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Recovering Time

| March 28, 2005

by Jim Bruce

In the February 23rd and the March 16th issues of the Point Lookout

email newsletter, Rich Brenner and the staff at Chaco Canyon Consulting

<> present two helpful pieces on “Recovering

Time.”  Given that all of us scramble to find more time for our work,

I thought that I would share their ideas with you.









                      Recovering Time, Part I


     Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend

     eight, ten or twelve hours at work each day and get

     so little done? To recover time, limit the

     fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for

     structuring your working day in larger chunks.


When we switch from one task to another, it takes a while to get

going on the new task — up to 15 minutes. And then it takes time

to switch back. That’s why fragmentation of your day reduces the

time available for actual work. We get more done when we switch

from one task to another less often.


Here are some tips for controlling fragmentation of your day.


Limit your interruptible time

     Interruptions are very expensive. They force us to switch from

     whatever we’re doing to assessing why we’re being interrupted.

     Then we decide whether to defer the issue. If we defer, we

     have to schedule it, park it, or send it on its way. If we

     handle it, we switch yet again.


     Unless you’re an air traffic controller or a first responder,

     limit your interruptible time to twenty or even thirty minutes

     per hour. Muzzle your personal hardware. Change your

     my-door-is-always-open policy to a specified-office-hours



Don’t interrupt yourself

     After years of interruptions, and overloaded as we are, it’s

     difficult to focus. Valuable thoughts — often irrelevant to

     the current task — pop up constantly, making focus



     When an extraneous idea appears, capture it on a PDA or a

     notepad. Then quickly resume the current task.


Configure your job

     Our jobs are interrupt-infested. The more people we

     collaborate with, the more frequently we’re interrupted.

     The more teams we own or belong to, the more interruptions we

     have to deal with.


     If you can, minimize the number of teams you own or belong to

     at any one time. If you’re asked to participate in too many

     teams, start accounting for task switching by including it in

     your time estimates.


Resolve ambiguity and confusion aggressively

     Not only are ambiguity and confusion sources of rework, but

     the task of clarifying becomes a reason to interrupt

     colleagues — with phone calls, email or meetings.


     Become a clarity expert. The more clearly you communicate your

     own ideas, and the more clearly you understand others, the

     less frequently you’ll have to refer to each other for

     clarification. And less frequent referrals mean less frequent



Organizational leaders can help in two ways. Leaders can declare

“quiet periods” — times during the day when we don’t phone or

visit each other. And leaders can minimize the total number of teams

in the organization, and focus people on one or two teams at a



Sometimes we try to recover time by multi-tasking — we read email

while on the phone, or text-message someone while we’re attending a

meeting. This often leads to a bad result, because multi-tasking is

mostly a myth. What we actually do is serial single-tasking. To get

more done, stick with one.



                     Recovering Time: Part II


     Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend

     eight, ten or twelve hours at work each day and get

     so little done? To find more time, focus on



In Part I, we looked at time-defragmentation strategies. In this

Part II are some strategies for recovering time by reducing

planning effort and the time needed to deal with difficulties that

arise from self-defeating patterns.


Get help with micromanagement

     Micromanaging is an attempt to control what we cannot actually

     control. That’s why it chews up so much time.


     Have you been micromanaging? If you have, you’re in for a

     treat: you actually _do_ have time to do your own job, and

     once you focus on it, it will be fun again.


Get more space

     Cramped, cluttered quarters cost time. If you can’t get a

     bigger office, compress the stuff you have.


     Strategies for compressing your stuff: get taller filing

     cabinets; throw stuff out; move things to storage; and acquire

     shelving, trays or drawers.


Harness the urge to perfect

     We spend way too much time ironing out details of components

     that we’ll never actually use.


     Learn the meaning of “good enough.” Situations change so

     rapidly that building for the future (that is, next week) is

     often a waste. Do what you’re pretty sure you’ll need — and

     no more.


Spend less time searching for stuff

     Among the items most commonly lost are: cell phone,

     eyeglasses, documents, keys and whatever you had in your hand

     a minute ago, until you set it down someplace.


     Organizing helps with the documents. For the other items,

     establish a standard “parking space” for setting things down



Get out of the swamp

     Sometimes we’re so swamped that we don’t have time to work on

     getting unswamped.


     Give priority to tasks that free you up. For instance, you

     might have an assistant, but he or she isn’t cutting it, and

     you’re tolerating that. Deal with it.


Stop doing tasks you shouldn’t

     Some things we do aren’t really a part of the job. We took

     them on because we didn’t know how to say no, or we like them,

     or maybe we can’t let go.


     Unload what you can, and then deal with causes. Learn to let

     go. Learn to say no. Learn to let others do the things you

     love that aren’t part of your job. Get some coaching or help

     from a mentor.


And here are two suggested by reader Rodney Thompson:


Shift your time

     Start your day an hour earlier to gain some uninterrupted time

     when no one is around.


     Clearing the delicate, frightening or urgent tasks might keep

     them from nagging at you for the rest of the day.


Monitor yourself

     Realistically write down your top priorities for the day, and

     set time aside to get them done.


     Put the list somewhere in easy view. PDA’s are nice, but index

     cards are always powered on.


If you were to implement just one of these strategies this week,

which would it be?