Posted on Leave a comment

Strengthening your executive skills is a lifelong process


Executive skills are critical in today’s world because life is getting more and more complicated with increasing numbers of choices and decisions to make and less time in which to make them. The ability to set goals, plan and prioritize, and stay on course is vital if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed.

In fact the executive skills I’m describing seem close to what we used to teach managers or executives in workshops and business students in college. The functions of a manager are planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling – and includes innovating, decision-making and representing.

When we trained managers we tried to show them how they should plan, organize, staff and so on in order to become better managers. In retrospect, it would appear that some students were already good in those areas because of some highly developed brain skills. In fact the prefrontal cortex is sometimes referred to as the CEO of the brain, drawing on the feedback from other areas of the brain and making the decision whether to take one course of action or another.

Although there are similarities between the management functions that we teach and executive brain skills, the executive skills, as we are describing them here, relate to brain skills acquired through normal development. They are located in the prefrontal cortex and are the last areas of the brain to develop in late adolescence or early adulthood. The frontal lobes themselves, thought to be the main areas where the executive skills reside, require 18 to 20 years to develop. Some of the skills are developing at 5 to 6 months of age. By age 24, they are thought to be fully developed – or hardwired – some stronger than others.

But like math and reading, these skills can be taught and learned as children grow older. They are not genetic. When a baby is born she has no ability to control the undeveloped and primitive emotional circuits. The baby must learn from the fully-developed brain of the parents or others through one-on-one interactions with them.

As many as half of North American children have poor self-regulating skills by the time they get to school. It shows up in high rates of attention deficit disorder or ADHD among other problems. It is also claimed that some of this is traced to the increase in neurotoxins, such as mercury, air pollution and PCBs passing through the umbilical cords.

Executive skills can still be strengthened when we are adults, and I’ll talk more about that later. But it’s easier to strengthen them in childhood if the parents role model appropriate behavior. Our brains are malleable or plastic, and are capable of changing throughout life. But there are two main growth periods, one in pre-adolescence, say up to 5 years old, and another during their teens. (100 billion cells by 5 years old followed by pruning, then more growth.)

A parent can design games and tasks that help develop the various executive skills that the child is weak in. It’s a lot easier when the child is young than it is when they’re twenty and fully developed. Change can still take place as we age, and we will discuss this in future blogs. In the meantime, if you want to read up on executive skills and their impact on learning, I would recommend Smart but Scattered by Peggy Dawson and Richard Guare. It is directed primarily at parents and takes one skill at a time and discusses ways of working with your child to strengthen that skill.

Posted on Leave a comment

Strengthening your “Executive Skills”

Sometimes referred to as” habits of the mind”, a person’s “executive skills” are those Brainbrain-based skills required to execute tasks – that is, getting organized, planning, initiating work, staying on task, controlling impulses, regulating emotions, and being adaptable and resilient. These skills primarily reside in the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain that helps you manage complex problems, goals and self-control.

People with weak executive skills, then, are those who have trouble getting organized, managing time, planning ahead and staying focused. They tend to be impulsive, procrastinate, and get easily sidetracked.

If a child had these characteristics they would probably diagnosed as having ADHD. Many researchers believe that ADD and ADHD are disorders of executive skills. All agree that if the child has ADHD at least some executive skills will be impaired, such as the ability to pay attention and stay focused, manage their time, and stick to one task for any length of time.

Strong executive skills are critical in today’s digital age of speed because life is getting more and more complicated with increasing numbers of choices and decisions to make and less time in which to make them. For this reason, I believe that time management strategies must focus less on environmental control and more on internal control. We cannot control how the world is changing, neither the pace of life nor the 24/7 connectivity and constant bombardment of information. But we can change how we react to this change. And although some of that may still be physical, success in the future will depend more on what’s going on in your mind, body and spirit than what’s going on in your office.

The exact number of executive skills has yet to be determined. Smart but Scattered by Peggy Dawson and Richard Guare (The Guilford Press, 2009) identify 11 executive functions. Work Your Strengths by Chuck Martin, Peggy Dawson and Richard Guare (AMACOM, New York in 2010) describe 12 executive functions. A New Understanding of ADHD in Children & Adults:Executive Function Impairments by Thomas E. Brown (Routledge, May, 2013)  proposes 6 separate clusters of executive functions. This makes more sense since several of the executive functions are similar, and the more detailed you are, the more open to error you are as research in this area continues.

Regardless of the number of skills, they are generally those essential to effective self-management or time management, and they can be strengthened. In next week’s blog I will pass along some information on how you can use your mind to strengthen weak executive skills in order to manage your time more effectively. The battle in the mind has begun.



Posted on Leave a comment

When you leave the office, the interruptions follow

imagesWe are ill-equipped to deal with the onslaught of interruptions introduced by technology. Our brain’s natural inclination is to react to them. We coped with this in the old days by isolating ourselves from interruptions by closing our office door, having our calls screened or intercepted or by going to a coffee shop where no one could contact us.

With the advent of the cell phone, e-mail, texting and portable devices, interruptions now follow us wherever we go. We are at the mercy of our own ability or inability to resist the urge to answer our smart phones, check incoming e-mail or respond to text messages.
The battlefield, where it is determined whether we will lose the quest for personal productivity, has shifted from our office to our brain.

Although technology is evolving exponentially, our brains are not. The allure of e-mail, according to one techno-psychologist, is similar to that of the slot machine: You have intermittent, variable reinforcement. You don’t know when you will be next rewarded so you keep pulling the handle.

There are different theories on willpower. Originally it was thought that willpower was like a muscle that was easily depleted. And research backed this up. But newer research also suggests we have as much willpower as we expect we have. If you believe you have the willpower to resist interruptions, you will have it. Sort of like the placebo effect.

This latter theory also seems to be backed up by research conducted at the University of Rochester as a follow-up to the marshmallow experiments of the 1960s. In the experiments of the 1960s, children were given a marshmallow and told that if they could resist eating it for a few minutes they would get two marshmallows. Those who resisted the longest, showing the greatest self-control, were more successful later in life.

The Rochester experiments involved giving one group of children old used crayons and telling them if they resisted playing with them, they would be given new ones. But they never received the new ones. Another group was told the same thing but the researchers made good on their promise of new crayons. When they all took the marshmallow test afterwards, the group with a good experience behind them resisted eating the marshmallow for 12 minutes. The other group, who obviously had lower expectations, lasted only 2 minutes.

Although our brain hasn’t evolved recently, perhaps it doesn’t have to. We already have a brain capable of resisting temptation – although it may need strengthening – and we can still do a lot to remove the source of the temptation.

Removing the source of temptation could involve turning off your handheld devices while you work on priority projects, keeping the paperwork, to do lists and other distractions out of sight while working on a specific task, and leaving your cell phone at home if you decide to work in a coffee shop. You could also do all your priority work in the same place — one devoid of distracting scenery, pictures or paraphernalia so your brain gets to associate that space with work.

Resisting temptation might involve not going online or checking e-mail before 10 AM, ignoring a ringing telephone when you’re talking with family and friends, and resisting any urge to buy electronic devices that you really don’t need. (After all, who really needs a smart watch when they already have a smart phone? It’s much more important to have a smart brain.)

Self-discipline or self-control, focus, attention, prioritizing and planning are essential if we are to remain effective in this digital age of speed. These are functions of our executive center in the prefrontal cortex area of our brain. That’s why I claim that the battlefield has shifted from the office to the brain. In the next few blogs I will be discussing how we can strengthen our cognitive skills, and in particular, these executive skills that are so critical to the effective use of our time.

Posted on Leave a comment

Is technology changing the way we think – and live?

brainmachineOne thought stands out from the writings of Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s –“The medium is the message.” Step ahead 50 years and that statement now seems prophetic. The medium is the electronic technology such as e-mail, and as we remain focused on the messages we receive, the medium takes over — impacting how we manage our time and our lives.

There is an expression I used for over 30 years: “We are so busy doing things that we don’t realize we’re not getting anywhere.” I’m sure I didn’t come up with this originally since it’s doubtful I’ve ever had an original thought in my life. But combined with McLuhan’s statement, it warns us that we should not be so focused on the beauty of the trees that we are unaware of the dangers of the forest.

Technology is a beautiful and wondrous thing. We can shop online, do online banking, send electronic greetings to our family and friends, download music, watch movies on our laptops, dictate to our computers using voice-activated software, and read electronic books on portable handheld devices — among hundreds of other things unavailable in Marshall McLuhan’s lifetime.

I see nothing wrong with reading e-books or performing any of the above activities with the aid of technology. But I do question what’s happening to us if we stop reading altogether, remain cocooned in our homes, infrequently meet personally with friends and relatives, and spend more time watching movies than interacting with our children.

Nicholas Carr, in his 2010 book, Shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains, claims he has noticed changes in his own reading. He loses concentration after a page or two, becomes fidgety, loses track of the storyline and looks for something else to do.

The ability to focus is one of the most critical brain functions according to Barbara Strauch, author of The secret life of the grown-up brain. And this ability depends on the strength of our executive skills, which are currently under attack by the unrelenting impact of technology.

Multitasking taxes the brain, and gets progressively worse as we age. Have you ever been distracted by a telephone call only to forget what you were going to do before the distraction? The other morning I found myself brushing my teeth with after shave lotion! (But others might attribute this to senility.) Research indicates you can have several motor programs running simultaneously, such as steering a car, chewing gum and reaching for a cell phone; but you can only focus your conscious attention on one thing according to Shelley Carson, author of Your creative brain, because your brain thinks sequentially.

Our lifestyle seems to be changing to one of constant rushing to get more things done, and researchers studying people’s behavior at traffic lights have spotted people combing their hair, applying makeup, eating, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones and even using laptops. To quote Barton Sparagon of the Meyer Friedman Institute in San Francisco, “Hurrying is a struggle against time — and that’s unhealthy.” And Faith popcorn, author of The popcorn report, claims “Speedeating has developed into a fine art.”

Cramming more activities into a day causes stress, and stress causes sleeplessness, and lack of sleep causes impatience and the ability to concentrate. It’s a vicious circle. Is technology to blame? No, we are to blame. Because we failed to heed Marshall McLuhan’s warning that the medium is the message.

In my next blog I will describe how this is affecting our time, our health and our personal productivity, and what we can do about it.

Posted on Leave a comment

Holistic Time Management and Technology

The Best Things in Life are Free from Technology:
A case for holistic time management.

Holistic Time ManagementA heading of an article in the May 17, 2012 issue of the Toronto Star caught my attention – “Outsourcing Life.”
It’s true. We’re outsourcing all the enjoyable, time-consuming things that make us distinctively human – so we can free up time for the mundane, work-oriented drudgery that makes us robots to technology.

Why waste time in a leisurely shopping spree with a friend when you can get someone else to do it for you? Better still, don’t leave your computer – spend a few more clicks and a few more dollars and have it delivered.

Sure you enjoy gardening; but look at the time it consumes. Hire someone instead. And walking may be good exercise, but why walk when you can have the Internet? And don’t forget “laundry on wheels”, grocery delivery, on-the-spot car washes and the many errand services that will do all the running around for you. Play your cards right and you may never have to leave home again. You have an entertainment box, digital access to any place in the world, and 5000 friends on Facebook. What more could you ask for?

Think about that for a minute. We are indeed outsourcing our lives for the sake of efficiency. The ultimate efficiency would be not having lived at all!

Holistic time management is hanging onto the whole – doing things, sharing things, enjoying things, and experiencing the emotions that go along with them. At the rate we are “progressing”, soon all our laughter, enjoyment, grief, and feelings of love and affection might be outsourced as well.

Yes, I am hanging onto my paper planner – and my friends – and my hobbies – and my long walks. I buy my own groceries, make my own phone calls, visit my friends in person and waste time along with my family. That’s what life is all about. It’s not about cramming as many activities as possible into each hour or expanding the workday or being available to others 24/7.
Sure, even holistic time management involves productivity. But productivity to me is producing more of what’s important, meaningful and enjoyable to myself and others. I can’t see how racing the clock, being sleep-deprived, anxious and stressed-out, emotionally drained and not being able to enjoy everything life has to offer as being productive.

Outsourcing, multitasking and technology are not the cause of our problems. But, these things were meant to be used as we embrace life. Life was never meant to be used to embrace these things.

Read more articles on Holistic Time Management.

Posted on Leave a comment

Time Management for People with ADHD

Add structure to your life

Time Management for ADHDPeople with ADHD normally are not good time managers and are frequently disorganized. The underlying neurological problem makes it difficult to pay attention, sustain effort and complete tasks. Most ADHDers do better with structure. So use a planner for your goals, action items and appointments. Schedule short periods of time to work on your projects. Write everything down, Make notes when talking on the telephone or in meetings. Never rely on your memory. And use timers or alarms to signal when it’s time to start or stop working on a specific project or activity. In short, make your life as structured as possible.

Develop a time policy

It help get things done on time if you develop a routine, pattern or time policy for working on the different tasks or activities. For example, in the morning, until the break, work on your priority task for the day before checking email or anything else, After the break, you can return any phone calls, check and respond to email, and initiate any calls for information or to set up meetings. Immediately after lunch you can work on your priority tasks again. Following the afternoon break, you can once again handle your email, return calls, work on routine tasks from your “To Do” or “Action” list, and check your plans for the following day. Set up a routine that will work for you.

Allow enough time

Most ADDers underestimate the amount of time a task or activity will take. A good policy is to allow about 50% more time your best estimate. This 50% factor applies to meetings and commuting & traveling as well as scheduled activities and projects.

Exercise is good for the brain

When scheduling projects, tasks or activities in you planner, be sure to include time for regular exercise. Exercise is good for the brain as well as for physical health, and according to Dr. Hallowell in his book Delivered from Distraction, it is an excellent treatment for ADHD, depression, and most mental ailments.

Prepare the night before

If you have a problem remembering to take items with you in the morning when you leave for school or work, get everything ready the night before and leave it by the front door (If that’s the exit you use.) If there are items that you cannot prepare in advance, or that must remain refrigerated, stick a note to the materials by the door as a reminder. If you take a computer bag or backpack, you can pack everything the night before. If you only have to take small items such as coins or keys, you might by a door hanger containing zipper pockets or pouches. One such item is advertised at Also, review your planner the night before, taking note of any activities you have scheduled that require materials.

Everything in small doses

Work gets done faster in sprints than marathons. There is less opportunity for interruptions, distractions or mental excursions. For example, work on major projects an hour at a time, file for 10 minutes at a time, check email 20 minutes at a time, and make phone calls 3 or 4 at a time. And take short breaks. If you’re one of the few who can focus without distractions for hours at a time, fine. Otherwise, handle everything in small doses.

Diagnostic criteria Time management strategies
Difficulty getting organized Build the habit of writing down everything in your Taylor Planner. This includes things to do, assignments, due dates, follow-ups, important contacts, and more.
Chronic procrastination Block off chunks of time in your planner to actually work on the major tasks; don’t leave them on your “To Do” list. Schedule important tasks in your “prime time.”
Not completing projects Estimate how long the project will take, add about 50% more than this, and schedule enough one-hour appointments with yourself during the week to actually work on the project until it’s finished.
Easily distracted, Trouble focusing When you are working on a scheduled task, turn off any radio, close the door if you have one, engage voice mail and ignore email until you have finished that 1-hour segment.
Tunes out, problem listening As your mind starts to wander, try to keep it relevant to what the speaker is saying, such as guess his or her conclusion, summarize what has been said or evaluate the information. Eliminate background noises.
Impulsive, changing plans & priorities Write everything in your planner in ink. Pencil indicates something is tentative and too easily changed. Only schedule time for the priorities and leave routine items on your “Action List.”
Trouble starting Make it a habit to start your priority project first thing in the morning during your prime time – before you check email or do any other work.
Chronic lateness Record the time you have to leave the office or home, not just the time of the appointment, meeting or event. Always allow about 50% more time than you think the trip will take.
Forgetfulness Write everything into your planner. Use yellow sticky notes to highlight urgent items you must do. When interrupted, write down what you are working on so you can resume the task.
Daydreaming Work for shorter periods of time with frequent breaks. Stand up and stretch whenever your concentration starts to drift.
Needs immediate reinforcement Write everything in your planner and cross off items on your “Action List” as you complete them. Put a checkmark through the scheduled tasks. Reward yourself when you complete a project . (Coffee break etc.)
Frequently has self-esteem problems Remind yourself frequently of all the things you have accomplished by leafing through past pages of your planner.
Needs direction, structure Besides the planner, use a Personal Organizer to make notes on telephone call, meetings, & assignments.
Often lets little things slide, like remembering birthdays Place colored self-adhesive labels in the daily “Follow-up sections of your planner, with notations such as “Joan’s BDay” or “School play.”
Poor sense of time passage Set alarms on your smart phone or PDA to indicate when the time scheduled for tasks is over. Or use a desktop clock with alarms.
Poor time management skills Use the strategies outlined above, and read the book “Making Time Work for You” by Harold Taylor. (2011 edition, available on this website)

If you’d like to read about ADHD in relation to technology check out this article from our blog

Posted on Leave a comment

What is Time Management


What is Time Management

What is time management? We should define time management and distinguish it from personal organization, because the terms are frequently used to describe the same thing. Both organization and time management as we know it today have their roots in the scientific management era of the 20th century, during the period of rapid industrialization.


is the act of rearranging items that are in a disorganized, cluttered state so that everything can be retrieved quickly with less effort, maximizing both their utility and visual appeal.

Time management

  • Refers to increasing both the efficiency and the effectiveness of individuals and organizations through the organization of tasks and events by using tools such as planners and computers, and techniques and processes such as goal-setting, planning and scheduling.
  • Effectiveness refers to producing significant results. Efficiency refers to doing a task with little wasted effort. If a task does not produce significant results, it is not effective. It is either a very low priority task or an unnecessary task. It would be better delegated to someone else or ignored. Efficiency is doing a task in the best possible way while effectiveness is doing the best possible tasks. So we should always be concentrating on tasks that are effective, and doing those tasks efficiently.
  • From a corporate viewpoint, the purpose of time management is to increase productivity and ultimately, profit. From an individual standpoint, its purpose is to spend less time on the things we have to do so that we will have more time to spend on the things we want to do.
  • The major difference between organizing and time management is that in general, organizing deals with things and time management deals with activities that have a time dimension. Time management is more a thought process than it is physical activity. As Peg Dawson & Richard Guare describe time management in their book, Smart but Scattered, (2009) it is the ability to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines.
  • Time management and organizing go hand in hand. You can’t do the laundry efficiently & effectively if you keep tripping over the laundry basket. Your materials have to be organized. In the same ways, you can’t perform a task in the office efficiently if you can’t find the information you need. So we normally do not separate the two. We look at organizing as a part of the time management process. In fact if you are not organized, you will waste time.
  • There are many time management strategies. Each person selects those strategies that will work for him or her, and arranges them into a system. A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole. And the only time management system that will work perfectly for you is one that you design yourself or at least one that you adapt to your own needs.


What is Time Management – summed up:
Time management refers to increasing both the efficiency and the effectiveness of individuals and organizations through the organization of tasks and events by using tools such as planners and computers, and techniques and processes such as goal-setting, planning and scheduling.

Key points to take away:

  • Both organization and time management as we know it today have their roots in the scientific management era of the 20th century, during the period of rapid industrialization.
  • The major difference between organizing and time management is that in general, organizing deals with things and time management deals with activities that have a time dimension.
  • We normally do not separate the two (time management and organizing). We look at organizing as a part of the time management process.
  • There are many time management strategies. Each person selects those strategies that will work for him or her, and arranges them into a system.
  • The only time management system that will work perfectly for you is one that you design yourself or at least one that you adapt to your own needs.
Posted on Leave a comment

How to get Unstuck – Taking Control of your Life

How to get unstuck in life

Your mission helps determine your goals which require a plan that is expressed in the form of a schedule, which enables you to take control of your life and keeps you on target and directs you to your desired destination.

Key points to take away:

  • Micro time management is more concerned with quantity whereas macro time management focuses on quality. People looking for “quick fixes” tend to focus on the micro but to truly be on target you must understand and implement macro ideas as well.
  • We should have goals in writing. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, time-framed, in writing, cover all areas of your life, reflect you and not what others expect of you, and finally they should be scheduled.
  • You should have a written mission statement. Your mission is the why and your goals are the what.Personal policies are important as they will help us to say no when needed. They also reflect our values, save time when we are confronted with difficult situations, and help us to stay consistent with our mission.
  • In order to achieve your goals they must be broken down into small chunks and scheduled into your planner. Goals that aren’t scheduled are merely a glorified “To Do” list.

Micro vs. macro time management

We have looked at the beginnings of time management and how companies were looking to increase productivity through time studies, organized workplaces, standardized procedures and incentives. Unfortunately this quest for getting more done in less time has followed us into the modern era, and it’s easy to get sidetracked by what we refer to as micro time management ideas.

Productivity is a measure of output per unit of input – such as the number of widgets manufactured per hour or the number of units sold in a day. A person can be more productive if she gets things done in fewer hours. But we don’t know the value of some of the things she gets done.

We do know that being busy does not necessarily mean that you’re being productive. And even though productivity is important, improving productivity still doesn’t guarantee success. Getting more things done in less time says nothing about the quality of those things. Micro time management is concerned with getting more things done in less time, thus increasing productivity. Macro time management, on the other hand, assures you that you are getting the right things done.

For example, developing life goals, and long range plans are macro. Reducing interruptions or improving e-mail and meeting efficiency are micro. Career choices, life balance and lifestyle are macro. Office organization, file management and the use of technology are micro. Micro concentrates on how to do things. Macro concentrates on what things to do.

Both micro and macro time management are important. But when you launch a time management program for yourself, be sure to start with the macro ideas. It’s better to be doing the right things inefficiently than the wrong things efficiently.

Goals will get you started

The main objective of this section is to help you to set goals, plan, schedule, and prioritize. Goal-setting, planning and prioritizing are all macro because they are all involved in deciding WHAT a person does. Scheduling is really micro, because it involves the HOW of doing something that has already been decided. But it is by far the most important micro idea, and without it, people may have a hard time achieving their goals. Later we’ll discuss the Pareto Principle, also a macro concept, and discussing another important macro idea, that of life balance.

Based on hundreds of workshops in which participants have filled out the Time Problem Survey sheet, very few people seem to be aware of the underlying cause of their time problems. They quickly identify the symptoms, such as rush jobs, stress, interruptions, and procrastination, but fail to see the relevance of a lack of goals or insufficient planning.

People are generally interested in quick fixes and suggestions that provide instant results. But they do not all buy into the more arduous task of thinking about the future, drawing up personal goals, and spending precious time on long-range planning. Understandably, their immediate concern is coping with the time demands of the here and now. In other words, they gravitate towards micro time management and tend to neglect macro time management.

Benefits of setting goals

Having specific goals to work towards allows you to plan your own future and provides greater control over your destiny. One of the greatest stress relievers is the feeling of being in control of your time and your life. Goals are challenging, and making progress towards them provides a sense of achievement and self-worth.

Goals add meaning to our lives. We have a reason to get up in the morning and a purpose for our lives. Going to work each day and doing what we do on a regular basis makes sense to us. We become results-oriented – working smarter, not harder – and the goals provide a means of self-evaluation. We are able to follow our progress and make adjustments where necessary. They help us to develop our skills, expand our capabilities, and increase our chance of success.

In short, they add a new dimension of meaning to our lives.

Getting started

The first step in the process of goal-setting is to visualize what it is you want to do with the rest of your life. Some people have a problem doing that. In fact, we find that many people have a hard time buying into the goal-setting concept. But it is an important process, because without goals, it’s difficult to know what your priorities are. Our definition of priorities, in fact, is “those things that help further your goals.” They are the activities and tasks that have intrinsic value in relationship to your purpose in life.

Many of our clients are reluctant to sit down and develop goals for themselves. In fact many of them don’t think they need a formal goal-setting process. They tell us they’re doing fine without them, and they are happy with what they have and where they are heading. We are quick to tell them, “Maybe you don’t need them. Maybe you’re exactly where you want to be right now; but here’s an exercise that will show you whether goals would help you or not.” And we show them the following exercise.

Current life situationExtrapolating current lifestyle 10 yearsWhere I would like to be in 10 years
My Age:  
Age of my family members (parents, spouse, children):  
Profession or occupation and brief summary of responsibilities:  
Formal education completed and self-development courses taken:  
Hobbies, leisure activities:  
Annual Income:  
Most important personal possessions:  
Total cash in the bank:  
Total money owed (mortgage, loans, credit cards etc.):  
Investments, pension, life insurance, disability insurance, will:  
Accomplishments that gave greatest sense of achievement, including travel:  
Associations in which I am actively involved:  
Close friends and relatives I spend time with:  
State of my health, weight, eating habits, exercise:  
Other significant areas of my life (Spiritual etc.):  

What this exercise is actually asking, is that assuming you continue to do what you are presently doing – in terms of your career or job, education, financial and personal habits – will you be where you want to be ten years from now? If so, that’s great. You don’t need goals; you just need to keep doing what you’re doing.

But if not, now is the time to make changes. Set some long-range personal goals and start doing what you have to do in order to get there. These may include registering for some educational courses, saving a percentage of your earnings, changing jobs, writing a book, taking flying lessons or any number of things.

Many of us get locked into a job or career and are so busy keeping our heads above water that we really don’t consider whether we’re heading in the right direction or not. Studies show that when people retire, many of them start to work on something that they used to love as a child. It could be a new business, a second career or a hobby. They are finally free to do what they were meant to do in the first place. It’s a shame that so many people spend a lifetime on their second choice so to speak.

There is a sample of this form here if you wish to print it out. You can draw up your own or simply adapt this one as needed. The one we use includes age and age of family members at the start, even though it’s not possible to change those things; because looking at the ages of any children in ten years may jolt someone into realizing how time flies and that soon the children won’t even be home.

Harold actually drew up this form while he was still teaching full time at a community college and running his business as a sideline. That was about 40 years ago. When he started filling in the form he realized that he would still be in the same position, teaching the same subject ten years from then.. And he still wouldn’t be in a position to go full time with his business.

The important thing to remember when using this exercise is that you cannot put in column two where you would like to be or think you’ll be in ten years. You have to project, based on what you are doing now, where you will be. If you are not saving money now, you can’t say you’ll have $10,000 saved by the next decade. If you haven’t enrolled in university now, you can’t say you’ll have a degree in ten years, and so on. Intentions don’t count. You are extrapolating what you are doing now. It’s a matter of doing an honest self-appraisal. Then, when you compare where you are heading with where you would like to be, you are motivated to make some changes to what you are currently doing.

There is nothing magical about ten years. It could just as well be five years. Most things can be accomplished in a shorter period of time. But Harold’s lofty vision at the time was to become Canada’s top time management authority in Canada within ten years. Almost anything is possible if you set not only your mind to it, but your actions as well.

Develop a mission statement

If you have a clear vision of what you will be doing in the future, you might want to develop a mission statement, reduce it to writing, and keep it somewhere visible as reminder. We have a mission statement for our small company that we keep in the front of our planners. There is an actual space for it in the Taylor Planner.

To develop a mission statement for a company, you will have to decide what it is you are going to do, who you will do it for or to, how you will do it, and the purpose for doing it.

We have virtually the same mission statement today and it has kept us from being sidetracked from what we do best. Each year we enter our mission statement in the space provided near the front of the Taylor Planner. Currently it reads as follows:

To help individuals and organizations manage their time and their lives, through time management training, products and services, so they can more easily achieve their personal and organizational goals.

Mission statements should be brief – one sentence if possible – so it can easily be reduced to writing and committed to memory. If it’s a company mission statement every employee should understand it. It provides direction and focus in your business. It should be clear, brief and memorable. If it’s a personal mission statement it should reflect who you are. Goals are specific. They tell you exactly what you will do, when you will do it and how you will do it. But a mission statement explains why you will do it.

We encourage people to have a personal mission statement that reflects what they want to do with their life.

Have personal policies

Each of us has also written down some personal policies, such as I will not work on Sundays, and I will work only two evenings per month. Harold didn’t want to accept a lot of evening work since he would soon find himself speaking every night of the week telling people to manage their time and spend more time with their families. You have to walk your talk. So it makes sense to draw up some personally policies to guide you through life. These are personal guidelines, and each member of a company or family may have different policies.

Corporate policies such as the customer is always right, we will not be undersold and satisfaction or money refunded have been around for over a century. They serve as guidelines for employees to make tough decisions, provide consistency and express the organization’s philosophy. They also save time.

It is similarly effective for individuals to develop a set of personal policies or value statements to help guide them through life. Policies help people make decisions regarding their personal use of time and prevent them from getting involved in activities inconsistent with their beliefs. These policies will be different for different individuals and may include statements such as:

  • I will not compromise my beliefs, values or personal mission.
  • I will not attempt to do two things in the same time frame or be all things to all people.
  • At no time will other peoples’ lack of planning become my crisis.
  • I will not become an activity packrat; for every new activity I take on, one of equal time value must be subtracted.
  • I will have as much respect for my own time as I have for other peoples’ time.
  • Decisions or choices affecting my family will be discussed in advance with my family.
  • I will not be coerced into changing my priorities; they will be changed only if my heart is in it.

A policy is a predetermined course of action that guides and determines present and future decisions. Personal policies will save us time and frustration by speeding up the decision-making process. Personal policies could also include such statements as I will always get up at 6 a.m., I will not work on weekends, or I will save 10 percent of my pay. Personal policies help us develop self-discipline in areas where we tend to be weak. A policy of never eating between meals, for example, once we adhere to it for a few weeks, becomes a habit. Eventually, it will take little willpower to say no to an afternoon snack since we say it automatically.

Personal policies also help us to achieve goals, since they are standing plans that lead us in a specific direction, such as towards financial independence, cardiovascular fitness, weight loss, etc. They provide stability in our lives and accountability for us.

To establish personal policies you must first determine the values you want to protect and the image you want to project. Once you are clear on your priorities and how you want to use your time, put your statements in writing and post them where they’ll be a constant reminder. This might be at the front of your planner or in your smartphone or other electronic organizer. Be sure to discuss your policies with family members or others who will be affected by them. You could end up modifying them, but be sure that you end up with a set of guidelines that reflect your beliefs, not those of others.

With your personal policies in place, you will be able to say no at the appropriate times, and use your discretionary time wisely. For example, if someone asks you to serve on a volunteer committee, your policy prompts you to say no unless you can free up time for it by releasing a current activity. You won’t have to waste time deliberating or taking it under consideration or giving the person false hope with a maybe. Or if you were asked to do something unethical, you would quickly refuse. Policies speed up the decision-making process and prevent you from straying from your life mission.

Policies are guidelines, not rules. They are flexible depending on the situation. For instance, you may decide not to refuse to work overtime if your job actually depended on it. However, if you were consistently confronted with overtime at the threat of losing your job, you would either start looking for another job or change your policy. You cannot continue to live in opposition to your personal values. To do so would increase stress, diminish your self-esteem and take much of the fun out of life.

Your policies can be modified as time passes. Your priorities may change as your situation changes. As people grow older, for instance, they may have a greater respect for free time and less respect for money. Single people may have different priorities if they marry and have children. The important thing is that we maintain control of our lives by deciding our priorities and how we spend our time. Policies help us to live by design, not by default.

We usually ask people to try writing out some personal policy statements that will help achieve goals that they have set for themselves. It’s good to review them each morning until they are committed to memory. Then adhere to them throughout the days ahead.

Setting goals

Once people have visualized the future, wrote a mission statement and drew up a set of personal policies, they are ready to set some specific goals. But if you choose to ignore the other stuff, fine, then start with goals. Unfortunately, most people don’t have personal goals in writing. They may have some vague idea of what they want to achieve but they have never attempted to actually express these dreams as goals or put them in writing with target dates for achieving them. Goals work for organizations so there’s no reason they shouldn’t work for individuals as well. Goals provide people with greater control over their future, allow them to make the best use of their time, and reduce stress.

We mentioned before that a goal is a dream that has been written down. If you cannot express a goal in writing, you probably won’t be able to achieve it either. The physical act of putting your goals in writing sensitizes your mind to opportunities that would help you to achieve those goals. It’s similar to the situation where you look up a word in the dictionary and start seeing that word frequently afterwards. You had never noticed it before because your mind had not been sensitized to it. A similar thing happens when you buy a car that you had never noticed on the road before, only to see dozens of them on the road once you buy it. Writing down goals makes you aware of them and the opportunities that would further them.

Goals, if they are not structured, are like New Years resolutions. More than half a million Americans make resolutions each year, and at least half of those fail to keep their pledge. That’s what psychologists estimate, according to an article in the St. Petersburg Times. A study tracked 200 people who had made New Year’s resolutions. Within a month 55 percent had given up. At the end of two years, only 19 percent had kept their promises. If you want more recent statistics, MJ Ryan, in her 2006 book, This Year I Will, quotes statistics that 45% of us make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of us succeed.

What makes for effective goals?

When you write down your goals, make sure they’re specific and measurable, not vague statements such as to make lots of money, to be happy or to live a good life. They have to be measurable so you’ll know when you have achieved them, such as To earn $150,000 per year in net profits as an organizational consultant by the end of three years.

They must also be realistic. This means that anyone else with the same resources and abilities as you could achieve them as well. And you must be able to present a plan indicating just how you propose to achieve them.

A deadline is essential. It leaves no opportunity for procrastination. Deadlines make us more effective as long as they are realistic.

The goals also must be compatible with one another. For example a goal to start a new business and a goal to spend more time with the family might be in conflict with each other. You might have to delay one or work out some temporary arrangement to make them work.

You must own the goal. Owning a goal simply means that it is your goal or you are committed to it as though it were your own goal. You would not be motivated if it were someone else’s goal and you didn’t believe in it.

It’s also a good idea to prioritize goals in the event that you are unable to accomplish all of them. The most important goals – those that impact your results the most – should be worked on first.

Finally, they should be scheduled, or at least the time to work on them should be scheduled. Which brings us to the key to getting the important things done – scheduling meetings with yourself in order to work on those goal-related priorities and protecting that time from others.

When providing information on goal setting, or anything else for that matter, it helps to use acronyms to make it easier to recall the information later. You have probably all heard of the acronym SMART for the requirements of effective goal setting.

Specific (Exactly what you will do)

Measurable (So you know when you have reached it)

Attainable (Realistic as opposed to pie in the sky dreams)

Results-oriented (Describes what you are actually going to accomplish)

Time-framed (Deadline date on each goal)

But be sure you don’t sacrifice valuable information in order to fit material into an acronym. We added the word WAYS to the SMART to make sure the information was complete. The WAYS stands for:


All areas of your life

Your goals, not other people’s idea of what you should do

Scheduled. A very important action to take if you want to achieve goal.

Your plan of action

This brings us to the key to getting things done, your plan of action. This involves scheduling. The Taylor Planner allows you to distribute the workload throughout the days and weeks and allows you get the priorities into your planner ahead of everyone else’s requests.

That doesn’t say that To Do lists are useless. There’s nothing wrong with being reminded about what has to be done. But those priority, goal-related projects and assignments should never be relegated to a To Do list. They should be scheduled in specific time slots throughout the week. You don’t schedule your daily routine. You schedule your projects. These are the important things you have to get done within a specific time frame. Your planner serves as a project manager.

That’s the reason a planner should show a week at a glance with sufficient space to jot down the name of the project or the task you will be working on. The priority items from your To Do list are spread throughout the week so you can actually see at a glance how much of your time is being consumed. It would be foolish to take on more commitments this week if all your time is already spoken for – unless you are willing to displace one of those priority tasks that you have already scheduled. A planner allows you to plan. A To Do list actually blinds you to the future.

The point is that a To Do list and a pocket calendar just won’t do. You have a lot of choices in planners but it needs to have more than little squares for the days. You need to be able to spread your activities throughout the week and there should be space enough to schedule the more important items directly into time slots.

We all have more things to do than we can possibly get done. But we can insure the important ones get done by blocking off time in our planner to get them done. A To Do list is only an intention. A scheduled block of time is a commitment. A planner should be used for scheduling appointments with yourself, not just with others.

What are the key things you want to accomplish during the year? These could be personal, business related or both. Put them in writing and assign a target date to complete them. In the fall of each year we decide what our business goals will be for the following year. Basically we ask ourselves, “If we could do only one thing to further the aims and objectives of this company what would it be?” After considerable self-talk and scribbling, we write down our first goal. It could be to revamp the website, develop a distance education program, write a book, or any number of things. Then we assume we can get two things done, and we select another goal and so on. When we get to 5 or 6 we stop. If you have too many goals they become like a To Do list. And seldom do To Do lists get completed.

There’s a book by Buck Rodgers written over 20 years ago that provides the key to what should be scheduled in your planner. Rodgers was the ex-vice president of Marketing for IBM and the book was called The IBM Way. In that book, he said that he and those who worked for him limited themselves to 5 major objectives or priorities in any one year in order to provide focus.

The trouble with most people is that they lack focus. A small business owner, for instance, may haphazardly do everything they can to increase profits rather than focus on the 20 percent of the possible actions that would lead to 80 percent of the results. A planner allows you to focus on what’s important by scheduling goal-related activities directly into it’s pages. So if you feel it’s imperative to write a book in order to gain credibility as a consultant, you would estimate how much time it would take to write a book. Initially it’s a wild guess. After working on the project for a few weeks you can adjust the time allowance. If you estimate 100 hours of uninterrupted work to complete a project and you have 50 weeks to complete it, you would have to schedule 2 hours of uninterrupted time each week to complete the project. But there’s no such thing as uninterrupted work, so you schedule 3 hours per week to allow for those unexpected interruptions or self-interruptions that are bound to occur. It varies depending on the nature of your job, but as a rule of thumb, we schedule about 50% more time than we think the job will take.

If you find it difficult to block off a 3-hour chunk of time in one day you might consider scheduling one and a half hours twice per week.

Then it becomes a matter of self-discipline to stick to your schedule. We know it’s possible because we repeatedly stick to our schedule if it’s an appointment with a doctor or dentist, or a meeting or an appointment with a client or a night out with a loved one or any number of commitments that we make on a regular basis.

The one thing that is working against us is the habit we have acquired of using our planner for other people and our To Do lists for ourselves. We have to change our way of thinking. We must have as much respect for our own time as we have for other people’s time. Most people simply don’t schedule their priorities. According to a Day-Timer’s Inc. survey of American workers, only one-third plan their daily schedules. And only 9% follow through and complete what they planned. (Make Today Count, by John Maxwell, Center Street Publishing, New York, 2004.)

We have included below a sample planner page and one filled out as well as 25 principles of scheduling. We frequently issue planners to our students in time management workshops and have them actually schedule the priorities from their “To Do” lists into their planner. Or we simply hand out week-at-a-glance sheets.

The key is to schedule time only for the really important goal-related activities. The others can remain on your “To Do” list. Don’t fill your whole planner. Leave plenty of discretionary time to accommodate last minute priorities, unforeseen crises, and those important people in your life.

Getting things done – Scheduling

It is not difficult to plan your week and schedule time to work on your priorities; but sticking to your plan requires self-discipline. This requires strong “executive skills” as revealed by the marshmallow test described elsewhere. It’s so easy to put things off, regardless of their importance, as long as they are not urgent.

Your self-discipline will grow stronger the more you exercise it; but make it easier for yourself by considering the following guidelines when you are scheduling tasks, projects and activities in your planner. They are designed to help you fulfill your commitment to getting the important things done.

Guidelines for scheduling

  1. Place deadlines on all appointments and meetings. If you call an open-ended meeting, how can the attendees schedule the balance of their day?
  2. Make appointments back to back. If you have an appointment to see someone from 9:15 to 9:45 a.m., and someone else asks to see you at 10 a.m., see if they can make it earlier at 9:45 a.m. This will add strength to the first appointment’s deadline. It’s easier to stick to a deadline when another person is waiting to see you – and it adds credibility to the comment that you’ll have to stop on time since you have another commitment. A fifteen-minute period between two meetings is rarely productive even if it does materialize.
  3. If you have made an appointment with yourself to work on a task, schedule a definite time period, say 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., but in this case, don’t back it up with another appointment. If someone asks for 10:30, see if they can make it 10:45 or 11:00. This will allow you to continue with your task if you’re on a roll. It also allows space to schedule last minute priorities.
  4. Always schedule tasks to be completed ahead of the deadline date. If a project is due Friday, schedule it to be completed by Wednesday. This allows for any unseen problems, emergencies or the possibility of missing the deadline through illness.
  5. When scheduling time for a task, always allow more time than you think that portion of the job will take. If you think it will take you one hour to complete it, schedule an hour and a half. If you plan to work on an ongoing project for an hour and a half, schedule two hours. This will provide time to accommodate those interruptions that invariably occur when engrossed in a task.
  6. If you have many tasks to be scheduled in a week, always schedule the priorities nearer to the beginning of the week. Time is less available as the week passes. Also schedule the important tasks during your prime time – when your mental energy is at its peak. For most people, this is in the mornings.
  7. Don’t over schedule. Try not to block off any more than 50 percent of your week in advance. Leave plenty of free spaces to accommodate priorities that emerge during the week.
  8. There is no limit as to how far in advance you can schedule; but blocking off time for priorities only a week or two in advance is usually sufficient. People rarely ask for appointments beyond a week or two in advance. Major activities such as vacations, conventions and celebrations can be blocked off years in advance.
  9. If you’re serious about getting things done, schedule the time in ink rather than in pencil. Pencil cries out that it’s only tentative, and you’re more likely to change it if it’s more convenient for others. Have as much respect for your time as you have for everybody else’s time. It may be messier to make changes to ink, but it’s better to be a messy doer than a neat procrastinator.
  10. Don’t limit your scheduling to business-related activities. Evenings and weekends are fair game. Make commitments in your personal life by scheduling time for family, friends, and yourself.

Taking Control summed up:

Your mission helps determine your goals which require a plan that is expressed in the form of a schedule, which enables you to take control of your life and keeps you on target and directs you to your desired destination.

Key points to take away:

  • Micro time management is more concerned with quantity whereas macro time management focuses on quality. People looking for “quick fixes” tend to focus on the micro but to truly be on target you must understand and implement macro ideas as well.
  • We should have goals in writing. They should be specific, measurable, attainable, results oriented, time-framed, in writing, cover all areas of your life, reflect you and not what others expect of you, and finally they should be scheduled.
  • You should have a written mission statement. Your mission is the why and your goals are the what.
  • Personal policies are important as they will help us to say no when needed. They also reflect our values, save time when we are confronted with difficult situations, and help us to stay consistent with our mission.
  • In order to achieve your goals they must be broken down into small chunks and scheduled into your planner. Goals that aren’t scheduled are merely a glorified “To Do” list.