Taking the Long, Long View of Killing Time

I just turned off Star Trek (you know, that episode with Julie Newmar) so that I could sit down and write this post.

As if you could kill time without injuring eternity - Thoreau
Time is a terrible thing to waste.

Peter Thiel often asks, “What is something you believe that few other people do?” I believe we lived as spirits before we were born, and that we were with God for a very, very long time, waiting excitedly for our turn to come to Earth. This belief has interesting implications for time management. I imagine us all talking about what we would do when we got here and I just can’t imagine hearing the following:

My Friend: It’s almost time! What are you most excited about doing on Earth?

Me: Well, they’re gonna have this thing called Candy Crush; I’m really looking forward to playing it for hours on end. (more…)

Why You Should Give Away Your Productivity Gains

Increasing productivity is hard: balancing costs and benefits, sorting through tools, and developing incentives takes a tremendous amount of time…and effort and we still often get it wrong.

Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. 1 Timothy 5:18
Yet another reason for giving your employees the benefit of their productivity. Photo by treewoman8.

I was on a call recently where a consultant was reviewing a case study of the ROI of a particular software tool thus: The product reduced the time required for a certain operation by 15 seconds. Now, each employee performed this operation an average of four times a day so the software saved one minute per day and there are 1000 employees with an average salary of $25 per hour, so this software saved the client about $105,000 in the first year alone…

I stopped listening after that, because I’ve never seen an office in which employees were scheduled to the minute, much less in 15 second increments. (I’ve never even seen an employee spend less than 15 seconds deciding what flavor of coffee to drink.)

The truth is, knowledge workers are self-governing in the use of their time (and according to Peter Drucker it can’t be otherwise); if they are pressed for time they will take a short bathroom break, if they have time to spare they will take a magazine with them. And this is why so many productivity programs fail: give a knowledge worker an extra 15 seconds and he will use it as he sees fit.

The best way to improve productivity is to give some of that productivity to your employees. (more…)

How to Give Your Employees a Raise…For Free

What do your employees want? A pleasant working environment? Yes. Meaningful work to do? Of course. Work/life balance? That would be great. Decent coffee? Duh.

All of these things are vitally important, but the thing that really brings them in the door each day is a paycheck. Your employees work for money, and they would really like more of it. What follows is a wild suggestion for giving your employees a raise that doesn’t cost you anything.

Photo of a cup of coffee
Drinking coffee is not a revenue-producing activity. Photo by David Leggett.

I recently wrote that the easiest way to increase your hourly pay is to work fewer hours. What is true for individuals and rates of pay is also true for most companies and productivity. You can increase your company’s productivity by putting in fewer man-hours. (This post applies primarily to salaried knowledge workers; if you are a manufacturer, run a call center, or are a retailer, you can probably skip this post as well as the one next week.) (more…)

There Is No Rest for the Idle

Last week, I wrapped up a difficult multiple-month project and was shocked that that I was not relieved, not invigorated, not ready to take a break, but rather tired; and in a very odd way.

Our greatest weariness comes from work not done. - Eric Hoffer
It seems counter-intutitive, but unlike physical or mental labor, the work of the soul actually brings rest. Photo by epSos.de.

A long, physically demanding project should tire the body, which is then restored by sleeping, eating and drinking, and inactivity. A difficult, mentally demanding project should tire the mind, requiring a restorative vacation, mental respite, and diversion. What I experienced at the end of this project was a tiredness of soul.

How do you rest the soul? And what tires it out in the first place? (more…)

Want to Know the Future? Today Will Tell You.

From time to time, we all wish to see the future, to know what is in store for us and how our lives will play out. For good or ill, there is a way to read the ending of the book of our life in advance: look at today.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. - Annie Dillard
Today is more powerful than a crystal ball for predicting your future.

A few weeks ago, the family went to see the movie Epic, which has a gag about a fruitfly being asked  what it’s like to only live one day and then dying before he can finish the answer. I laughed at seeing an entire life from youthful enthusiasm to regret pass in seconds…but it was an uncomfortable laugh. Here at mid-life, the idea of living for only one day hits a little too close to home.

Annie Dillard writes, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” The truth of this observation is self-evident and it’s implications for personal prognostication are intriguing: Today is your life story writ small. (more…)

Saying Thank You Out Loud

A week is the perfect length for making significant improvement in life. This post is a brief summary of my experience and lessons learned while tackling one improvement over the course of a week.

Thank you.
Don’t just be grateful; say “thank you” out loud. Artwork by woodleywonderworks.

The Goal: Say “Thank You” out loud to at least three people each day.

The Problem: Gratitude opens our minds to the richness of the world around us. I want to experience more richness, but I am not sure that I am feeling and expressing gratitude.

The Story: GB Stern wrote, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.” For several weeks I have had an alarm on my phone that would remind me once each hour to stop and find something about whatever I was doing at that moment for which I could be grateful. This practice has certainly made me more thankful, but my gratitude was only between my ears–it wasn’t getting out into the world.

The Action: I was going to be intentional about saying a sincere “thank you” to three people each day. In the first few days, I thanked my boss, a co-worker, and every member of my family. Because these thanks seemed to be coming out of the blue, I explained what I was doing and why. People seemed genuinely touched, but it was uncomfortable and a little weird. I gave it up by Thursday.

I repeated the goal a second week to see if I could make it work. I stopped planning who I would thank and stopped prefacing it with an explanation. I watched closely for things I could be genuinely grateful for and thanked not only family members, but a waiter, desk clerks, even a guy in a car who waited for me to ride past instead of turning in front of me.

It felt great.

The Lessons: Being genuinely and sincerely grateful does not have to be planned, in fact, when you have to watch for opportunities for thanks, it makes you far more aware of all the good things that are happening around you all the time. Saying a sincere “Thank you” as opposed to a cursory “Thanks” has a real impact. It makes people genuinely smile, which makes you smile (Click here for more on this fascinating feedback loop.)

Incorporation: I will definitely continue and refine this practice.

The Worth of Your Time Depends on Your Market

Following my breakup letter to Benjamin Franklin, I was asked about exchanging time for money “according to market principles.” It’s a concept that I have touched on before and one that I did not understand well in the past.

A paperboy's time has no worth
I was a 30 year-old paper boy because I didn’t understand how markets affected the that the value of my time. Photo by Joanna Bourne.

After a period of post-grad school unemployment, I was working as the Marketing Manager for the Utah Symphony earning $26,000 per year and not making it financially. I realized that I while I had found a buyer for 40 hours of my time each week, I still had 128 hours that I could offer for sale. (more…)

Franklin Was Wrong: Time is not money

Dear Ben,

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: it’s a classic case of hero worship crashing into reality. We met when I was an overly-impressionable child and you were the charismatic character in the play 1776. You became my imaginary BFF and we had great conversations (it’s a wonder the other fifth graders didn’t kick the snot out of me). You were so wise; so smart. You knew all the answers and when you didn’t, you had a good joke or witty remark. I accepted everything you said as true until a few years ago when the difference between my pay and that of the CEO made me realize that time is not, in fact, money.

Time does not equal money.
Ben Franklin was so very wrong, and believing him cost me dearly.

We didn’t talk as much after that, but I still wanted to believe you had the answers. I rationalized that because time and money can be exchanged according to market principles they were, if not identical, at least somewhat equivalent.

No more. (more…)

BBC 3: Not Fun Enough?

Achieving goals, self-improvement—these things are really hard all by themselves. If you forget to bring the fun, they may be impossible.

Girl dances on a beach.
Don’t get so wrapped up in self-improvement that you forget to have fun. Photo by Mike Baird.

It happened gradually (these things always do). From a healthy mixed diet of oldies, 80’s pop, choral, classical, top 40…and the occasional hair band just to make the kids roll their eyes, I found myself listening almost exclusively to BBC Radio 3. (more…)