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Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work

Do you really think Richard Branson and Bill Gates write a long to-do list with prioritized items as A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and on and on?

In my research into time management and productivity best practices, I’ve interviewed more than 200 billionaires, Olympians, straight-A students and entrepreneurs. I always ask them to give me their best time management and productivity advice. And none of them has ever mentioned a to-do list.

There are three big problems with to-do lists:

First, a to-do list doesn’t account for time. When we have a long list of tasks, we tend to tackle those that can be completed quickly, leaving the longer items left undone. Research from the company iDoneThis indicates that 41% of all to-do list items are never completed!

Second, a to-do list doesn’t distinguish between urgent and important. Once again, our impulse is to fight the urgent and ignore the important. (Are you overdue for your next colonoscopy or mammogram?)

Third, to-do lists contribute to stress. In what’s known in psychology as the Zeigarnik effect, unfinished tasks contribute to intrusive, uncontrolled thoughts. It’s no wonder we feel so overwhelmed in the day but fight insomnia at night.

In all my research, there is one consistent theme that keeps coming up:

Ultra-productive people don’t work from a to-do list, but they do live and work from their calendar.

Shannon Miller won seven Olympic medals as a member of the 1992 and 1996 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, and today she is a busy entrepreneur and author of It’s Not About Perfect. In a recent interview, she told me:

“During training, I balanced family time, chores, schoolwork, Olympic training, appearances and other obligations by outlining a very specific schedule. I was forced to prioritize…To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute-by-minute.”

Dave Kerpen is the cofounder of two successful start-ups and a New York Times-best-selling author. When I asked him to reveal his secrets for getting things done, he replied:

“If it’s not in my calendar, it won’t get done. But if it is in my calendar, it will get done. I schedule out every 15 minutes of every day to conduct meetings, review materials, write and do any activities I need to get done. And while I take meetings with just about anyone who wants to meet with me, I reserve just one hour a week for these ‘office hours.'”

Chris Ducker successfully juggles multiple roles as an entrepreneur, best-selling author and host of the New Business Podcast. What did he tell me his secret was?

“I simply put everything on my schedule. That’s it. Everything I do on a day-to-day basis gets put on my schedule. Thirty minutes of social media–on the schedule. Forty-five minutes of email management–on the schedule. Catching up with my virtual team–on the schedule…Bottom line, if it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.”

There are several key concepts to managing your life using your calendar instead of a to-do list:

First, make the default event duration in your calendar only 15 minutes. If you use Google Calendar or the calendar in Outlook, it’s likely that when you add an event to your calendar it is automatically scheduled for 30 or even 60 minutes. Ultra-productive people only spend as much time as is necessary for each task. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is notorious for conducting meetings with colleagues in as little as five minutes. When your default setting is 15 minutes, you’ll automatically discover that you can fit more tasks into each day.

Second, time-block the most important things in your life, first. Don’t let your calendar fill up randomly by accepting every request that comes your way. You should first get clear on your life and career priorities and pre-schedule sacred time-blocks for these items. That might include two hours each morning to work on the strategic plan your boss asked you for. But your calendar should also include time blocks for things like exercise, date night or other items that align with your core life values.

Third, schedule everything. Instead of checking email every few minutes, schedule three times a day to process it. Instead of writing “Call back my sister” on your to-do list, go ahead and put it on your calendar or even better establish a recurring time block each afternoon to “return phone calls.”

That which is scheduled actually gets done.

How much less stress would you feel, and more productive would you be, if you could rip up your to-do list and work from your calendar instead?

10 Most Dangerous Wellness Programs

If corporate wellness didn’t already exist, no one would invent it. In that sense, it’s a little like communism, baseball, pennies or Outlook.

After all, why would any company want to purchase programs that damage moralereduce productivitydrive costs up…and don’t work 90% to 95% of the time? And those are the results reported by wellness proponents.

Those are the employers’ problems, but the employers’ problems become the employees’ problems when employees are “voluntarily” forced to submit to programs that are likely to harm them. (As the New York Times recently pointed out, there is nothing voluntary about most of these programs.)

Recently, the head of United Healthcare’s (UHC) wellness operations (Optum), Seth Serxner, admitted that Optum’s programs consciously ignore U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) screening guidelines. Rather than apologize, Serxner blamed employers for insisting on overscreening and overdiagnosing their own employees…and (by implication) overpaying for the privilege of doing so. “Our clients make us do it,” were his exact words.

We asked our own clients who use Optum about why they turned down Optum’s generous offer to do more appropriate screenings at a lower price. None of them remember receiving such an offer.

A UHC executive wrote and said we were making the company look bad. I said I would happily revise or even retract statements about the company if the executive could introduce me to just one single Optum customer — one out of their thousands — who recalls insisting on overscreening and overpaying. Never heard back….

United Healthcare isn’t alone in harming employees. It is just the first company to admit doing so. It is also far from the worst offender, as the harms of its overscreening for glucose and cholesterol don’t hold a candle to the ideas listed below, in increasing order of harms:

#10 Provant

We would say: “Someone should inform Provant that you are not supposed to drink eight glasses of water a day,” except that we already did, and they didn’t believe us. Obsessive hydration remains one of their core recommendations despite the overwhelming evidence that you should drink when you are thirsty.

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By contrast, the New York Times, which has an Internet connection, writes the opposite:

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#9 Cerner

The employee who recorded this blood pressure is essentially dead. Cerner’s diagnosis? Blood pressure “higher than what is ideal.” Cerner’s recommendation? “Talk to your healthcare provider.” A real doctor’s recommendation? “Call an ambulance. The guy barely has a pulse.”

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This is not a random mistake. This is the front cover of the company’s brochure.

#8 Nebraska/Health Fitness Corp.

USPSTF screening age recommendations aren’t minimums. They are optimums, the ages at which screening benefits might start to exceed harms, even if they still fall far short of costs. Otherwise, you are taking way too much risk. This is especially true for colonoscopies, one of this program’s favorite screens — complications from the test itself can be very serious.

Your preventive coverage is not supposed to be “greater than healthcare reform guidelines.” That’s like rounding up twice the number of usual suspects. And you aren’t supposed to waive “age restrictions.” That’s like a state waiving minimum “age restrictions” to get a driver’s license.

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Yet this program won a C. Everett Koop Award for excellence in wellness, not to mention the unwavering support and admiration of leading wellness apologist Ron Goetzel.

#7-#6 (tie) ShapeUp and Wellness Corporate Solutions

Both these outfits pitch exactly the opposite of what you are supposed to do in weight control: unhealthy crash dieting. Attaching money to this idea and setting a start date make the plan even worse: along with crash-dieting during these eight weeks, you’re encouraging employees to binge before the initial weigh-in.

Here is ShapeUp:

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Here is Wellness Corporate Solutions:

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Both also made up outcomes. In ShapeUp’s case, the company had to rescind its “findings” after the customer, Highmark, skewered the company in the press. And neither seems to care that corporate weight control programs are proven not to work.

#5 Aetna

In addition to its wellness program that collects employee DNA (partnered, ironically, with a company called Newtopia) and then makes up claims about savings, Aetna owns the distinction of launching the only wellness program whose core drugs are specifically editorialized against in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This would literally be the most harmful wellness program ever, except that the only employees being harmed are (1) obese employees who (2) answer the phone when their employer’s health plan calls them to pitch these two drugs; (3) who have a doctor who would willingly prescribe drugs that almost no other doctors will prescribe, because of their side effect profile; and (4) who don’t Google the drugs. Presumably, this combination is a very low percentage of all employees.

The good news is that the drugs, Belviq and Qsymia, should be off the market in a couple of years because almost no one wants to take them, so the harms of this Aetna program should be self-limited.

#4 Star Wellness

Star Wellness offers a full range of USPSTF D-rated screens. “D” is the lowest USPSTF rating and means harms exceed benefits. Star gets extra credit for being the first wellness vendor to sell franchises. All you need is a background in sales or “municipal administration” plus $67,000 and five days of training, and you, too, can poke employees with needles and lie about your outcomes. Is this a great country, or what?

Also, the company’s vaccination clinic features Vitamin B12 shots. We don’t know which is more appalling–routinely giving employees Vitamin B12 shots or thinking Vitamin B12 is a vaccine.

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#3 Angioscreen

Angioscreen doesn’t have the most USPSTF D-rated screens. In fact, it offers only one screen in total, for carotid artery stenosis. That screen gets a D grade from USPSTF, giving Angioscreen the unique distinction of being the only vendor 100% guaranteed to harm your workforce.

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Angioscreen’s other distinction is that the company admits right on its website that this screen is a bad idea. Angioscreen is probably the only non-tobacco company in America to admit you are better off not using its product.

#2 Total Wellness

In addition to the usual assortment of D-rated tests, the company offers screens that the USPSTF hasn’t even rated, because it never, ever occurred to the USPSTF that anyone would use these tests for mass screening of patients or employees. Criticizing the USPSTF for not rating these “screens” (CBCs and Chem-20s) would be like criticizing Sanofi-Aventis for not warning against taking Ambien after parking your car on a railroad crossing.

#1 HealthFair

Let’s leave aside the fact that the majority of its other screens are harmful and focus on its screening for H.pylori, the strain of bacteria associated with ulcers.

Visit our full treatment here. In a nutshell, the majority of us harbor H.pylori–without symptoms. It may even be beneficial. The screening test is expensive and notoriously unreliable, and the only way to get rid of H.pylori is with some very powerful antibiotics, a treatment rarely even used on patients with symptoms, because of its inconvenience, ineffectiveness and potential long-term side-effects.

A Modest Proposal

So how should we as a country protect employees from these harms? Our policy recommendation is always the same and very non-intrusive. We aren’t saying wellness vendors shouldn’t be allowed to harm employees. That proposal would be too radical to ever pass Congress. If it did, the Business Roundtable would pressure the White House again, to preserve the hard-earned right to “medicalize” the workplace and show employees who’s boss.

Instead, we recommend merely a disclosure requirement. The harms of screens or (in United Healthcare’s case) screening intervals that don’t earn at least a “B” from USPSTF should be disclosed to employees, and employees should get a chance to “opt out” into something that isn’t harmful (like Quizzify, perhaps?) without suffering financial consequences.

Call us cockeyed optimists, but we don’t think employers should be able to force employees to choose between harming themselves and paying fines.

To Shape the Future, Write Its History

[Editor’s Note: While my frequent co-author is writing here about how companies, in general, can use a powerful tool to drive change, all those involved in the insurance ecosystem should pay particular attention. The tool, which draws from two books that Chunka and I wrote together — found here and here — is most valuable in industries where it’s clear that dramatic disruption is coming but where the form of that change isn’t yet defined: the very definition of insurance these days. — Paul] 

“History will be kind to me,” Winston Churchill said, “for I intend to write it myself.”

When it comes to corporate innovation, my experience is that history will indeed be kinder if leaders take the time to write it themselves—but before it actually unfolds, not after.

Every ambitious strategy has multiple dimensions and depends on complex interactions between a host of internal and external factors. Success requires achieving clarity and getting everyone on the same page for the challenging transition to new business and operational models. The best mechanism for doing that is one I have used often, to powerful effect. I call it a “future history.”

Future histories fulfill our human need for narratives. As much as we like to think of ourselves as modern beings, we still have a lot in common with our earliest ancestors gathered around a fire outside a cave. We need stories to crystallize and internalize abstract concepts and plans. We need shared stories to unite us, and guide us toward a collective future.

Future histories provide that story for companies.

The CEO of a major financial services company occasionally still reads to internal audiences parts of the future histories that I helped him and his management team write in early 2011. He says they helped him get his team focused on the right opportunities. As of this writing, his company’s stock has almost doubled, even though his competitors have had problems.

To create future histories, I have executive teams imagine that they are five years in the future and ask them to write two memos of perhaps 750 to 1,000 words each.

For the first memo, I ask them to imagine that the strategy has failed because of some circumstance or because of resistance from some parts of the organization, investors, customers or other key stakeholder. The memo should explain the failure. The exercise lets people focus on the most critical assumptions and raise issues without being seen as naysayers. There is usually no lack of potential problems to consider, including technology developments, employee resistance, customer activities, competitors’ actions, governmental actions and substitute products. Articulating the rationale for failure in a clearly worded memo crystallizes thinking about the most likely issues.

To heighten the effect, I sometimes do some formatting and structure the memo like an article from the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. Adopting a journalist’s voice helps to focus the narrative on the most salient points. And everybody hates the idea of being embarrassed in such publications, so readers of the memo pay attention to the potential problems while there’s still time to address them.

The second memo is the success story. What key elements and events helped the organization shake its complacency? What key strategic or technological shifts helped to capture disruptive opportunities? How did the organization’s unity help it to out-innovate existing players and start-ups? This part of the exercise encourages war-gaming and helps the executive team understand the milestones on the path to success.

Taken together, the future histories provide a new way of thinking about the long-term aspirations of the organization and the challenges facing it. By producing a chronicle of what could be the major success and most dreaded failures, the organization gains clarity about the levers it needs to pull to succeed and the pitfalls it needs to avoid.

Most importantly, by working together to write the future histories, the executive team develops a shared narrative of those potential futures. It forges alignment around the group’s aspirations, critical assumptions and interdependencies. The process of drafting and finalizing the future histories also prompts the team to articulate key questions and open issues. It drives consensus about key next steps and the overall change management road map. In a few weeks’ time, future histories can transform the contemplated strategy into the entire team’s strategy.

Future histories also facilitate the communication of that shared strategy to the rest of the organization. Oftentimes, senior executives extend the process to more layers of management to flesh out the success and failure scenarios in greater detail and build wider alignment.

Future histories take abstract visions and strategies and make them real, in ways that get people excited. They help people understand how they can contribute—how they must contribute—even if they aren’t directly involved in the innovation initiative. People can understand the timing and see how efforts will build.

People can also focus on the enemies that, as a group, they must fend off. These enemies may no longer be saber-toothed tigers, but they are still very real and dangerous to corporations. “Future histories” unite teams as they face the inevitable challenges.

Hurricane Joaquin: Why the Model Matters

It has been fascinating watching the progression of the forecasted path for Hurricane Joaquin — what a perfect example this is of the importance of a modern data and analytics platform!

The big news is that the hurricane is not expected to make landfall on the East Coast of the U.S., but the new forecast depends as much on analytics and big data as it does on actual changes in the storm’s path. The spotlight is now on the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (the European model) vs. the Global Forecast System (GFS) run by the National Weather Service. The New York Times has a great article discussing the reasons for the changing forecast and, crucially, the differences between the two models.

This is an excellent lesson for insurers to see the power of modern data and analytics in action and what happens to models when they are not using the advanced capabilities available today. Fortunately, investment in analytics continues to rise, as detailed in SMA’s recent report, Maturing Technologies in Insurance. Almost three in four insurers are increasing their investment in analytics over the next three years. 48% of P&C insurers, in fact, are planning to increase their analytics investments by more than 10% annually during that time.

In recent conversation with key CAT modelers, we have learned that they are working to use their weather data and insights at a more granular level than ever before in coming releases. The advance of these CAT model tools creates opportunities for insurers in search of better predictive capabilities on weather events. An upgrade to the GFS model has been planned by the end of the year, taking advantage of soon-to-be-available computing capacity. Once it is up and running, it will be interesting to see how the upgraded GFS model compares with the current European model, especially when applied to future CAT events.

Insurers can take the continuing story of Hurricane Joaquin as a wake-up call — not only is analytics a critical area for investment, but the quality of the information and the computing capacity available have a major impact on how useful predictive modeling can be.

Unclaimed Funds Can Lead to Data Breaches

When it comes to privacy, not all states are alike. This was confirmed yet again in the 50 State Compendium of Unclaimed Property Practices we compiled. The compendium ranks the amount of personal data that state treasuries expose during the process by which individuals can collect unclaimed funds. The data exposed can provide fraudsters with a crime exacta: claiming money that no one will ever miss and gathering various nuggets of personal data that can help facilitate other types of identity theft. The takeaway: Some states provide way too much data to anyone who is in the business of exploiting consumer information.

For those who take their privacy seriously, the baseline of our compendium—inclusion in a list of people with unclaimed funds or property—may in itself be unacceptable. For others, finding their name on an unclaimed property list isn’t a huge deal. In fact, two people on our team found unclaimed property in the New York database (I was one of them) while putting together the 50-state compendium, and there were no panic attacks.

Free IDT911 white paper: Breach, Privacy and Cyber Coverages: Fact and Fiction

That said, there is a reason to feel uncomfortable—or even outright concerned—to find your name on a list of people with unclaimed property. After all, you didn’t give anyone permission to put it there. The way a person manages her affairs (or doesn’t) should not be searchable on a public database like a scarlet letter just waiting to be publicized.

Then there’s the more practical reason that it matters. Identity thieves rely on sloppiness. Scams thrive where there is a lack of vigilance (lamentably, a lifestyle choice for many Americans despite the rise of identity-related crimes). The crux of the problem when it comes to reporting unclaimed property: It’s impossible to be guarded and careful about something you don’t even know exists, and, of course, it’s much easier to steal something if you know that it does.

The worst of the state unclaimed property databases provide a target-rich environment for thieves interested in grabbing the more than $58 billion in unclaimed funds held by agencies at the state level across the country.

States’ response to questions about public database

When we asked for comment from the eight states that received the worst rating in our compendium—California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin—five replied. In an effort to continue the dialogue around this all-too-important topic, here are a few of the responses from the states:

— California said: “The California state controller has a fraud detection unit that takes proactive measures to ensure property is returned to the rightful owners. We have no evidence that the limited online information leads to fraud.”

The “limited online information” available to the public on the California database provides name, street addresses, the company that held the unclaimed funds and the exact amount owed unless the property is something with a movable valuation like equity or commodities. To give just one example, we found a $50 credit at Tiffany associated with a very public figure. We were able to verify it because the address listed in the California database had been referenced in a New York Times article about the person of interest. Just those data points could be used by a scammer to trick Tiffany or the owner of the unclaimed property (or the owner’s representatives) into handing over more information (to be used elsewhere in the commission of fraud) or money (a finder’s fee is a common ruse) or both.

This policy seems somewhat at odds with California’s well-earned reputation as one of the most consumer-friendly states in the nation when it comes to data privacy and security.

— Hawaii’s response: “We carefully evaluated the amount and type of information to be provided and consulted with our legal counsel to ensure that no sensitive personal information was being provided.”

My response: Define “sensitive.” These days, name, address and email address (reflect upon the millions of these that are “out there” in the wake of the Target and Home Depot breaches) are all scammers need to start exploiting your identity. The more information they have, the more opportunities they can create, leveraging that information, to get more until they have enough to access your available credit or financial accounts.

— Indiana’s response was thoughtful. “By providing the public record, initially we are hoping to eliminate the use of a finder, which can charge up to 10% of the property amount. Providing the claimant the information up front, they are more likely to use our service for free. That being said, we are highly aware of the fraud issue and, as you may know, Indiana is the only state in which the Unclaimed Property Division falls under the Attorney General’s office. This works to our advantage in that we have an entire investigative division in-house and specific to unclaimed property. In addition, we also have a proactive team that works to reach out to rightful owners directly on higher-dollar claims to reduce fraud and to ensure those large dollar amounts are reaching the rightful owners.”

Protect and serve should be the goal

While Indiana has the right idea, the state still provides too much information. The concept here is to protect and serve—something the current system of unclaimed property databases currently does not do.

The methodology used in the compendium was quite simple: The less information a state provided, the better its ranking. Four stars was the best rating—it went to states that provided only a name and city or ZIP code—and one star was the worst, awarded to states that disclosed name, street address, property type, property holder and exact amount owed.

In the majority of states in the U.S., the current approach to unclaimed funds doesn’t appear to be calibrated to protect consumers during this ever-growing epidemic of identity theft and cyber fraud. The hit parade of data breaches over the past few years—Target, Home Depot, Sony Pictures, Anthem and, most recently, the Office of Personnel Management—provides a case-by-case view of the evolution of cybercrime. Whether access was achieved by malware embedded in a spear-phishing email or came by way of an intentionally infected vendor, the ingenuity of fraudsters continues apace, and it doesn’t apply solely to mega databases. Identity thieves make a living looking for exploitable mistakes. The 50 State Compendium provides a state-by-state look at mistakes just waiting to be converted by fraudsters into crimes.

The best way to keep your name off those lists: Stay on top of your finances, cash your checks and keep tabs on your assets. (And check your credit reports regularly to spot signs of identity fraud. You can get your free credit reports every year from the major credit reporting agencies, and you can get a free credit report summary from Credit.com every month for a more frequent overview.) In the meantime, states need to re-evaluate the best practices for getting unclaimed funds to consumers. One possibility may be to create a search process that can only be initiated by the consumer submitting his name and city (or cities) on a secure government website.