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How Can We Use HBDI to Help Us to Be Awesome Time Managers?

‘Right off the bat’, as Matt Damon said in the film The Martian, you cannot manage time. It just ticks. Ticks along without any regard for whether you have 101 emails arriving that day, a week from hell of back-to-back meetings or that you are late, again. Now, as one bright spark once said, ‘Time flies. The good thing is that you are the pilot’. A little twee, but the sentiment still stands. You make the decisions on how you spend your time. Yes, I know you have a boss, partner, kids, etc. but ultimately it is you that decides how you spend the 1,440 minutes each day. If you can utilise the strength of your thinking preference, and manage the other colours too, then you truly are flying the way you want to.

‘Nurse Red to Ward 6 Please’

Let’s begin with a recap of HBDI Whole Brain® Thinking using nurse Red...

In our HBDI training we often share that each colour has its best professions (for explanation purposes only, we can use our whole brains regardless of thinking preference). For example, a red would make a great nurse because they would have a great bedside manner. A blue, an engineer, a yellow, an entrepreneur, and a green a project manager. But let’s consider if our nurse were only red and that the other 3 colours have been removed, how would they fair?

‘Why is it that I’ve been a ward nurse for 32 years and never been promoted?’, says the red nurse.

With no yellow, there is no future thinking.

Other nurses talking: ‘She’s always last minute. Never on time. Lovely. Just cannot stick to a schedule. A nightmare to manage’.

No green means that managing around a rotation can be a problem.

Staff nurse: ‘Nurse, that’ll be 3.2 milligrams of morphine for Mr. Clark in bed 3’.

Our red nurse: Thinking – ‘Now was that 3.2 or 32?’.

You can see the concern with all blue being lost!

So, we have a thinking preference, and we can do all other colours, to more of less of an extent. This is important to know because when it comes to managing time, I have seen many a yellow, or red, use their inability to manage time as a birth defect excuse! Managing time is like with any application of HBDI, about accepting your thinking preference, finding how that applies best for you in that situation, and then learning to apply the other thinking preferences without dismissing them as just ‘hard to do’.


It is Applicable to All HBDI Colours

Whether you have preferences towards the red, blue, yellow, or green, there is a fundamental law of time management that cannot be ignored by any colour. It is hard to accept, and until you lose that fight through stress, being overwhelmed, or in sheer exhaustion, you probably won’t accept it. Though, I do hope that you choose to look at time management another way with me now...

The law is that time management is not about technology, pads, paper, the right system, that elusive piece of kit that will come along and solve all, but it is about mindset. Yours. How you approach time. If I were to ask you to write words that describes your relationship with time, you might write:

Not enough


Cannot get it all done

Always slipping away


Most people do describe it this way. Then they describe what I call the ‘slow day’. They’ll say something like, ‘When I get this project out of the way, it will be so much easier’, or ‘When they hire some more staff, we’ll be better’, or ‘It’s our company culture – they just want so much of use, it’s ridiculous’. For those people, they have accepted that this is how it is, plus an acceptance of the illusion that change is coming, and that it will be the utopian fix they need. But here’s the thing...

‘The slow day is never coming’.

It never will arrive, so you either volunteer yourself to change your mindset or wait until you lose the fight and then look at how you manage time differently.

Mindset is the key to unlocking your management of time. Moving from a relationship of not having enough to knowing that the only challenge is not getting more of it but choosing what you do with it. Choosing left or right a thousand times a day. Choosing to do something, when to do it, how long to do it, or not to do it. Those are the choices, and how well you make those choices and achieve an output is directly attached to your success. Be that money, promotion, or happiness, or all 3, and more.

Now that we have established mindset as the way forward, let’s look at the toughest challenge for each of the HBDI colours.

The Yellows Struggle to Plan

As a fellow yellow, planning, scheduling, process flow diagrams, Gantt charts, and alike feel me with dread. Yes, I understand that goes there and leads to that and then that diamond is a decision and then if that happens, then that happens, but it takes me longer to get it and it leaves me feeling cold. It doesn’t mean I cannot do it. I can. I just dislike it because it takes me so much effort. Like using the first gear of a car. I can yellow in fifth gear! Green, not so much. Time management planning is the same.

Planning for us yellows needs to be done at a level we can manage. The principles are important, and then they need to be built upon our new foundation of our new mindset. The 3 principles for a yellow are about having 3 to do lists:

  1. Bucket List: When it comes to a to do list, have three. The first is a to do list that is a ‘Bucket’. Essentially a folder of all the things that you need to do. Home and work. Every post-it note, scrap of paper, and half doodled to do list goes in here. Phew! All in one place. Great. Your stress should already be reducing.
  2. Daily To Do List: The next step is to create a to do list each day for that day only. Not a collection of tasks that need to be done at some point this week/next month but a list of things to be done that day. Look in your bucket and select those things that need to be done that day.
  3. Project List: The last to do list is the one we are more comfortable with. The project list. A list of higher-level big things that need to be done. A way of tracking the big stuff to ensure that we are moving forward each project. You should only have 7 projects, maybe 10, on this list, and this gives us focus. Particularly when we are lost, firefighting, we can look up and be grounded again in what we are trying to achieve – Moving forward the big 7.

The Reds Struggle to Say No

When people search for time management tips and tricks on the internet, they often arrive at one tip that they neither accept or want to know about - ‘Saying No’. Time management it is as much about what we choose to do, as what we choose not to do. After all, we only have 24 hours in a day and what we choose to do defines what we achieve.

Saying no is hard and particular for the reds that have a thinking preference towards feeling. They feel, understand, and are more in tune with their own feelings and those of others, so being asked to do something and having to say no goes against the grain.

Using the ‘No’ tree makes it a little easier. Yes, the conflict will still not be easy, but maybe a little easier. The ‘No’ tree is a simple metaphor that provides a little structure of how we can say no.

Imagine a large oak tree - rooted, aged, majestic, and glorious. On the trunk is a sign that says, ‘No’. This represents you. Your values. You are the grounded, rooted, and strong tree that when you are asked to stay late again, and you know that you have promised to take the kids out, you say, ‘No’. As you move up the solid trunk the branches fan out. These are your options. Each branch represents an option. These are your, ‘No, but...’. By giving options you lessen the conflict and hand the decision back to the other person so that they feel in control. You might say:

‘No, but I could stay later tomorrow <branch 1>, or if you could take this project off me, I could < branch 2>, or I know Matt is free <branch 3>’.

You have given three options of how this could still be achieved, which will usually be met with some level of appreciation that you are at least trying to help.

Are the Greens in the Right Forest?

Two lumberjacks are in a forest cutting down trees. As they arrived that day both were keen to beat the other ribbing each other about who could do the most. As they sweated and toiled all day chopping down trees, they looked across at each other’s pile of trees laying down, keen to finish the day with the most. The sun went down as the supervisor came over and said to the first lumberjack, ‘Great pile. Impressive’. He beamed back. At the next lumberjack’s pile, he says, ‘Great pile. Equally impressive, but you were supposed to chop those trees over there!’.

The challenge the greens have is seeing the big picture.

To manage their time best, they need to know their absolutely reason for being. A good start is with the question, ‘Why are you on the payroll?’. Yes, I appreciate to do a million tasks, but why are you paid? Normally, the answer has a link to the company’s bottom line because that is what most companies do – make money – unless they are a charity. So, agreeing with your boss one, two, maybe 3 smart targets of what do you need to achieve in a year. In sales that’s easier, £500,000 of sales in 12 months. In other roles it is harder to arrive at a smart target, but it must be arrived at otherwise you will forever be cutting down trees in the wrong forest.

Once you have your smart target/s, then as many of your daily to do tasks must build towards this target/s as possible. Imagine a strong steel chain ask yourself, ‘Does this task have a strong chain link from my reason for being on the payroll, to this task?’. If it does not, should you, do it?

Lost in the Detail – Blues

Blues love the detail. That is their strength. It is also their weakness. They can spend too long looking for the absolute way forward before making progress. Needing all the pieces before being able to complete the task. Their challenge is as real as the other colours, and if a blue can use these 3 solutions, they’ll manage their time (manage their tasks) more effectively:

  1. ‘Just start’: As Alan Lakein, the grandfather of time management said, ‘It’s like poking a hole in Swiss cheese. Just poke one hole and begin.’ As we say here at MBM, just get the hare running, like at a greyhound race. You’ll never have all the information so beginning is the best thing you can do, and not to just look for more detail.
  2. ‘Good enough’: Many tasks don’t need to be done very well, or even well; they just need to be done. Keeping in mind ‘good enough’ and applying it to some tasks will release much needed time for other tasks.
  3. ‘Check-in’: Many times, you will be delegated a task and need more detail, so it is ok to ask. ‘Did you mean you wanted 9 slides by Monday for clients x?’. The delegator would much rather that you check than come back with the wrong piece of work.


Reprinted with permission from Andy Palmer, Director at Making Business Matter.

Tags: Tips, Whole Brain Thinking, Remote Work

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.



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