14 December 2007 by Jennifer
If you’d like to have “less on your plate”, then where are the richest opportunities for reclaiming some time?
One of the areas I want to write about on this blog is “Taking on too much”, and its unsurprising result, “Having too much to do”. This is a subject I’ve had many occasions to ponder :-)
I’ve more to say later about specific factors which have tempted me to overreach myself, but here to be going on with is a thing I invented in January 2006.
I was pondering the undeniable fact that, if you want to shrink your workload/overload, then
- you’ve got to stop doing some things (either by finishing them, or just by stopping at some other point), and
- at the same time you’ve got to refrain from taking even more on than you finish or stop.
What I realised is that some “Yes I’ll do that” decisions (or newly invented ideas/tasks) have much greater effect than others in increased time demands. And conversely, different types of “polishing something off” have greatly varying ability to shrink the workload.
In a moment of inspiration, I thought of inventing a thing a bit like the Beaufort Scale for wind speed, to assist me in thinking this through.
Unlike wind speed, it’s not really a one-dimensional variable, so the order I’ve put them in has a few points of “subjective judgement call”. But essentially, the aim is to identify the most worthwhile “wins” on the “stopping doing things” front, and the potentially most expensive temptations on the “starting new things” front.
The examples here are based on the ones I wrote down for myself, so they’re biased towards the kinds of things I personally might be doing. If you want to adapt it for yourself, you’d probably want to come up with your own examples.
Here’s the list. Lower numbers are workload-shrinkers, higher numbers are workload-increasers.
The “Starty Stoppy Scale”
- Stop an ongoing commitment which would otherwise take more attention later.
E.g. bowing gracefully out of some team, group or committee.
- Give away or recycle a possession which I don’t really need any more.
E.g. giving something away via Freecycle (or one of its equivalents).
E.g. recycling/shredding/binning papers.
- Work towards finishing a task.
E.g. finishing a piece of writing.
E.g. giving someone a piece of information I’d promised them.
- Reorganise or neatly store something which would otherwise be getting in my way or otherwise taking my time and/or attention.
E.g. going through a pile of papers and putting away the ones I’m keeping.
E.g. sorting my browser bookmarks.
E.g. creating a workable place to store some homeless possession(s).
- Improve my local environment, in a way which has no significant implications for the outside world and only minor implications for my future workload.
E.g. tidy my desk.
E.g. put batteries on to charge.
- Start something or do something, but it doesn’t matter if I never do any more on it after this burst of inspiration plays out, so the only cost is the time of that moment.
E.g. starting a piece of writing, but nobody knows, and if it stays unfinished, it’ll just stay on the computer somewhere.
E.g. research something which I might or might not want to buy or do at some point.
E.g. playing a solo game such as a computer game or puzzle, or filling in a crossword.
- Start something which will require some dealing with later.
E.g. acquiring a possession.
E.g. undertaking to do something later.
E.g. emailing someone and starting a conversation which may (or will) continue later.
- Start a substantial task, which will need a lot of work to be completed and will hang around until it’s done.
E.g. some big DIY thing.
- Start a substantial task, which will need a lot of work to be completed and must be done either within a particular timescale or for other people who are counting on it (but which, like the previous type, does at least have an inherent ending).
E.g. undertaking to lead a workshop.
E.g. being on a team to run some kind of event.
E.g. taking on building a web site for someone.
- Embark on a potentially endless series of commitments, which will require a type-1 extrication to stop. (“Set a plate spinning”.)
E.g. joining a committee.
E.g. joining a group, especially if there’s an expectation that you’ll participate regularly.
E.g. taking on the future maintenance & development of a web site or email list.
E.g. starting certain kinds of (personal) relationship.
How it worked for me in practice
You could call this a kind of consciousness-raiser rather than a set of rules. I wasn’t saying to myself “Never take on any of the more workload-adding ones” – the idea was simply to be more aware of the future implications when I was deciding what to do.
Not long after inventing this, I did resign from a couple of groups where I didn’t feel I’d contributed much. But no doubt there is more mileage for me in the principle yet – maybe posting it here will remind me to think of it more often :-)
I realised later that this also puts an interesting slant on things like doing puzzles on the computer. I don’t think those are necessarily always a waste of time anyway, because sometimes they’re more like a meditation, where my mind is processing something more substantial at the same time as playing them. But if and when they are a waste of time, at least they only waste the time you actually spend on them. They don’t sign away future time as well, like some kinds of sidetracks do.