Personal Effectiveness: Managing Short Work and Long Waits

Both writing and baking involve long periods of waiting and short periods of activity. The rest of life happens in the gaps between the periods of activity. Consulting and knowledge work reflects the same patterns. The challenge is to use the time in between to best effect.

At work, we can easily fill our waiting time with wasteful effort. There is plenty of busy work to do. We drink coffee, tea or water. We can answer emails for hours. We can attend lots of long and ponderous meetings. We can search for information. We can make documents longer or slides prettier. We can update systems and manage the status and location of information. We multitask as if doing more than one task at a time was productive, fast or effective. Very little of this work adds anything to the experience of customers of the organisation.

Baking bread you need to manage the timetable of your rises and proving to fit around the rest of your work and deliver you a loaf when required.  That takes preparation, a few techniques to manage time and patience. When I bake bread, it is not multitasking. I do one task at a time but I am interweaving my tasks in the available time.  Because baking is not my day job, it is clear to me that I need to focus on completing other work in the time gaps that baking allows.

Because I want to blog consistently, I have a similar process for blogging. I write my posts at roughly the same time each day for a short intense burst. Into the 23 hours beforehand, I weave ideation, design, development, research and reflection for the post around the work I have to do. Blogging is not my day job, I focus on my consulting and coaching work and the life I need to live in that time.

In my consulting practice, the time between work on engagements is used for one of two purposes:

  • developing new client or partner relationships; or
  • developing new product offerings.

Managing the investment of time in these two activities is essential to the long-term health of my practice. When you are busy it is hard to continue to invest in this work so you need to be good at weaving. When you are quiet, you need to sustain the investment and ensure you don’t become wasteful of the time available.

The important part of all these processes is using time ‘in between’ work to best value. That time may not always be work. I have a life. I also want to relax, stare out the window and wonder about things. I just allow for those as activities, enjoy them for what they are and never confuse them with working.

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