Archive for February 2010


Different problems, same solution

Here’s two common problems:

  • Task avoidance. You know what you should be doing. But you don’t do it. It gets embarrassingly overdue. Shame & guilt lie heavy. But still you can’t get started.
  • Perfectionism. You’ve already put hours and hours more into a project than you should have. But it’s still not done. There are final adjustments. You’re waiting on some critical element. You can’t let it go.

They look like very different problems. Yet the same solution can work in each case.

You set aside an amount of time – which can be quite brief, as little as half an hour or less. You commit to doing something on the project, but only for the agreed time period. To emphasise that, you set a timer. When it goes off, you stop. You get on with something else. If necessary you set aside another short time period to work on it again.

Before long, the problem’s disappeared. Avoiders find they’ve progressed the job. Perfectionists find they’re ready to sign it off.

The method is known as time boxing. There’s no shortage of analysis as to why it should work. Procrastinators discover that the task wasn’t actually so bad. The anxiety was all in their mind. Avoiders get a reality check about how long they’re spending. That objective view provides what they need to move on.

Dave Cheong has a thoughtful post on it. Merlin Mann has a typically knockabout approach, suggesting very short dashes – even as little as a minute.

Luciano Passuello calls time boxing the most effective time management tool he knows of. And has the  neat idea of ending the time box period with a downloaded round of applause. Or maybe not.

Recording time

At least one work time life space reader liked teux deux enough to start using it. So here’s another neat, clean, free, web app designed to bring order to the working day.

It’s about recording where your time goes. And your expenses and travel.

The tool is run by 1DayLater, who recommend that instead of jotting such info on post-it notes and scraps of paper, you take ten seconds to enter it on their site. That can be done online or by text.

The 1DayLater site itself shows you a neat visual graph of where the time and money went.1daylater graph

You can export the data to a spreadsheet anytime.

1DayLater is being  developed by two brothers, Paul and David King, who’ve worked as freelances and know the problems of time tracking.  They’re a bit excited at the moment because they’ve been mentioned by the influential Lifehacker website. Not bad for two young lads from the north east.

You’ll need to register on the site. That’s quick and easy. To get an overview of how it works, watch the video.

Rock band’s shrewd rider

Who would insist, as part of their contract to perform on stage, that a bowl of M&Ms should be provided for them backstage with all the brown sweets picked out?

I just read the surprising answer in Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. It is the Californian heavy metal rock band Van Halen.

If the bowl wasn’t there, or it contained any brown M&Ms, the contract stipulated that the band could pull out of the gig, with the venue still liable for the full fee.

Singer David Lee Roth explained that this wasn’t a joke. It wasn’t a bit of celebrity powerplay.

The reasoning behind it was this. Van Halen had an enormously complex touring production. They had nine eighteen-wheeler trucks full of gear, where the standard was three. Setting it up was a serious business, involving a lot of people and a lot of attention to detail. If the venue organisers weren’t up to it, the repercussions could be expensive and dangerous.

Hence the M&Ms rider. It was a shrewd way of testing the venue’s commitment to detail. It alerted the band to the likelihood of  problems ahead. Roth says if he found any brown M&Ms backstage he knew the venue hadn’t read the contract. There would almost certainly be important technical errors elsewhere.

Sweetly done.