Tag: Time Management

Multitasking: Giving the World an Advantage it Shouldn’t Have

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Echoing the comments of William Deresiewicz, Charlie Munger offers some sage advice on multi-tasking:

I will say this, I know no wise person who doesn’t read a lot. I suspect that you can read on the computer now and get a lot of benefit out of it, but I doubt it will work as well as reading print worked for me.

I think people that multitask pay a huge price. They think they’re being extra productive, and I think they’re (out of their mind). I use the metaphor of the one-legged man in the ass-kicking contest.

I think when you multi-task so much, you don’t have time to think about anything deeply. You’re giving the world an advantage you shouldn’t do. Practically everybody is drifting into that mistake.

Concentrating hard on something that is important is … I can’t succeed at all without doing it. I did not succeed in life by intelligence. I succeeded because I have a long attention span.

It sounds counter-intuitive but if you want to increase discretionary time and reduce stress you need to schedule time to think. The tiny fragments of time many of us find ourselves with have a negative effect on our ability to think deeply about a problem. Furthermore they impede our ability to learn — we stay at a surface level and never move into a deep understanding.

Deresiewicz warns: “You simply cannot (think) in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.”

The opposite approach is to focus on a problem or subject and try to achieve a deep fluency. How many of us, however, have time? We don’t do the work required to have an opinion. Instead we operate with surface knowledge. We tackle problems with the first thought that comes to mind. Because we make a poor initial decision, we spend countless hours attempting to correct it. No wonder we have no time to think. We’re not heeding the advice of Joseph Tussman and letting the world do the work for us.

We sound good and yet and we fail to learn — in part because everyone else is doing the same thing. Well, when you do what everyone else does, don’t be surprised when you get the same results everyone else gets.

If you want to get off the same track that everyone else is on, start scheduling time to think. That’s what Munger did when he sold himself the best hour of his day. Structure your environment in a way that promotes thinking and reduces interruption. And match your energy to your task.

Frederick W. Taylor: Time Management Skills

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There is no question that the tendency of the average man (in all walks of life) is toward working at a slow, easy gait, and that it is only after a good deal of thought and observation on his part or as a result of example, conscience, or external pressure that he takes a more rapid pace.

***

From Frederick W. Taylor’s 1904 book Shop Management, which appeared long before his Principles of Scientific Management (1911). Taylor is considered the father of management consulting.

The natural laziness of men is serious, but by far the greatest evil from which both workmen and employers are suffering is the systematic soldiering which is almost universal under all of the ordinary schemes of management and which results from a careful study on the part of the workmen of what they think will promote their best interests.

The writer was much interested recently to hear one small but experienced golf caddie boy of twelve explaining to a green caddie who had shown special energy and interest the necessity of going slow and lagging behind his man when he came up to the ball, showing him that since they were paid by the hour, the faster they went, the less money they got, and finally telling him that if he went too fast the other boys would give him a licking.

This represents a type of systematic soldiering which is not, however, very serious, since it is done with the knowledge of the employer, who can quite easily break it up if he wishes.

The greater part of the systematic soldiering, however, is done by the men with the deliberate object of keeping their employers ignorant of how fast work can be done.

So universal is soldiering for this purpose that hardly a competent workman can be found in a large establishment, whether he works by the day or on piecework, contract work or under any of the ordinary systems of compensating labor, who does not devote a considerable part of his time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace.

The causes for this are, briefly, that practically all employers determine upon a maximum sum which they feel it is right for each of their classes of employees to earn per day, whether their men work by the day or piece.

Each workman soon finds out about what this figure is for his particular case, and he also realizes that when his employer is convinced that a man is capable of doing more work than he has done, he will find sooner or later some way of compelling him to do it with little or no increase of pay.

Employers derive their knowledge of how much of a given class of work can be done in a day from either their own experience, which has frequently grown hazy with age, from casual and unsystematic observation of their men, or at best from records which are kept, showing the quickest time in which each job has been done. In many cases the employer will feel almost certain that a given job can be done faster than it has been, but he rarely cares to take the drastic measures necessary to force men to do it in the quickest time, unless he has an actual record, proving conclusively how fast the work can be done.

It evidently becomes for each man’s interest, then, to see that no job is done faster than it has been in the past. The younger and less experienced men are taught this by their elders, and all possible persuasion and social pressure is brought to bear upon the greedy and selfish men to keep them from making new records which result in temporarily increasing their wages, while all those who come after them are made to work harder for the same old pay.

Two Forms of Human Motivation: Gain And Pain

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
— Mark Twain

***

Popular psychology leads us to believe that we can unpack motivation in two broad categories: to gain something or to prevent the loss of something. Each time we do something, from washing the dishes to spending money, it is for one of those reasons.

Steve McClatchy argues in his fascinating book Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example that this applies to business as well.

Ask yourself: Is the purpose of your weekly meeting to identify new target clients or figure out how to improve the process of taking new orders? Or do you use it to go over meeting protocols and talk about employee lateness or inventory status? Is it a Gain meeting that will move your business forward, or is it a Prevent Pain meeting that will simply keep you from falling behind?

These two factors push us to make decisions. While sometimes they act together there is always one in the lead role.

“Tasks that you are driven toward by Gain produce more significant positive results in your life and your business than tasks that you are driven toward by Prevent Pain.”

When we are doing something to gain, we are focusing on something we want – we are not worried about losing something. We are trying to make things better. On the other hand, when you do something to prevent pain, you’re doing something you have to do, like laundry. This is unfulfilling. We do it because we want clean clothes not because we intrinsically enjoy it.

Preventing pain tasks never go away. There is always something to do that doesn’t advance our life forward but only maintains where we are. While we cross these things off a list, they come back tomorrow and the next day. The more our days are filled with this checkboxing the more we feel run down. And if we don’t do it, someone will bring it to our attention — even if that someone is ourselves. McClatchy argues that these preventing pain tasks are “have to” tasks.

[L]et’s say someone is waiting for you to complete a task. If you don’t do it, the person waiting will eventually catch you at the elevator, call you on the phone, send you an e-mail, stop you in the hall, send a reminder in the mail, or come knocking on your door and say, “Hey, did you ever get a chance to…?” Whether it’s a manager, colleague, client, family member, neighbor, roommate, bill collector, or someone else, that person will want to know if you did what you were supposed to do. That is the nature of a “have to,” or Prevent Pain, task. The pain that you should have prevented will visit you eventually if you don’t complete it.

One of the best ways to distinguish under which category something falls is to ask yourself if you have to do it.

“There is no “have to” with a Gain task, because there are no consequences if you choose not to pursue Gain in your life.”

Paradoxically, the very things we don’t have to do are the very things that lead to positive results in life.

If you continue to do solely what is necessary to survive every day, all you will accomplish is preventing pain from coming your way. To move your life or your business forward from where it is today and to see an improvement, you must do something extraordinary— something that you didn’t have to do at all. You must pursue Gain.

There are three attributes to a gain task:
1. A gain task is never urgent;
2. You don’t have to complete a gain; and
3. You can’t delegate it to anyone else.

Burnout, McClatchy writes, is caused “when people feel that they have been working too hard for too long and have nothing to show for it.” That is, they are doing too much preventing pain and not enough gain.

Not understanding how this moves us to be out of balance, companies often resort to perks to promote efficiency. Rarely, however, is this new time used towards Gain-oriented tasks. Instead, we often find ourselves with more time to prevent pain.

Although many companies do their best by offering perks such as a flexible work schedule, child care, or financial services, these things can only help you manage life more efficiently. They can’t give your life direction, momentum, or balance.

The very efficiency of these perks only adds to the office culture, which has “become a race to complete our to-do list and meet expectations.” McClatchy argues that what’s lost in all of this is balance.

The idea of work-life balance is inherently combative. It suggests a discord between two vital parts of life: work being what we have to do, and life being what we want to do . It suggests that these are two opposing forces between which we must constantly make choices— and that when we choose to give time or thought to one, the other loses. This constant battle between work and personal pursuits puts one in a perpetual state of conflict; furthermore, it suggests that personal and professional goals are out of alignment or mutually exclusive and that achieving both is therefore unattainable.

The Japanese word for death by overwork is karoshi.

In response to the balance crisis McClatchy proposes gain.

Goals are the ticket out of any sense of depression. They improve and offset the losses or decay in our lives so we don’t end up in a rut. They alleviate that feeling that you have worked hard and accomplished nothing. When you are working toward Gain, you end the day feeling like you have made progress and are moving forward. And the momentum you’ve created makes you feel balanced and energized— like today is better than yesterday, like you are better than you were yesterday. It gives hope for the future. It lets us sleep at night knowing that because we are working hard, things are getting better all the time. That sounds like balance. That sounds like satisfaction and happiness to me.

“You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”

— Fred Rogers

Modern prioritizing models fall into the urgency trap.

… [T]he letters A, B, and C have traditionally represented the urgency or the deadline that a task has. A task that’s due immediately or today is assigned an A. Tasks that are due soon get a B, and a C is due next week or maybe next month, something you eventually have to complete. So really, all you need to do to turn a C into an A using this approach is to procrastinate long enough. Don’t do it now; just wait.

[…]

This method of prioritizing makes a task’s life cycle look something like this:

That’s due in a month? Oh, that is so a C. I’ve got 30 days. I won’t forget; it’s important, but I have a whole month, so I’m not looking at that now …

That’s due next week, isn’t it? Okay, let’s make that a B. I’ll put that on my radar screen. I can’t let that fall through the cracks; it’s coming up next week. That’s huge. Okay, that’s a B, but I have other things, I have As to work on today, so that will have to wait …

That’s due today ?! What happened? Okay, that is my biggest A today! I need to drop everything else to get it done— this is a four-alarm fire! I need to finish this right now!

Every possible task, no matter how trivial could become an A in this approach. And when everything can be the top priority, we have trouble distinguishing between what is truly important and what isn’t.

Explaining why “prioritizing in relation to urgency doesn’t work,” McClatchy tells the following story:

Let’s say you have a Monday morning trash pickup in your neighborhood. On Sunday night, when you are very comfortable, relaxing at home with your family, is getting up to take out the trash an A, B, or C? For most people it’s a C. If you forget to do it before you go to bed, then it becomes a B on Monday morning. You still have a few hours before they come! What about when you hear the trash truck coming down the street? It’s A time now, baby! Urgency has forced you to run to the street, yelling after the truck with the trash collectors cheering you on to throw your bag into the back before the truck turns the corner. You made it! Woo-hoo! What an accomplishment. Didn’t it feel great? Congratulations, you have just taken out the trash. And according to that task’s deadline, you have just checked off an A on your list for today. You should feel good all day about that one. However, what did you really accomplish ? Not much; you really only took out the trash. And guess what? The bag inside is already filling up for next week.

“The things that will bring you the greatest results in your life don’t have a deadline.”

Another way to prioritize is to ask what results will this task produce in my life? Flip it around.

A, B, and C should represent the results that a task produces for you personally after you’ve completed it. So an A represents your Gain tasks, the most significant result-producing tasks that you will ever accomplish or experience in your life. They are based on results, not deadlines. When you look back on your life on your 100th birthday, you will remember your A tasks.

Both B and C are “have to,” or Prevent Pain, tasks that someone— or something—will bring to your attention if you don’t do them. Both can have urgency attached to them, but here’s the difference: someone, somewhere is keeping track of if and when you complete a B task. In other words, you not only have to complete a B, but you have to do it well or on time because it is being documented. For example, handing in your monthly report at work is a B; people will notice whether or not you did it on time. … In contrast, no one is keeping track of how well you complete a C task. Anyone who would keep track of how well you take out the trash or check your e-mail has too much time on his hands.

The old maxim that “whatever gets measured, gets done” has been attributed to many different authors and thinkers over the years. It essentially means that if you are in a management position and you want your employees to complete something, then you need to measure it, track it, require that it be done by a certain time, and then record performance surrounding it. In other words, if you communicate standards clearly, then they will be reached. This is true as long as what’s measured makes sense. But another maxim, which has been attributed to Albert Einstein, goes like this: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” This should speak to organizations as they determine what they need to measure and record and as they set metrics accordingly. However, as far as prioritizing is concerned, once the metric has been set, the task becomes a B for everyone who needs to follow it, because it is recorded and it affects performance ratings.

Balanced to do list
Source: Decide

Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress, and Lead by Example goes on to break gain into creation versus consumption and offer insights into how we can reshape our decisions around how we manage our time.

Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time

You’re busy. I get it.

But what can we do about it?

What would you do if your schedule suddenly opened up and we found we have more time? I bet you’d reply with read, travel, and maybe even sleep. Some of you would want to organize the drawers, clean off your desk, or simply watch a movie.

So where is the time for that on your schedule?

Terry Monaghan is a self-described productivity expert whom we meet in Brigid Schulte’s book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.

Terry Monaghan’s approach to time management is simple: You can’t manage time. Time never changes. There will always and ever be 168 hours in a week. What you can manage are the activities you choose to do in time. And what busy and overwhelmed people need to realize, she said, is that you will never be able to do everything you think you need, want, or should do. “When we die, the e-mail in-box will still be full. The to-do list will still be there. But you won’t,” she tells us. “Eighty percent of the e-mail that comes in is crap anyway, and it takes you the equivalent of nineteen and a half weeks a year just to sort through. Eighty percent of your to-do list is crap. Look, the stuff of life never ends. That is life. You will never clear your plate so you can finally allow yourself to get to the good stuff. So you have to decide. What do you want to accomplish in this life? What’s important to you right now? And realize that what’s important now may not be two years from now. It’s always changing.”

Start with what’s important.

But everything is important you say? Everything seems important: work, family, friends, community, taking out the trash, paying bills, getting the oil changed, fighting the relentless torrent of clutter …

If everything is important you might be trying to do everything all at once. A “fusion lover,” as Ellen Ernst Kossek would call it in her book CEO of Me. Kossek describes how some people seem to thrive on multitasking, which we know is an illusion at best.

You know these people, they are the ones replying to work emails while at the kids’ soccer game or calling the daycare provider to check in. But there is another layer to this, and that is the people who can’t decide what’s most pressing – they can’t focus on anything because they are driven to do everything. These people end up doing both work and home activities in a halfhearted way. This results in mediocre outcomes.

Time management gurus talk about clearing away any nagging “internal friction” that erodes the willpower and clouds the thinking before one can take off to superproductive heights. But honestly, in living in a stew of ambivalence and self-doubt, crashing between the impossible pulls of the ideal worker and ideal mother, “internal friction” doesn’t even begin to cover what’s going on inside.

Indecision about what is important and what is not important is like putting our lives on hold. We pursue both what we want and what we do not.

Psychologists say that ambivalence is, literally, being of two minds. In their labs, they have found that that nebulous feeling is far more uncomfortable and stressful on the body and mind than either embracing one position over another or merely being neutral. But the discomfort of the ambivalent soul becomes unbearable if we are forced to make a choice. In constant battle with yourself, you fight, not to truce but to a stalemate. There is no clear victor, no end in sight. It’s like living life on hold. We distract ourselves from this uneasy internal landscape with busyness, with the bustle of our to-do lists. To be ambivalent, say the psychotherapists David Hartman and Diane Zimberoff, is to be preoccupied with both what is wanted and what is not. “The opposite of ambivalence is a rigid intolerance for ambiguity, nuance or paradox,” they write. “The synthesis of the two is ‘passionate commitment in the face of ambiguity.’”

In response to this, Schulte realized:

I would never be able to schedule my way efficiently out of the overwhelm. I had to face my own ambivalence about trying to live two clashing ideals at once. There would never be enough room in a day for both. As I had been on this quest to understand the overwhelm and the way out, I watched helplessly as Jeff, one of our best friends, died suddenly and inexplicably of stomach cancer. Life is so fragile. I simply couldn’t wait, like so many people clucked, until the kids were grown and gone and the madness was over to live my best life. … I may not have the time.

***

But you feel overwhelmed? This comes from unrealistic expectations. When we fail to meet our lofty goals for ourselves we think “we’re doing something wrong,” rather than challenge the assumptions.

Managing the overwhelm … comes down to knowing the underlying story that’s driving those unrealistic expectations.

***

So what can we do about this? How can we figure out our “shreds of far-flung time confetti” and package it into something useful, something meaningful? Something that allows us to live a more fulfilling life without always focusing on what we’re not doing.

Start by asking yourself what is most important to you. Then, and here is the key, work to “create a system and routines” that help you accomplish that.

It’s not so much that they scheduled everything down to the minute, but Monaghan forced Lucchesi to take the most important pieces of her jigsaw puzzle and fix them in time on her calendar first. Everything else flowed around those big pieces.

Schedule the stuff you want to do in big bold chunks of time and let everything else fit in around it.

***

Some other tips:

  • Clear your desk. “We started small: by clearing my desk. “It gives your brain a rest from visual clutter.” As we worked to build systems and routines into my days, we always seemed to be coming back to my brain, and how getting a handle on the overwhelm was not just about creating more space and order on my calendar and in my office, but doing the same in my mind.”
  • Get off the worry wheel. “Right now, you need to free up all this energy that’s being consumed by worry.” She told me to take out a piece of paper, set a timer for five minutes, and write furiously about absolutely everything that was bugging me. I didn’t have to do anything about this “Worry Journal.” Just getting the ambivalence out of my head and putting it somewhere would give my brain a rest. “It’s a way off the hamster wheel.”
  • To-do lists. “We did the same with the enormous to-do list I carried around in my head like a mark of shame. Every Monday morning, I began to set aside time to plan the week. I began with a brain dump. It was the list of everything on my mind from here to eternity. The working memory can keep only about seven things in it at one time. And if the to-do list is much longer than that, the brain, worried it may forget something, will get stuck in an endless circular loop of mulling, much like a running toilet. The brain dump is like jiggling the handle. “If your to-do list lives on paper, your brain doesn’t have to expend energy to keep remembering it,” Monaghan said.

***

Of course, this isn’t anything new. It’s the stuff we learned in preschool. “Plan. Do. Review.” Only we lost sight of what was important to us as we became adults. Take the time to figure out what’s important for you and embrace it. Try one of these things and if it doesn’t work, ditch it and try something else. “There is no right answer,” Schulte writes. “This is life.”

Another way to think about this is backward, using inversion. What would ensure failure towards achieving our goals? Aside from the obvious, splintering our time amongst hundreds of tiny threads seems like a reasonable way to ensure you don’t really do anything. Does that look like what you’re doing with your time?

Sit down and make time for what’s important for you next week. Do it now.

Still curious? The last part of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time contains a fascinating discussion on how our minds and bodies are meant to work in pulses, to alternate between spending and recovering energy.

Things you should focus on

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I wasn’t a huge fan of Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett: The Winning Strategy to Help You Achieve Your Financial and Life Goals but this anecdote on time management hit a cord with me.

An expert in time management was invited to speak to an MBA class. After a brief introduction she reached down and produced a very large mason jar and set it on a table in front of her. She then reached down again and produced a box filled with big rocks. She proceeded to remove the rocks from the box and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When no more rocks would fit inside the jar, she asked the class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone yelled, “Yes.” She then reached under the table, pulled out a bucket of gravel, dumped some in, and shook the jar. This caused pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. She continued this process until no more gravel could be placed into the jar. She then asked the class, “Is the jar full?” One student, getting the idea, answered, “no.” She then reached under the table, brought out a bucket of sand, and started dumping the sand into the jar. The sand began to fill the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. She continued until no more sand could fit into the jar. Once more she asked, “Is this jar full?” This time everyone shouted, “No!” She then grabbed a pitcher of water and poured until the jar was filled to the brim. She then asked the class, “What is the moral of the story?” An eager student raised his hand and said, “The moral of the story is that no matter how full your schedule is, you can always fit in one more meeting!”

The speaker replied, “Nice try, but that is not the moral of the story. The truth this illustration teaches us is that if you do not put the big rocks in first, you can never get them in.” To each of us, the big rocks mean something different, but at the core, the big rocks are those things that provide the richest meaning to our lives.