Grenoble-based Pat Brans is founder of the Master the Moment time-management method, giving speeches and training sessions at companies and organisations around the region and beyond. He tells Grenoble Life about his work, his background, and how to get a higher return on your efforts.
Grenoble Life: Tell us a little about your background
Pat Brans: I started my career as a software engineer. I also did some management. This was for four different startups in the Washington D.C. area. I then got into business consulting, and was director of a team of business consultants with CSC in Cologne, Germany. After three years there, I moved to Grenoble to work with HP, where I got more involved in business development, and eventually took charge of a set of solutions where we applied mobile technology to optimize workforce effectiveness. I was in charge of these solutions world wide. We called these offerings “mobile field sales and services”, because we mostly applied our solutions to help our customers make their sales and service forces more efficient. During this time, I wrote my first book called Mobilize Your Enterprise: Achieving Competitive Advantage through Wireless Technology.
I got to know a lot of people in the industry, and was offered a job with Sybase to manage strategic alliances across Europe. The software we sold was used for mobile applications, mostly applications geared towards worker productivity. I frequently gave talks on this subject at events from Dubai to Lisbon. And in dealing with the partners I managed, sometimes I had to give them ideas on how technology can make people do their work better and faster.
In summary, starting from my arrival in Grenoble twelve-and-a-half years ago, it gradually became very natural for me to talk about productivity.
GL: In a nutshell – what is the Master the Moment method and how was it developed?
PB: I have always been interested in understanding why some people get so much more done than others, and why those who get more done are actually less tired. Throughout my career, I tried to note who I thought was more personally effective, and I tried to learn from them. I kept mental notes on things like how to best run meetings, how to best participate in meetings, how to delegate, and how to be delegated to.
Coincidentally, my work life over the last twelve years has involved thinking of ways of making people more productive through the use of technology. I say “coincidentally”, because these two sets of ideas run along separate dimensions. Giving people tools to make them more efficient is a good idea, but it won’t make the order-of-magnitude difference you’ll get through rethinking your attitude towards goals, making the right choices about priorities, and overcoming the tendancy to procrastinate.
I read tons of books on time management and I read lots of psychology research papers, but this was all theory. And I never saw any approach to time management that was based on emperical data – in other words, going out and asking high achievers what they think. So I picked the set of people I thought have the most to say about time management. And when I use the “term time management”, I’m refering to anything and everything you can do with your time to make you more effective. What can you do to emulate the people who get a lot done without breaking a sweat?
The category of people I selected were CEOs of large corporations. I talked to fifty different CEOs of organisations with revenue of $2 billion on average. These people are themselves very effective – and equally as important, they are perfectly positioned to observe hundreds of other people and develop a well-founded opinion on why some people achieve more satisfaction than others.
Over the last 18 months I synthesised what I learned from the CEOs, what I got from psychology research, and what I learned from other books on time management. The result is Master The Moment, which is my methodology on time management. One of favorite aspects of MTM is that it aims to help people change habits. All the good ideas I got from my research mean nothing until the readers of my book, and the people who attend my training or seminars, integrate the ideas and make them habit.
In order to integrate an idea, you have to understand it, and you have to take it on freely – it can’t be forced upon you. I checked my work by talking this over with leading psychologists, such as Ed Deci and Roy Baumeister.
To change habits, it helps to have a visual reminder. Also the ability to change habits is something you can develop. My approach to developing good time management habits is taken from Benjamin Franklin and his approach to developing Thirteen Virtues. As a young man, Franklin listed 13 areas in which he would like to develop better habits. Every week he would work on one, finishing the list after 13 weeks, then starting over. He would carry around a notebook in which he would mark everytime he reverted to a bad habit in any of the thirteen areas – not just the area of focus for that week.
I have six steps to better time management. Each step is a category of habits. I have sheets I give students to allow them to track progress in each area. I ask them to focus on one step every week. The sheet serves as a visual reminder, which is very important in habit forming. I follow up with a phone call to each participant around two months after the training.
You’ll never achieve perfection, but if you can change one or two habits, you’ll make a lot of progress.
GL: Why do you think time management is such a big issue in the modern workplace?
PB: I think time management has always been important. Our ancestors were up against a lot of pressure – in most cases, much more pressure than we have to deal with today. Few of us have to deal with war, the death of our children, or hunger. Life is really easy, if you think about it.
I don’t want to minimise the issues people face today. But part of my training is around checking your attitude, and I think a lot of people have the attitude that their situation is really bad and that external forces are making them unhappy. You have to take responsibility for your situation and focus on the things you can change. The fact is, most of us in developed countries are pretty comfortable compared to 95% of the people who have ever walked the earth. I’m not a positive thinker, I’m just being realistic.
In today’s work environment, I see two groups. The first group sees work as a way to make a living – for these people, work is a burden and no fun. The second group is looking for self actualisation. They want to be somebody through their work.
It’s important to feel a sense of choice in what you do. If you feel like you have been coerced into doing something, you aren’t going to do a very good job, and you’ll feel deflated and tired. I don’t deny that we all have obligations, but the more effective people look to understand the reasons behind the obligations and as a result, they are able to integrate the activity. People who don’t understand why they have to do something, only introject the activity – it’s like swallowing something, but not digesting it.
So if you find yourself in the first group, try to find some meaning in what you do. Managing your attitude is probably the most powerful time management tool, and it’s one that people need to employ in today’s work environment.
GL: Do you believe that modern technology really has made us more efficient workers?
PB: Yes, of course. One danger though is that we get distracted. Studies have shown that people who try to do several things at once experience a dip in IQ. One study demonstrated that multitasking accounted for a bigger drop in IQ than smoking marijuana. Another study showed that if you are working on something then get distracted by a text message or a phone call, it takes you 20 minutes to get back into what you were doing 100%.
Just as you with any other tool, you need to look for ways of improving how you use technology tools. There’s always something you can do better.
GL: What are some of the risks associated with poor time management?
PB: Dissatisfaction. If you do a lot, but don’t notice that you’ve accomplished things, you won’t enjoy the satisfaction. Or if you just don’t do much, you’ll also feel frustrated. In either case, good time management techniques can enhance your life.
I don’t think people should aim to always be busy or to always be efficient. I tell people to obey natural laws. The first law is that you are a human being and you need to have fun, you need rest, and you need time off. Trying to get around those things is like trying to get around gravity. You can’t do it. You’ll eventually fall hard.
GL: Who have you spoken for and what feedback have you received?
PB: I’ve given training around Grenoble in both French and English, I’ve spoken at seminars, and I have a website. The feedback I get is that my method is different because it is a nice mix of powerful ideas and practical technique.
GL: As you are based in France, what differences can you observe between French company culture and that of your own or other countries?
PB: I think hierarchy is too important in French organizations. There’s not enough emphasis on creativity. Follow orders or you won’t fit in. This is a broad generalisation of course.
GL: How do you think France compares to other nations in terms of work-life balance?
PB: I like the work-life balance in France. I think it’s more healthy than in the United States where the balance of power leans heavily towards employers, and employees have very little weight. In the United States we recognize the need for consumer groups to compensate for the power companies have over consumers, but we don’t apply this idea to the employer-employee relationship as I think we should.
People wind up working more hours in the United States, but I don’t think they’re more efficient.
GL: Do you offer events in French and English and is there a difference to how people of different nationalities respond to the method?
PB: I sometimes hear from the French that CEOs don’t know anything about time management, because all they do is delegate. Of course they do, and delegating is an important time management technique. You need to delegate down, sideways, and even up. In all cases, you’re asking somebody else to do something for you. The more the other person trusts you and understands the reasons behind you request, the better he or she will integrate the activity. If the other person feels a sense of choice in doing what you ask, you’ll get a better result.
GL: Asides from your speaking engagements you write for a number of publications: tell us what you write about and for whom.
PB: I also write for technology magazines about how to use mobile technology for workforce productivity. I write for three different publications: Mainframe Executive, British Computer Society and Mobile Enterprise Magazine.
GL: Tell us about some forthcoming events
PB: I will be hitting the American Chambers of Commerce in Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg. Seminar dates and locations will be posted on my website. I will also be doing training in French through the chambers of commerce of different cities around here. I’m developing that now.
Aside from that, I provide training within companies.