Fascinating! From the Washington Post.
And it’s collected into a nice chart for easy comparison:
Fascinating! From the Washington Post.
And it’s collected into a nice chart for easy comparison:
And both of these are simply an application of what Drucker said in The Effective Executive:
“To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive, therefore needs to be able to dispose of time in fairly large chunks. To have small dribs and drabs of time at [your] disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours.”
Being competent is a good thing, but you need to be aware of one danger: “If not controlled, work will flow to the competent man until he submerges” (Charles Boyle). So if you aren’t deliberate about it, your competence can actually be your undoing.
This is the issue of performance load. Here’s how Josh Kaufman explains it in The Personal MBA:
Being busy is better than being bored, but it’s possible to be too busy for your own good.
Performance load is a concept that explains what happens when you have too many things to do. Above a certain point, the more tasks a person has to do, the more their performance on all of those tasks decreases.
Imagine juggling bowling pins. If you’re skilled, you may be able to juggle three or four without making a mistake. The more pins that must be juggled at once, the more likely you are to make a mistake and drop them all.
If you want to be productive, you must set limits. Juggling hundreds of active tasks across scores of projects is not sustainable: you’re risking failure, subpar work, and burnout. Remember Parkinson’s Law: if you don’t set a limit on your available time, your work will expand to fill it all.
Part of setting limits means “preserving unscheduled time to respond to new inputs.” This is necessary to handle the unexpected. And this means we must recognize that downtime is not wasteful. Kaufman goes on:
The default mind-set of many modern businesses is that “downtime” is inefficient and wasteful — workers should be busy all the time. Unfortunately, this philosophy ignores the necessity of handling unexpected events, which always occur. Everyone only has so many hours in a day, and if your agenda is constantly booked solid, it’ll always be difficult to keep up with new and unexpected demands on your time and energy.
Schedule yourself (in terms of appointments and projects) at no more than 80% capacity. Leave time to handle the unexpected. And to enable yourself to do this, realize that, counterintuitively, people (and systems — this is true of highways, airports, and all sorts of things) become less efficient when operating at full capacity, not more, and that downtime can actually increase productivity. If you keep these things in mind, you can help prevent your competence from being your undoing.
The article below is fantastic, and is the exact tension in my life.
I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want to only do hard thinking and writing, but neither would I only want to execute and make things happen. The problem is that seeking to do both creates a tension. These things can fight against one another when it comes to making time for both.
That’s why Cal Newport’s article, How to Fit Hard Thinking into a Busy Schedule, is so helpful. It addresses how to resolve this tension for those of us who are not called to go exclusively in one direction or the other.
Here’s the first part:
It started a few weeks ago. I had to write an academic research statement: a high stakes, ambiguous, beast of a creative project. For the first week, I kept telling myself, “this is my most important priority,” and hacked away at the project whenever I got a chance. I continuously felt guilty about not spending enough time writing. One night, toward the end of the week, I holed up in my office until 9 pm, desperate to get things done.The result was near useless. I had 15 pages of rambling text (a research statement should be 3-5 pages, at most), and still had more to cover. The message was confused and drowning in adjectives.
This situation is common for to-do list creatives – workers who have the juggle creative work – like writing or devising strategy – with logistical work – like prompt email replies and meetings. I’m a to-do list creative: as a theoretical computer scientist, I must switch between solving mathematical proofs – one of the most purely creative endeavors – and the logistics of reviewing papers and meeting with grant managers. To keep things interesting, I also sometimes write.
Here’s our quandary: To-do list creatives advance in their careers based on the quality of their creative output. Our logistical responsibilities, however, fight against this goal. Most to-do list creatives cannot drop everything to spend days lost in monk-like focus. But the result of instead squeezing creative work into distracted bursts, driven by deadline pressure, is mediocrity. (Exhibit A: the first draft of my research statement).
That distinction between “creative work” and “logistical work” is incredibly enlightening. And so is his point (later in the article) that creative work simply does not work well on a to-do list. He presents, in my opinion, a much better solution which helps keep logistical responsibilities from fighting against creative work.
Another Fast Company column by Gina Trapani. Here are the first two paragraphs:
In an interruption-driven culture, it’s too easy to let everyone else decide where your attention goes and how to spend your next 10 minutes. If you jump every time your phone rings, a new email arrives, your Blackberry buzzes, or someone stops by your desk, you’re undermining your most important work and costing your company money. A recent study shows that unnecessary interruptions costs the U.S. economy $650 billion dollars in lost productivity per year.
Being available to your boss and co-workers is part of your job. But the most creative and important work you do requires total focus and attention for an extended period of time. Your brain needs at least 15 minutes of uninterrupted time to dive in, concentrate on one thing, and get into the zone where you’re truly focused and doing your best work. Time blocking is a technique that sets the stage for that to happen.
Some good advice from The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success:
When you think about it, absolutely everything anyone does starts with a thought. Becasue the quality of the thought has a large influence on the quality of the outcome, it makes sense to do what you can to think clearly. In a world in which technology provides the capacity to reach out and be reached anytime, anywhere, finding space to think clearly is more and more of a challenge. A lack of white space on one’s calendar correlates with a lack of white space in one’s brain.
The author then recounts a story from his former boss to illustrate this:
I can remember one time talking to another executive who said he was in meetings from morning until night and I asked, “How can you do your job?” and this guy just looked at me. I said, “I see part of my job as leaving enough space to think about what the next issue or problem is that lands on my desk.” He just looked at me like I was nuts. It is very counterintuitive, but I think if you leave some white space on your calendar you tend to get more done.
A full calendar may give the appearance of getting things done, but being able to see that next competitive thing coming down the line or being able to see that we’ve got two groups that are fighting here and we really need to invest in getting them to work together — those are the critical things that executives need to do.
It is about having the capacity to see further out or to deal with that big threat to your bottom line. The easier issues will get managed below, if you are doing your job right. The higher you are in the organization, the tougher the issues are that come to you. You have to have the space and perspective to deal with those tougher issues.
I think a lot of people measure their worth in a corporation by how many meetings they attend. It depends on the culture of the organization you are in, but often it is a huge mistake to fill up your schedule with meetings.
I’ve advocated in previous posts that, when planning your week, you should proactively choose several “big rocks” to accomplish that week. These are the most important tasks that you can do that week, and they should stem from your values, goals, roles, and/or major projects.
Here’s what I haven’t said before: I think it may work best to keep the number of big rocks down to about 5. If you can accomplish one big rock per day, you will be making huge progress.
But if you try to put much more than that on your agenda for the week, one of two things will likely happen. First, might not feel the freedom or time to address situations that come up — many of which are important, even though they could not have been foreseen. Or, second, if you do give yourself the freedom to turn your attention to them, you will feel frustrated by the inability to accomplish your plans. And so you will feel behind.
I’m writing this because that’s how I feel right now! I tried to schedule too many priorities into my week. If I had scheduled less, maybe I’d even feel about done right now, with everything else I do for the week being gravy. That would be nice — and maybe would result in more getting done, not less. Or, it would result in the ability to say “finished for now,” which I think is something that is extra hard these days but which we all need more of.
The concept of big rocks is from Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He advocates about 2-3 big rocks per role, which would end up giving you around 15 or so per week. He doesn’t give that as any hard and fast rule, but it does set up your expectations. Sticking down at 5 is a bit counter-intuitive, but I think it may be about right.
But we’ll see. That’s why I’ve called this post “thoughts on how to schedule your week.” In many ways, effectiveness is an ongoing experiment. You create hypotheses, test them, adapt, and repeat.