My prior article ended with the biggest tip from the New Lifehacking: gain a unique understanding of your current system of habits, practices and rituals, before looking for new stuff. I looked at time management / self management as an example of one area in which we need to gain some insights into how we do what we do, before being seduced by the latest advertisement for a new gadget, or a catchy headline on a blog post.

Not that this is easy to do. If you have ever walked into an auto-supply store with nothing more than a vague idea of what you need, you might know what it’s like to walk out with a list of information you need to return with, plus a cute little thingy to hang from the rearview mirror. The initial trip is a failure because you haven’t applied even the most basic diagnostic tools at your disposal – your eyes and ears.

The problem in time and self management (versus car repair) is that there are very few diagnostic tools available, and we don’t even know what to look for.

One reason is that the system you use currently didn’t come from a manufacturer with all the specs fully laid out. The fact is, like most people, you started to put together your own time management system in your teens and completed the process in your early twenties. You may have tweaked it since then, but most people don’t – they stick with what works for them, and they forget the fact that they ever put it together; it sinks deep into the world of their unconscious competence.

This amnesia is the reason why people don’t throw down books and walk out of seminars when they realize that they are being spoken to as beginners in time and self management.

To help fill the gap, over the past few years, I have assembled an online 84 point assessment that looks at different aspects of one’s time management system. It’s based entirely on individual habits and practices and offers users a way to assess their skills by answering each question to the best of their ability.

Here’s an expanded example of the kind of question I included:

If you were to decide to run an errand a week from now outside the home or office, what are the steps you would take more often than not to complete the task?

1. Try to remember the errand later, after first committing it to memory
2. Ask someone to remind me
3. Write it down on a loose piece of paper
4. Make a note of it in my little black book
5. Enter it in my paper calendar
6. Add it to my electronic schedule
7. Add it to my electronic schedule that is automatically backed up

In the assessment I created, I tried to imagine which actions are the ones that are most likely to be successful, versus those which are most likely to fail. The quality of the action taken ranges from 1 to 6, with a level 6 being the highest.

Your opinion may differ from mine as to the exact placement of each action in this hierarcy, but the point is that it’s not hard to use best practices to build such assessments. Once they are built, creating a ladder from low skills to high, it’s possible to measure your own progress against these standards and lifehack your way to better performance.

In part, this approach is inspired by Benjamin Franklin and his quest to become a better writer. He made a series of continuous comparisons against the best authors of the day and tackled each of the gaps that emerged. Over time, he made dramatic improvements in his writing skill.

At the end of a complete assessment, what emerges is a personal profile. Most of the profiles I have seen have emerged from in-depth live training and they reveal something that you’d expect – systems that vary a great deal from each other, given the fact that they were self-created without much guidance.

Lifehacks that are driven by this kind of knowledge set the stage for delicately crafted improvements. Instead of trying to force-fit one-size-fits-all prescriptions, you save time and energy by making strategic changes that you want, at a speed of your choosing. You begin to understand why the iPhone that helped one person become productive, destroyed the productivity of another, and did nothing for yet another, and why the same applies to books, programs, web services, etc.

How you start to implement the results of your assessment will be the subject of my next post here at Lifehack.org.

To view a sample assesment, click here to access the first sample quiz I ever put together that instantly provides you with some feedback on one critical skill while teaching a couple of new concepts.

Practical Ways to improve your productivity: 50 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

Featured photo credit: Young female legs walking towards the sunset on a dirt road via Shutterstock

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