feelings and effects.

Tune into this recording in which Augusto shares his unique approach to dealing with tasks before they become a problem.

[Hint: The answer is NOT to just get rid of them.]

Listen in here!

 

How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect

The ideas behind the Zeigarnik Effect (explained in my book) are growing in importance. Your clients want to be free of the overwhelm it brings, mostly because they are unaware of how it impacts their peace of mind.

Furthermore, as we add new technology, it can increase the effect without realizing it, causing us to waste time trying to fix the wrong things.

This is where you come in as a consultant, trainer, professional organizer or coach. Time advisers can help clients or trainees avoid this problem. Here’s the article from the Jamaica Gleaner I wrote that may help.

How to Escape the Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever found yourself unable to fall asleep during a trying time at work? Or distracted in the middle of a conversation or meeting by thoughts about other stuff you still need to do?

If so, you may be a victim of the Zeigarnik Effect. Its exotic name comes from the Russian researcher who discovered it in the 1920’s while observing the behavior of waiters in a restaurant. Their ability to recall pending orders, but not the ones they had just delivered, caught her attention.

The disparity relates to the effect which bears her last name. It’s the nagging feeling you get once you mentally create a “time demand”: an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. Your subconscious, which stores each one for later retrieval, does more than sit back and wait for you to act. Instead, it begins to ping your conscious mind with a stream of reminders.

If this were to take place on rare occasions, it would be a cute phenomenon. However, if you are someone who is ambitious, you may find the reminders increasing until you start to experience a sense of overwhelm. After all, her research states that the way to get rid of the Zeigarnik Effect is to complete the task. For busy people, it’s impossible – they create hundreds. Like everyone else, they can only finish one at a time.

So, is there an escape? Fortunately, there is, according to recent research conducted at Baylor University.

Dr. Michael Scullin and his team compared two bedtime behaviors in laboratory experiments. Before falling asleep, one group of subjects wrote their to-do list for the next few days. The other recorded the tasks they accomplished during that

day. The result? This small change in technique helped the first group fall asleep faster by over 9 minutes. Why did this happen?

To understand the underlying reason, we must visit the University of Florida. Drs. Roy Baumeister and Ed Masicapmo added to Zeigarnik’s research, showing that the effect disappears when a person has a trusted system in place to manage time demands. This makes intuitive sense. There’s no need for your subconscious mind to interfere if it believes that all your tasks are being properly managed.

How does this apply to falling asleep faster? Well, offloading your tasks to a written to-do list is one way to assure your subconscious that you are on top of all your commitments. In other words, it trusts a piece of paper more than your ability to remember. Satisfied, it leaves you alone, allowing you to doze off.

But what if you possess a high IQ, genius-level memory? Can’t that be used? The answer is short but elegant – “Sure… if you happen to be a kid.” While I doubt that any readers of this column are under 12 years old, we should understand why they are an exception. The fact is, they only have a few time demands to recall. Plus, they have teachers, parents, friends, and siblings reminding them what to do.

It’s only later, when they get older, that problems occur. But they aren’t caused by age which is not a factor until their retirement years. Instead, long before then, the challenge is to find a method to cope with the relentless swell in time demands our generation faces.

What else can be used beside paper? Digital devices also work. In addition, some people offload their tasks to other folks, like their children. “Remind me to pick up your cake tomorrow, Junior.”

But the only approach which succeeds in the long term isn’t a single technique or tool but a mindset of continuous improvement, plus specific knowledge of how humans use such tools. Start by getting committed to implementing ongoing upgrades. Then, understand that your choices need to follow a pattern.

While researching the latest edition of my book I found that improvements happen in serial fashion, but they all start with an attempt to use mental reminders. When that technique fails, we graduate to better skills one step at a time, following this sequence.

Level 1 – Memory

Level 2 – Paper Lists of Tasks

Level 3 – Simple Digital Apps

Level 4 – Complex Task Management Apps

Level 5 – Digital Calendars of all Tasks

Level 6 – Administrative Assistants / Autoscheduling Programs

As you look over this list, identify your current level. With this knowledge, you can prepare yourself for the next upgrade – the one that will help you stay abreast of your dreams and aspirations.

However, be aware: the Zeigarnik Effect shows up at any level. It’s a fantastic warning mechanism which lets you know when a change is overdue. Unlike your friends, colleagues and even your conscious mind, it can’t be fooled. It will do its job, preventing you from falling asleep quickly until you wake up to its incessant, nagging call for greater personal productivity.

 

Checking Your Clients’ Temporal IQ

One of the signs of a consultant’s maturity in time-based productivity is their shift away from giving one-size-fits-all advice.

However, that leaves them wondering how to systematize the analysis that’s needed to give a client practical, custom solutions.

In this article for the Jamaica Gleaner, I argued that the idea of someones’ Temporal IQ can be useful, but only if it’s based on actual visible behavior (rather than invisible personality or cultural traits.)

Why You Must Boost Your Temporal Intelligence Quotient

We may laugh along with our leaders about our personal productivity and constant overwhelm, but those who have worked in developed countries know that top organizations take time seriously. It’s no coincidence. Corporate success relies on individuals who execute brilliantly, never run late and don’t forget to do their tasks.

But here in Jamaica, we are perplexed. We want the crime-free, growth opportunities that occur in a strong economy built on high-performing companies. Yet, when pressured, we continually excuse the fact that we are individually slack. For example, almost no-one complained when every meeting of the 2017 Jamaican Parliament started late.

Instead, tardiness is met with a joke. The brave few who insist on timeliness are sidelined as “anal” as boards, teams, and cabinets, tolerate behaviors that keep us mediocre. When this vibe is amplified across society, contributing to mayhem and murder, we scratch our heads: “What’s wrong with THOSE people?”

Nothing.

They are simply echoing low standards we all indulge in, even when we know we’d have to give them up if we ever migrated to a developed country.

Imagine – a Jamaican?

A few years ago at a U.S. Conference, I listened in agony as the top organizer explained why they needed to check my credentials twice before inviting me to speak. “We just had to ask”, she shared, “is he for real? Who would imagine that someone in Jamaica knows something about time management?”

Unfortunately, we have collectively earned this suspicion. Our economy hasn’t grown since the 1960’s – a case study for stagnation, resistant even to above-average outside investment. In terms of our macro-productivity, we fight to stay a step above last place among countries in the hemisphere.

But the conference organizer was no economist. She was talking about the lack of “micro-productivity” visitors see upon landing…”Jamaica Time.” It’s why they book two different taxis from their hotel to the airport, “just in case.”

We can rescue our reputation with a focus on a locally defined Temporal Intelligence Quotient (TemQ). It would help us understand the extremes: the Bolt-like performance seen in the world’s best companies versus our sloppy, everyday mediocrity. It could also provide us with universal targets to aim for, whether we happen to be an individual workman, CEO or Supreme Court judge.

For example, our Prime Minister could declare an “Arrive on Time Week.” Such a challenge would push us to discover and practice industrial engineering techniques needed everywhere in our economy to meet Vision 2030 and the productivity problems it describes.

Until then, how can your company use TemQ right away? Here are three suggestions.

Step 1 – Establish Time Usage Outcomes

Professionals with high TemQ set clear intentions for each hour of the day. A high percentage of their plans are effective, which means that they:

– use mobile, digital planning tools.

– create a daily schedule which includes travel and recovery times.

– insert buffer periods for interruptions and other unexpected events.

– track their time usage to effect improvements.

By contrast, individuals with low TemQ are hapless creatures of random impulses and miscues. They are often seen as a very busy but produce little of value as they bounce from one fascinating, “shiny object” to another.

Step 2 – Highlight Errors in Task Execution

As a professional climbs the corporate ladder and adds more to-dos, their productivity is challenged in new ways. Each increase brings them closer to a recurrence of old symptoms they thought they had overcome, such as forgetting important commitments, seeing tasks too long or missing due dates.

The person with low TemQ won’t even notice these mild issues until they turn into crises. However, their counterparts remain eternally vigilant and see these early signs of trouble.

Step 3 – Develop Meta-Skills

High TemQ individuals don’t panic when such unwanted symptoms pop up. Instead, they realize that they need an upgrade and go about diagnosing their habits, practices, and apps in a systematic way. In other words, they demonstrate the meta-skills needed to build added capacity – the only approach which keeps up with a continuously increasing workload.

Unfortunately, low TemQ professionals get stuck and never improve, slipping into a mindset which partly explains our stagnant productivity. After all, if we aren’t actively expanding our individual TemQ, why should our companies thrive and our economy grow?

Ecuadoreans had a similar challenge, estimating that lateness costs them 4.3% of their GDP. In response, they launched a national tardiness campaign.

The good news is that, unlike our Intelligence Quotient (IQ), we can all easily begin to improve our TemQ with practical improvements. There’s no reason for us to continue joking about a matter which has sharp life-or-death consequences. It’s time to invest, on a personal level, in the productive Jamaica we want to become.

 

 

“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!

One of the dilemmas facing trainers, coaches, professional organizers and consultants in time management is that they try hard to be experts, only offering simple or basic training in the field. It’s often a wholehearted attempt to simplify things for their learners.

However, this attempt often backfires for reasons I explain in the article I wrote for the Jamaica Gleaner. It’s right in line with this quote from my book:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the article which was first published in the Jamaica Gleaner.

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 Jamaicans Latin isn’t the same as teaching us patois. 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 analyse 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 Jamaican, 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.

Francis Wade is the author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity, a keynote speaker and a management consultant. Missed a column? To receive a free download with articles from 2010-2017, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

 

 

Coming Soon – The Audiobook version of Perfect Time-Based Productivity

This is just a heads up… I am nearing the final completion of the audio version of my book, Perfect Time-Based Productivity.

The graphic at left is a bit misleading as it shows the first edition cover, rather than the second.

It’s taken a lot longer than I thought to complete, but the end product should provide anyone who delivers training, coaching or consulting in time management with a powerful resource. Of course, it will be updated with all the recent ideas in the field, including my switch to using an auto-scheduler.

In addition, the French and Portuguese versions of the ebook are now available, with the Spanish version to be released soon.

 

Helping People Grow from Novice to Expert

One of the key tenets of the work here at 2Time Labs is that learners / coachees are not all made equal.

In other words, they vary from each other in important ways. A major factor is their skill in different behaviors.

I just recently released the second edition of Perfect Time-Based Productivity and once again, the following idea is core: adults have wildly different practices for managing time demands. (This fact is documented here.) And it’s not by accident…we are all self-taught.

In keeping with this philosophy, I came across a great article – When Do Novices Become Experts?

The author, David Didau, reinforces the idea that it’s folly to teach, coach or develop content for the Novice in the same way as the Expert. Take a look at the chart he has put together – it will change the way you think about helping clients improve their time-based productivity.

When Do Novices Become Experts

Is it better to schedule your life?

As a time adviser, you may be asked by your clients whether or not it’s better to schedule your life.

Probably the worst answer to give is a Yes or No. It will only take a few minutes for your coachee to Google the question and find lots of supporting evidence which contradicts your advice.

Instead, offer them a more nuanced answer… “It depends.” That’s the essence of the advice I gave to a similar Quora question.

Quora: Is it better to schedule your life?