Archive for the ‘Scheduling’ Category

Open Door Policy?

March 18, 2008

door-bartels-designer-sliding-door.jpgThe idea of an open door policy has become something like a religious belief. It has gone from a good suggestion to a badge of honor, and is now an established management dogma.

The fact is that the most productive managers DO NOT have an open door policy, and this with good reason. When taken to its extreme, managers think that they should be available to interruptions as long as there is no-one in their office. The impact of this unconscious decision is that a manager never creates a space in which they can be deeply productive, unless they come in early, stay late or come in on weekends.

I say to managers that they need to schedule their times to have an Open Door, and allow themselves to be interrupted only when there are emergencies. This takes careful scheduling, plus an effort to notify others about the exact nature of this “modified” open door policy.

The result, however, is more quality time for both the employee and the manager. The manager is able to give 100% of his attention to the times when he has to do uninterrupted deep thinking, and the times when he has the employee in front of him in need of his attention, without his mind straying to other activities. The employee gains by being able to gain the full attention of the manager.

A modified open door policy is a win-win for everyone.

Let’s meet 6 months from now

March 7, 2008

By my calculations, September 10, 2008 will be just about 6 months to the day, from today.

Here is a sure-fire way to decide if someone else is skilled at managing their time – set a phone call for September 10th, at 12:30pm.

Someone with a weak time management system close to that of a novice won’t be able to make the appointment. In fact, they might not even know what to do with it.

Some will get tricky, and say, “Remind me of it closer to the day.” When we rightly refuse to play the part of their reminder system, what will they do next? Others will demur saying, “I don’t plan that far out.”

The Green Belt merely schedules the engagement into their calendar, and makes the appointment.

Time Management Planner

January 30, 2008

introphotovf5.gifI was surfing around and found this Squidoo page that I think describes a very handy method for scheduling that uses only paper and pencil. Or, more accurately, it uses a diary system to manage time.

The creator, Carmen a.k.a. Clutterbugs, rightly makes the point that much of what we do is repetitive from week to week, day to day and month to month.

Her system offers three overlapping paper calendars that work together to show these different views – it’s a cool innovation.

While it won’t replace the electronic calendar, it can help a user to make the transition to the higher belt levels in 2Time, especially in the component of Scheduling.

The Problem of Not Scheduling

January 7, 2008

Many professionals only maintain lists of items to do, and don’t actually schedule anything other than appointments into their calendars. In the language of 2Time, they may be Green Belts at the skill of Listing, but Yellow Belts at the skill of Scheduling.

A typical professional’s schedule is below – let’s say his name is “Sam”. He is attending both meetings with Bob, his boss.

Sam’s Schedule

cal-1.jpg

Why can this approach create a problem? After all, most of the time management systems that exist only address using the schedule in a basic way. GTD takes it another step and advocates the scheduling of “contexts”, or in other words groups of activities such as:

  • @home
  • @computer
  • @meeting with Bob
  • @driving

These are pretty basic appointments that one has with oneself. Incidentally, I have noticed that there is no word in the English language for “an appointment with oneself”. At different times in this blog, I have used different words to describe the whole genre of scheduled activities, including both appointments with others as well as oneself. In this post, I’ll use the word “engagement”.

The problem with only having a list (or lists) of activities is a simple one – it is too easy for a list to grow out of proportion to the time that one has available when it’s not scheduled into a calendar. (more…)

Protecting the First Few Hours

December 17, 2007

coffee-cup.jpgRecently, I have been more and more careful to protect the first few hours of each working day. In a prior post, I mentioned that I had fallen into some bad habits, and fallen into the trap of checking email at every spare moment.

What I have also noticed is that my energy is very different at 8:00 a.m. than it is at 2:00 p.m. I am a real morning person, and being an energetic type, I usually work out for 1-2 hours each morning (6 days a week with one for rest). (more…)

A Hard Habit to Break

December 7, 2007

ist2_2380326_happy_mobile_computing.jpgOne of the more difficult habits to break when using Outlook is hard to change because of how the program is designed.

Here is the typical scenario:

  • Several pieces of email come into the Outlook in-box
  • Each of them share a single characteristic, in that they require about ten minutes of work
  • They have nothing else in common

Here is what I would really want to do, that as far as I can tell is not programmed into the latest version of Outlook. (more…)

Advanced Scheduling Skills

November 23, 2007

appt-calendar.jpgI have been experimenting with a new skill that I think that I will include as a new habit. It only makes sense, however, for 2Time users at or above the Orange Belt level – those who have begun to use their schedule to manage their time demands.

It comes from the observation that we all need to recuperate from intense efforts, much in the same way that runners must recover from long runs or intense sprints.

Therefore, as the logic goes, the working day can be set up as a set of intervals alternating between intense effort and recovery activity. (more…)

Outlook Enhancements — Wishing and Wanting

November 21, 2007

ist2_3187220_working_hard.jpgOne of the things that I wished Outlook would do intelligently is to link the contents of a time slots with the next logical time slot.

For example, I wish I could assign individual time demands to a particular kind of time slot, such as time that I spent at home. It would be able to understand that if an item were to be dismissed from the list of reminders, that it could be “forwarded” to the next appropriate time slot automatically. At the moment, the user has to reschedule every single time demand that has not been completed individually, instead of in bulk.

In other words, Outlook should understand that scheduled items that are not completed need special, intelligent handling and a greater choice of options. (more…)

Email: A Different Animal

November 19, 2007

inbox-email.jpgEmail is a problem for everyone who is concerned with being productive. It is a new medium and there is virtually no-one with 20 years of email experience.

Only recently have best practices begun to be developed for this difficult source of information. In the absence of these best practices, users end up with in-boxes of thousands of emails, not knowing what to do about this problem that only increases with each passing month.

Here are the current best practices:

  • Keep an empty in-box by processing every item
  • Allow email to come into the in-box only at specific, planned times of day
  • When faced with hundreds or thousands of backlogged email, copy them from the in-box to another folder and start with a fresh in-box
  • Touch email only once

These are fine principles, and I happen to follow them as much as I can each day. It is better, however, to also understand why the in-box is such a problem.

The problem can be understood at the level of the fundamentals, rather than just as a matter of practices. A decision to accept incoming items into an in-box is an open invitation to receive everything from spam, to pictures, music, requests, replies, FYI’s — and confusing mixes of all the above and more. Unfortunately, they don’t come tagged as such. Instead, they are unclear and sometimes intentionally misleading in terms of their time demand on the recipient.

The first few moments after receiving an email and reading it are spent deciding what the next action should be. In other words, a massive Emptying action has begun (to use the 2Time terms). This is the point at which I find myself getting stuck.

Some are easy – they are immediately deleted. Others contain important information which must be stripped from the email and stored in a safe place for future retrieval.
These are the easy emails to deal with. In terms of the 2Time fundamentals, the first are Tossed while the second are Stored and Tossed.

The vast majority of email, however, is more complex. Some represent actions that need to be immediately Listed or Scheduled. The most troublesome present dilemmas – the next action is not immediately apparent and requires some thought.

And here is the decision that kills most people: emails that are important but need further thought are left in the in-box, “so they don’t get forgotten”. This is not a problem when there are 1-2 such emails per day. However, increase that number to 10 emails per day requiring a few days of thought each, and in no time chaos ensues.

That initial, innocent practice ends up drowning the user who has no idea how to change course. The result is one we can all recognize in other people. There are some professionals who are simply incapable of responding to all their email. More often than not, important things fall through the cracks. They are not ill-intentioned… it’s just that their habits are ill-suited for the volume of time demands coming at them via email.

The solution is an upgrade of several practices, and then implementation of Warning and Reviewing practices to prevent breakdowns and to help evolve the system continuously.
Also, the following practices must be upgraded:

  • Listing – a folder or category must be created to be able to store all items that are under consideration (a Thinking About List) and items that are awaiting further action or information by others (a Waiting For List).
  • Scheduling – for these lists to work, however, they are best accompanied by scheduled times at which these lists are processed. Furthermore, these scheduled need to have alarms to ensure that they are indeed processed.

Also, items that require dedicated thinking or meeting time should be scheduled in the calendar immediately. For example:

Tuesday, October 23rd from 2:00 – 2:30 p.m. – Decide on how to respond to email from Mark.

In this way, it is much easier to accomplish the empty in-box. Several habits may have to be upgraded at the same time in order to get to that point, but these upgrades must happen all together for the objective of an empty in-box to be achieved. Once achieved, the higher belt users never allow their in-boxes to hold more than a screenful of items at a time, and they learn to empty it as soon as they can each day.

The essential habit to be broken is one that was learned in childhood – to remember to do stuff, I need to put it where I can see it. In other words, we learn to use the physical presence as a reminder.

Again, this isn’t a problem when the number of items is small. As the number grows, it becomes an impossible practice to maintain, leading to cluttered room, desk and in-box.
Using the practices of Listing and Scheduling are ways to reliably deal with large numbers of time demands – in fact, they are the only ways.

The Now Habit Schedule

November 8, 2007

Neal Fiore has a book that I haven’t read called “The Now Habit” that seems to be pretty interesting.

I say this because he has developed a schedule for himself that appears to conform to Yellow Belt scheduling, in the 2Time lingo. On his website you can see the schedule he has created for himself for each week. Luckily for him, each week looks more or less the same.

It is better than a mere schedule of appointments, but the items in the schedule are fairly broadly defined, which is good for creating a bucket of scheduled activities, but not so good for completing smaller time scheduled activities.