The Ideal Learning Environment

If you have ever played Angry Birds, then you know what it’s like to throw yourself into the deep end, without the benefit of any instruction or practice, and attempt to accomplish a tough objective. You also might know that in the right context, and even without any visible benefit, just the act of trying to get better at an admittedly stupid game can become quite addictive.

The game has had 450 million downloads.

Make no mistake about it… this is learning at it’s very best.

It got me thinking about the future of time management training. In the idea future, when a client comes to us for help, once the contract has been signed, what would the idea training environment look like?

First of all, they’d be playing games. Real-time, addictive, 3-D games that would immerse them in a made-up world in which the consequences of their actions would be felt in a matter of seconds. They’d be able to make and re-make choices just to see what happens, experiment with different approaches and make incremental upgrades to their current system. It would massively accelerate their learning, and allow them to examine what it would take to change habits, patterns and rituals without experiencing their failures directly.

Imagine how a flight simulator works for pilots… it would be the same thing for our clients.

Over at 2Time Labs we are taking on the challenge of coming up with that kind of training and making it available here on the MyTimeDesign blog.

Stay tuned…!

Where Do You Learn to be a Time Management Coach?

In a recent look around a well known time management guru’s discussion forums I saw a question that comes up frequently: “Can I use your stuff in my coaching business?”

The question is usually posed by someone who read the guru’s book or took his/her program, and sees how they could use it as an offering for their own clients.

The answer is usually the same: “Yes, if all you are doing is sharing information, as long as you keep our name on the stuff you use and don’t change anything. No, if you want to make any money.”

It’s a familiar song to anyone who is on the receiving end. Some do go ahead and use the stuff anyway, and hope that no-one finds out. They usually do it on a small scale, and never do more than dabble here or there. They definitely don’t accept a call from a Fortune 500 company to lead a seminar series to 5,000 people. Well, maybe some do, but most don’t: their conscience can only be stretched so far before it snaps them back like a rubber band.

Most just give up, and walk away.

For a few years, I have been looking for a decent source of training in this area without luck, making me think that most coaches are stuck delivering what I call “Time Management 0.0.”: disjointed tips, shortcuts, tricks, etc. This approach is not a rigorous one, and hardly stands up to the quality of other consulting offerings that include standardized processes, and refined techniques.

Here at 2Time Labs we have been engaged in publishing our ideas for 6+ years, and never quite intended to provide a solution for time management professions. Yet, the question we are asking ourselves is how much information and instruction should be provide to fellow coaches, and under what circumstances.

We understand fully that ideas are not copyrightable, and in our minds 2Time Labs is merely a conduit. However, when those ideas turn into language, forms, processes and training of different kinds… well, that’s another story. At some point, there will be a charge, but the question is… what’s that point?

I don’t have an answer to that question yet, and the fact is, we are better at figuring out great ideas related to time management and sharing them with the world than taking care of the commercial side of things. What we do know we have lots of stuff that can be converted into solid tools for time management coaches and that this kind of specific information is unfortunately very rare.

So stay tuned… we’ll continue to answer these questions in the next year or so.

Coaching in a World Without Time Management

A smart client may tell you in the very first session that there is no such thing as time management or time clutter.

They happen to be correct – don’t argue with them.

Time cannot be managed, and it also cannot become cluttered. It simply moves of its own accord from one moment to the next, and there is nothing that we can do to manage or de-clutter it.

Instead, you should know that what you ARE really doing is “time demand management,” or in other words, “time demand clutter consulting.” The objects that become cluttered, and therefore need to be managed, are time demands. (We don’t use the longer phrases because they are a bit confusing to clients, but our minds do need to be clear.)

At the same time, clients become confused by the amount that comes at them each day. They try different techniques to limit the flow, such as not using email. The problem, however, isn’t email, which is simply an efficient method of sending and receiving asynchronous messages.

The problem is that the number of time demands has increased. If you took away your email system and replaced it with paper, you’d have a similar complaint about getting too many paper memos. The problem must be solved at the right level, if it’s to remain truly and permanently solved.

Coaching Amidst a World of Stuff

The single most important distinction that you, a time clutter consultant must know like the proverbial bank of your hand is that of a time demand.

Your clients approach you for help from all kinds of angles, that seem to be confusing and have little in common:

“I get too much email.”
“I don’t have enough time to get everything done.”
“I am so stressed out – things are falling through the cracks.”
“I am suffering from informational overload”

What they don’t know, and must be taught, is that all of the above symptoms are related to the way they create, and manage time demands.

A time demand is an individual commitment to complete an action in the future. In some ways, they are like physical objects but in others, they are quite different.

Time demands:
– are always created by the individual (without exception).
– consist of a task, plus a perceived duration, and oftentimes an estimated start and end time / date.
– accumulate.
– are born in the mind, and may be stored there also (but not safely.)
– vary in length.
– disappear when the action is completed.
– can be transformed from mental objects to other representations such as items on a todo list, appointments, or reminders. When this happens, the mind may retain no trace of its creation.
– can be “moved” from one location to another in an individual’s time management system.

A good consultant is always working to improve a client’s methods for dealing with time demands. As the number of time demands grows, so should one’s capacity.

With these principles in mind, it’s much easier to consult with someone at any level of skill, as there’s only one thing you need to focus on when doing a Co-Diagnostic activity: “where are the time demands going?”

Where Do You Take Your Clients?

Here at 2Time Labs/ MyTimeDesign, we came up with a new way to distinguish the skills that a client moves through as they gain additional skills in time management.  To understand how this works, you can think of it in two ways:

1. As a client makes progress, they expand their ability to deal with greater volumes of time demands.  They use more refined skills, and experience fewer breakdowns of a basic nature.  They seem to accomplish a great deal in the eyes of others.  Here at 2Time Labs, we use a ladder borrowed from the Martial Arts belts, just because it’s a hierarchy that’s easy to understand.  A client might progress from White, to Yellow, to Orange and then to Green belt levels, for example.

2. To move from one level to another, we impose a high standard:  you must achieve a certain level of proficiency in 11 distinct disciplines.  We have done our best to establish observable and measurable activities that a novice can use to evaluate their current status and their progress over time.  Reaching a new belt becomes quite a much simpler endeavor when what’s needed to improve is clearly laid out in front of you.

Your job, then, as a time clutter coach/consultant is to move your client from one level to the next – assuming that they are in agreement!  Regardless of the method you use for measurement, I believe that there are certain broad behaviors that client must learn in order to move up any time management skill ladder.  Here’s what they are:

The Memory Phase

The client uses a great deal of personal memory to manage their time, and their tasks.  They are using a skill they honed in the education system in a habitual and automatic way, and routinely over-estimate their powers of recall.  Unless they live a very simple life, mishaps often occur.  At some point, life becomes too complex, the demands upon them become too numerous, or they just get too old to use this technique well.

A few decide to change their methods and move to the next level:

The List Phase

At this point in their development, the client has learned the habit of keeping lists, and knows that their memory is unreliable, even if they still use it from time to time.  They use lists of varying length and number.

All goes well until the number of time demands once again increases to the point where their methods are overwhelmed. They find that they must spend a great deal of time scanning their lists, and they must do so frequently in order to make sure that their mental calendar of events is appropriately updated.  (They typically only maintain an appointment book that indicates when they have meetings with other people.)

These reviews become increasingly tiresome and even unbearable, and the pressure of having to work with a mental calendar with so many items on it leads to lateness, missed deadlines, time crunches and other problems having to do with poor planning.

A few decide to upgrade their system, and move to the next level:

The Calendar Phase

The client now must incorporate electronic technology, which was optional in prior phases.  They use their calendar as a control center for all their major activities and only use lists to support activities that are scheduled e.g. a shopping list, or meeting agenda.  They juggle and change their calendar many times a day, which isn’t difficult given that it’s portable and electronic (e.g. on a tablet which offers the best tools today.)  They learn how to schedule activities with enough time between them to allow for the unexpected, and they start each week with an ideal calendar that they then modify accordingly.

They also have mastered their Capture Points (i.e. Inboxes of all kinds) and never allow them to decay into permanent places of storage.  Instead, they systematically empty these Capture Points so that the items in them never become stale before being removed.

A few decide to upgrade their systems, and are determined that there must be another level…  however, here at 2Time Labs we believe it hasn’t been defined.  Yet.

While the above phases are good for you to know as a coach/consultant, they aren’t very useful for clients to work with directly.  They are simply at too high a level to be operational.  At 2Time Labs, we have broken them down into baby steps, and you’ll have to do the same if you decide not to use our system.

That is, you must start with the big phases that clients must traverse, and cut them down into micro-steps that are easy to accomplish.  The big benefit is that once you share the steps with clients, they can see a pathway to success, and stay motivated for the duration of a long journey of continuous improvement.

P.S.  Here’s a background video on the reasons why one time management system doesn’t fit everyone, a fact that’s known by many professional organizers.