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Some thoughts from attending Time/Design's trainer certification

I had the privilege of attending Time/Design's certification last month, and I wanted to share some good "take aways."

First, their program is very well organized, and I really enjoyed the training by veteran trainer and entrepreneur Valerie Young (lots of good self-employed and job-change tips from her newsletter - see www.changingcourse.com). As I continue to learn how much work it is to be a good teacher (see The crucible of teaching: Want to learn in a hurry? Teach!), I really appreciate when someone does it well. It goes against my personality to admit it takes time and experience to get good at it...

There was a lot to like, and some things I didn't care for (not surprising given I eat productivity systems for lunch), but a few you might find useful:

Time/Design content

They have a bunch of good ideas, as you can tell from their tips section. The common heritage with Getting Things Done shows (David Allen worked with them for quite a while). Familiar to readers will be the two minute rule, the mind scan, projects vs. actions, etc. What may be new: Time Blocking (though I like Julie Morgenstern's explanation better), "Do On" or "Due By?" (for explaining the calendar), and Pareto Principle.

(Interesting tidbit: The Urgent vs. Important matrix (of Covey fame - see The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) dates back to - at least - Eisenhower!)

The best "chunking" time block - 96 Minutes?

Peter Drucker talks about 90 minutes being the minimum chunk of time to do meaningful "knowledge work," and the training brought out a nice tie-in: The 80/20 rule applied to an eight hour day suggests blocking out 96 minutes for the "heavy lifting." Creating time to work daily on important projects is a common theme:

Time/Design's forms

Time/Design has some great paper planner forms. Their binders are wonderful, but if you already have one, many GTD-ers recommend buying their refill forms directly. I've been trying a number of them for the past month, including the nifty folding "action sheet." However, I think because I use only weekly pages (not daily), the flipping won't work for me. I do love their approach to managing repeating tasks with a paper system. There's detail in their Quick Start Guide, but basically you carry two fold-out annual planning pages (very, very cool) in which you mark all repeating events (use a single letter or color). You also have a "perpetual" calendar for annual events (e.g., birthdays, maintenance). To use them, every new month you insert another month's worth of weekly or daily pages, then copy over events from the current year and perpetual pages. Doh!

I also like their matrix diagram (they have a tip on using it here), which I like esp. because it has 31 rows and 12 columns - a cell for each day! You can get creative with this for tracking exercise, goals, habits, etc. I'm still playing with it...

Highlight completed actions

One of my first clients turned me onto the idea of highlighting completed actions (rather than crossing them out). I wrote about it Four Planner Hacks for Paper-Based Productivity, but Time/Design have apparently been recommending it for years (they call it the "Personal Motivation Device").

I now carry one in my planner, along with...

Use a mechanical pencil for your calendar

Another in the "Doh!" category, using pencil for calendar entries instead of pen makes tremendous sense: I regularly need to erase appointments that get canceled or rescheduled, and I'm now pretty much weaned from my White Out habit. (I guess it's the geek in me, but I used to love mechanical pencils, and I've rediscovered the joy and precision of using one. While there are some gorgeous ones out there, it's very hard to beat the Pentel Forte.)

60 day horizon for actions

Finally, I really like their focus on a maximum of 60 days for actions. If you're not ready to act in two months, put it on the Someday/Maybe, or capture start/end dates in the annual planning pages. This can lead to having a smaller list of next actions, something I appreciate.

I'd love to hear from anyone using the Time/Design planner (or method).

Reader Comments (6)


Thanks for the post. You obviously "got" underneath the surface of their system! I've always wanted to try the TD system but never acted on it.


April 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMike St. Pierre

Thanks, Mike. In this post I touched on the more down-to-Earth aspects, but there are philosophical differences between T/D and GTD that I didn't want to get into. For example, T/D doesn't have a collection phase per se. This bugged the heck out of me until I realized their system comes from a planner background. This means (and I could be completely off here) that they ask clients to be more controlled in their collection, specifically in using the planner itself for all capture. They're against legal pads (I love them) and instead use a tabbed section, punched receipt envelopes, etc. Not wrong, just different.

P.S. Great stuff over at your blog ( [ The Daily Saint | http://www.thedailysaint.typepad.com/ ] ). Thanks for reading (and writing).

April 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Matt, I had never really explored the inner workings of the Time/Design system before you wrote your post of them. I cant believe I hadnt since they've been around for over 25 years! I have found that tweaking my personal system (elements of GTD and TD) have given me a good match. As an experiment I have already started to use a weekly planner page, a perpetual calender, and also a 2007 365 day calender which I borrowed from TD and created with Excel and printed on 11x17 paper. Cutting down my NA lists to Home, Work, and Next Actions has also simplified the way I use the system...there is less drag- less pages to turn.... I work in an office so NA are fairly ubiquitous. I agree that GTD has a lot more of the heady stuff to offer a person, but I now realize that there are times when I need GTD Lite, not the full tilt stuff... TD offers structure, but is not overbearing as GTD can sometimes be. In summary, I am starting to branch in to my own hybrid system using elements of TD, GTD, and Covey for some of the Roles and Goals stuff that I am starting to implement. Thanks for your web log Matt, it is a great motivator! Keep it up!

May 15, 2007 | Unregistered Commentererik

Erik, thanks so much for your comment. It's great to see you crafting a system that meets your needs, and I love getting feedback when something I write helps people. Much appreciated.

May 15, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Did they mention the use of a PDA versus a paper system?


May 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAtlantic Guy

Hi Dean. Yes, they support PDAs (their training program for them is [ Focus on The PDA | http://www.focuslearninggroup.com/focusonpda.php ] ), though I recall they thought the form factor was very limiting with respect to the calendar - it's hard to get a usable monthly and yearly view on a small screen...

Hope that helps. Thanks for reading!

May 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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