I know you don’t have time (toolkit idea)

12.20.12 | 1 Comment

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Thesis: Your available work time is completely taken up doing things the way you do them now. You have no time to try something new. All these ideas are worthless if you never have time to act on them.

I can’t give you more time. I may, however, just in time for New Year resolutions, be able to give you a recipe with which you can make yourself more time. It is a recipe that has worked well for me throughout my career and has helped some of the arts leaders I work with directly. It is applicable to any field of endeavor, so if you are a day-job holding artist, you could apply this to your day job as well, perhaps thereby generating some more art life time.

First, the conceptual framework. If you spend all your available work time accomplishing tasks within an established process, you are effectively running on a treadmill. You probably also feel as though you are on a treadmill, which can sap your enthusiasm and will to improve. However, if you force yourself to steal some of your available work time to focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of what you do the rest of the time, you will generate more time to work on further improvement. Initially, it’s probably just the time you stole to work on those first improvements, but as you make progress, you can generate more and more improvement that will give you back more and more time. Think of it as a compound interest model applied to work efficiency.

The recipe

1. Start dedicating 5 minutes a day to improvement. Pick a consistent time within your work cycle to do it. For some people, first thing is best. Others thrive on just before quitting time. Choose a place in the cycle that works for you. Don’t have 5 minutes a day? You had time to read this. Tomorrow, don’t read this. Instead, start on the recipe.

2. The first thing you’ll need to do with this time is identify what you want to improve. Here’s an exercise you can do 5 minutes at a time, day by day to choose a good target.

a. Write a clear but descriptive text explaining to yourself all the steps you routinely go through in doing your work, from identifying a piece of work to do, gathering information and resources to accomplish it, coordinating with other people who participate, accomplishing the piece of work, and evaluating it afterwards. Be honest. No one should ever see this but yourself.

b. Read your document sentence by sentence from the end to the beginning. Going back to front gives you a different perspective on what you’ve written and helps you take fewer things for granted. Give each sentence a 1-5 score. Lower values mean you are dissatisfied with the efficiency or effectiveness of that part of your process. Higher values mean you are satisfied with that part of your process.

c. Identify those sentences you gave the lowest numbers to. Put those sentences together on a page. Ask yourself whether they are all isolated negative facts about your process or whether any of them belong together. You may find there are several process steps where a single underlying cause is making all of them unsatisfying. Group any that go together.

d. Go through just this page and score each sentence or group of sentences again for severity. Stay with low numbers bad, high numbers not quite so bad.

e. Highlight 1-3 sentences or groups that you’ve rated most negatively. These are your candidate improvement targets, but there’s one more filter you have to run them through.

f. Consider each of your candidate improvement targets. Is there anything that would improve one or more of these targets that depends on nothing but you changing something about how you work? If so, what would you have to change? Why aren’t you already doing it that better way? What resistance do you have to overcome? How can you remind yourself to try the better way for the next few days and see whether it really improves? If an improvement area needs the outside world to change rather than your own behavior to change, set it aside for a later cycle.

g. Pick 1 or 2 of your improvement ideas, and try it for a week. Post the ideas and any reminders you cooked up someplace where you can see them while you’re working. This is going to sound daffy, but if you change something else trivial that’s really easy to change, it can help support you. Used to wear earrings and have gotten out of the habit? Wear earrings again for the first few days of trying to make the change to remind yourself that you are living a little bit differently.

Remember that you will do all this not inconsiderable work in 5 minute chunks stolen from work days. If you do it thoroughly, it will probably take a month of 5 minute pieces to get through the first time. It’s also OK if you’d rather hold a sort of personal retreat and go through the exercise all at once, but I’m not betting you have that kind of time available.

3. Work on each improvement cycle for long enough to establish whether that improvement is working for you and incorporated as a work habit or if it was a failed attempt.

4. If you decide it was a failed attempt but haven’t given up on the process, go back to your unsatisfying factors list from step c and pick a different candidate improvement area.

5. If you decide it succeeded, think about how much time it gave you back. Can you start putting 10 minutes a day into working on improvement? Go through the whole exercise again on the 10 minute a day plan.

6. Repeat until you feel highly effective.

Really what will happen is that the habit of looking for improvement opportunities and acting on them will become a habit with you in itself. You won’t need the mechanics of this little recipe or any other to continue making progress. However, if you’ve been feeling blocked on improvement up to now, this recipe will probably be useful.

Need to be convinced that this works? Just think how much available time I must have generated for myself to be able to write all these ridiculous posts.

OK, and if this does work for you, go back to my other stuff and pump a little bit of your gained time into trying (or better still improving on) any of my ideas. I really want piles more people to see many more plays. I can’t do that on my own.

Pete Miller

IT and Arts leader, playgoer, board game player, home brewer.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.
  • Sara

    I am about to implement this in my own work process, thanks so much for the outline!