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Francis Wade | Three new habits that can save the Jamaican economy

Published:Friday | November 20, 2015 | 1:42 PMFrancis Wade

Most Jamaicans are wondering where the spark will come from that will ignite our economy.

Instead of hoping for foreigners to bail us out, maybe we should be looking at what we are already wasting - individual time.

It may not be the path advocated by the International Monetary Fund, but it's one that post-World War II Japan would readily recognise. In their recovery, they made unprecedented monumental improvements in their manufacturing operations. They leapt from being a producer of laughable products to being world leaders.

Unfortunately, the cost of energy prevents us from taking that particular path, but there is something we can borrow from their approach.

We need to do so urgently. Jamaica's productivity has been sailing in reverse ever since independence, making us one of the least productive countries in the hemisphere.

Japan had bigger problems. Due to high costs, their customers could not afford their own country's products. In response, their companies launched an all-out effort to cut waste in order to make products more affordable.

At Toyota, the quality revolution was led by Taiichi Ohno. He declared that there are seven forms of waste which permeate factories: overproduction, motion, inventory, transportation, waiting, defects, and over-processing. Later, others added one more that may apply to us - underutilised people.

We also have an opportunity to cut waste, but not in factories. Instead, it resides in the way we waste time as individuals, at every level. Daily experience tells us that something is wrong - our people are underutilised. But what would it be like to become the country with the most productive employees in the world?

We'd have to think quite differently. The latest research reveals that time itself cannot be managed and, instead, we must focus on what is called a "time demand". It's defined as an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future. An inescapable element of adult life, we all create, manage and complete time demands every single day.

However, my empirical data shows our performance in this area is well below global averages. Here are three wasteful habits that challenge us in the workplace.

1. Tracking time demands using memory

Early in our teens, we learn that once a time demand is created, it forms an essential link between our goals and actions. Keeping each one alive in our memory is a habit we try to teach ourselves, and when the number of items is small, it appears to work. However, as we get older, the stakes rise. Life becomes more complex and our teenager-taught, memory-based system fails.

Case: A colleague has a habit of making strong, confident promises in meetings, but he never records them. You notice that once the meeting is over, he disappears along with his promises. Over time, you end up becoming his personal reminder system in order to get what you want.

Recommendation: Wean yourself and others off the use of memory for this purpose. See it as a reckless practice. Instead, record all time demands in writing or on a digital device.

2. Recording time demands without processing them

Once someone unlearns the habit of using memory and starts capturing time demands safely, a new problem arises. He or she needs to set time aside to process them all, preferably on a daily basis.

Case: If you are someone who arrives at meetings with four notepads filled with an unprocessed backlog of time demands, you are still using memory to decide which ones to execute and when.

Recommendation: Go through the backlog of time demands in your notepads, inboxes and other places of capture and delete obsolete ones. Be aggressive. Move the ones to be saved for later to a long-term home in either your to-do list or calendar. Once the backlog is gone, develop a regular habit of emptying time demands from these places of capture.

3. Sticking with paper

Even though you have abundant, inexpensive access to digital resources, you have not upgraded from the use of a paper calendar or to-do list. This approach is risky.

Case: You create a commitment on behalf of a customer by adding a new task to your paper to-do list. Later that evening, at bath time, it becomes the raw material for your child's boat. Surprise! You scramble the next morning to repeat the conversation with your customer, dealing a blow to your reputation.

Recommendation: Become as comfortable with digital devices and redundant storage as you are with paper. With the right tools and proper backups to the cloud, you will never, ever lose anything.

Today, these wasteful behaviours are common, but they are not insurmountable. If the island archipelago of Japan can reverse its fortunes with focused effort on cutting waste, then maybe we can also. The time is right for each of us to undertake a personal productivity revolution.


Francis Wade is the author of "Perfect Time-Based Productivity" and a management consultant. To receive a free summary of links to past columns, send email to: