Why Responsibilities are Important in Time Management

We don’t control our time. 

Every morning I wake up at 5am.  It doesn’t matter what time I sleep.  My eyes open at 5am.

Sometimes I oversleep but that’s more of the exception than the rule.  I wake up at 5am, Mondays to Sundays, and holidays.  It’s rare I don’t. 

I wake up at 5am because I have a routine.  I feed my pet cats and birds first thing in the morning.  I blog or work out afterwards.  I then eat breakfast, change, and go to work. 

Can I change my routine?  Sure.  But there’s a price to pay if I do.  Waking up later would put me on a rush to finish my routine and likely make me late for work.  Waking up earlier would deprive me of needed sleep and that would be just outright unhealthy; I’ll end up sick. 

People who say we can take control of our time say we have the freedom to choose what time we wake and what we can schedule for our day.  They are probably people who have routines that don’t have much in the way of responsibilities.  But most of us have responsibilities and because of these, we trade off control of our time to fulfilling them. 

Can we change our responsibilities?  Sure.  But again, there’ll be a price to pay. 

Part of my routine is to spend an hour every evening after dinner to play a game with my sister and 93-year-old mother.  It is an hour that I could have used for myself such as surfing social media on my smartphone.  But I don’t opt for that because my routine includes a responsibility I’ve adopted to bond with family at least for an hour a day. 

When so-called time management experts say we can take control of our time, they don’t mention that there are trade-offs when we do.  Whatever decision we make about how we spend our time will involve trade-offs.  And in many cases, they are costly. 

If I wanted to, I can find my own place, where I can sleep and wake whenever I want, and I can schedule whatever time to eat and what to do at nights.  What I have to trade off to do so would be not caring for my pet animals, not working out or blogging, not being at the office on schedule, and not spending time with my mother and sister, all of which are what I’ve defined as my responsibilities. 

Time management experts may say we have choices about what to be responsible for.  What they don’t say is we need to choose what our responsibilities are before we manage how we will plan and decide our days. 

Responsibilities are the results of knowing what truly are the more important things in our lives.  We define our values first, set standards and goals, and then plan our routines.  We decide what we want to do based on what we want within (our values). 

I didn’t make this up by the way; Stephen Covey did. 

Stephen Covey (+), creator of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, espoused the freedom to choose via proactivity, the development of a mission in life, and time management by doing things important to that mission first. 

When we manage our time relevant to our values and mission, we go on a track towards independence and fulfilment. 

The routines we set are acts of decision we freely chose.  As we get to do them, we commit ourselves to doing them habitually day in and day out. 

There would be times we’d wonder if we had lost control of our time as we do the same things over and over.  We’d wonder if we have become trapped in which it would seem our routines have taken over us.  This curiosity and eventual soul-searching become even more pronounced when we seem to be not achieving much over a period of time or when we turn down invitations to events because our routines would be in conflict.  We’d ask ourselves if we’re on the right track or if we’re doing the right thing.  We question if we had lost control of our time.

Stephen Covey would remind us that not only setting routines but also being proactive and having a mission are habits, that is, they are practices we do repeatedly.  We just don’t do routines.  We also either re-commit to them or change them as per the values which we review and the subsequent choices we make towards them. 

In short, we adopt our responsibilities because we chose to do so not just once but repeatedly over time.  When we take on responsibilities because we want to, we then edit and commit to our routines.  Our freedom does not lie in the controlling the here and now but what we commit to be responsible for. 

We don’t control our time.  We control our responsibilities. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Five (5) Lessons from Frescoes

The Sistine Chapel is a highlight for visitors at Vatican City in Rome, Italy.  Located adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, the relatively small chapel attracts thousands of tourists who wish to get a glance at its frescoes especially the ones painted by the renowned medieval artisan, Michelangelo, from the years 1508 to 1512. 

The Sistine Chapel, Vatican City

In a time where there was no radio, television, Internet, or magazines, frescoes, sculptures, and paintings served as the media of imagery in Europe.  For the not-so-wealthy people, the artworks were mostly found in churches.  People who entered a medieval church would be awed by the masterpieces painted on the walls and ceilings of churches and chapels. 

The beauty of medieval art in churches is that the message they convey is timeless.  Even in the 21st century, gazing at the painted ceiling and walls of a church built during medieval times, such as those found in the Sistine Chapel, one still sees the message.  One sees how each panel’s small picture connects to its counterparts to form a very big picture of a religious teaching. 

Most frescoes in medieval churches told stories from the Bible.  A row of frescoes painted side by side in a row for example may tell the story of Christmas.  Another would narrate the story of the Crucifixion.  The aim was to supplement the teachings the priest would preach from the pulpit.  

And it worked successfully.  The Roman Catholic Church became the dominant religious (and even political) authority through most of the medieval ages.  The Church’s faithful followers flocked to the churches.  All were awed by the frescoes, housed in church buildings with ornate architecture and complemented with sculptures.    

Fast forward to the 21st century, where exposure to media is everywhere.  Streaming videos, podcasts, social media posts on top of traditional radio and television programming besiege our smart-phones, tablets, and desktop computers.  Media imagery is virtually available to our senses with or without our permission. 

The frescoes and artwork of the medieval churches have long lost their monopoly of people’s attention.  But even today, they still attract thousands of tourists who continue to be awed by the timeless masterpieces and the common message they convey.   The Roman Catholic Church, despite the competition of the Information Age, still manages to flourish thanks partly to the preserved artwork in their old but sturdy medieval churches.   

The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel and those in other Catholic churches teaches us a valuable lesson about conveying a message.  One best way to communicate a message is to tell a story.  And when telling the story, a good way to do so is via small pictures that altogether form a bigger picture. 

And when drawing a picture, make it a masterpiece.

Catholic Church leaders in the medieval ages engaged the best masters of art. Aside from hiring Michelangelo, who was considered one of the best, if not the best, artisan at the time, Church leaders also engaged architects and other famous painters (e.g. Domenico Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli, Pietro Perugino, and Cosimo Rosselli) together with their teams to design the interior of the Sistine Chapel and paint the walls and ceilings which weren’t included in Michelangelo’s scope of work. 

Hiring Michelangelo and other famous painters immediately brought reputation to the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel.  It added to the attraction which brought many to visit the chapel and admire the frescoes even to the present-day. 

The masterpieces of the frescoes were both influential and innovative in that they told stories via pictures and they told stories from artisans who had a far and wide reputation of making great art. 

So, not only did the Catholic Church send their message by telling a story and making masterpieces.  The Church also told their story via the influential and highly reputable masters of art whose works everyone wanted to see.   Not only the Sistine Chapel but also many medieval churches conveyed the Catholic Church’s message via frescoes and supporting art and architecture throughout cities and small villages in Europe.  It was a successful strategy in marketing, one that helped prop the Catholic Church as the largest religious institution through the centuries.   

  1. Tell a story;
  2. Do it by small pictures that together form a big picture;
  3. Make each picture a masterpiece;
  4. Get someone talented and influential to make the masterpiece;
  5. Duplicate it at different locations. 

That’s how the Church of medieval times conveyed her message.   And it worked.    

About Overtimers Anonymous

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

The boss was angry.  She just had an argument with a board member.  She then told me not to sign documents the board member forwarded me for my signature.  But I had already signed the documents.  When she asked if I did, I said, “no.”  Meanwhile, I put away the documents in my desk drawer. 

My boss would have gone ballistic if I told her I had signed the documents.  Rather than let her high blood pressure go up, I decided to mislead her. 

Did I lie? 

Roman Catholic doctrine dictates it is “never allowable to tell a lie, not even to save human life.”  Lying is evil and because nothing good ever comes from evil, “we are never allowed to tell a lie.” 

On the other hand: 

However, we are also under an obligation to keep secrets faithfully, and sometimes the easiest way of fulfilling that duty is to say what is false, or to tell a lie. Writers of all creeds and of none, both ancient and modern, have frankly accepted this position. They admit the doctrine of the lie of necessity, and maintain that when there is a conflict between justice and veracity it is justice that should prevail. The common Catholic teaching has formulated the theory of mental reservation as a means by which the claims of both justice and veracity can be satisfied.

Slater, T. (1911). Mental Reservation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 25, 2021 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10195b.htm

We can lie but only if it’s absolutely necessary such that it is for good (“justice”).

The Catholic Church calls it mental reservation.  My Jesuit English teacher from high school called it equivocation.  The more common term is the white lie

An example is a homeowner who gave sanctuary to Jews in his house as Nazi soldiers during the Second World War searched for them to ship to concentration camps.  When the Nazi soldiers asked the homeowner if there were Jews in the church, he said “there was no one here.”  The Nazis left. 

The homeowner did not lie.  He said the Jews were not here which to him meant they were not available.  But the Nazi soldiers took it to mean the Jews were not there physically so they left.  The priest deliberately misled the soldiers.  But he did it to save the lives of the Jews and that was enough to justify the white lie.  The homeowner did not sin. 

But in my case of not telling the boss I signed the documents; the Catholic Church would say I had no compelling justification to equivocate.  No life was at stake, only my career.  My boss would have just gotten madder and I would have had to suffer a long scolding. 

The Catholic Church would say I lied when I shouldn’t have.

In this complicated world we live in, people lie a lot.  The people who lie would say it’s for good reasons.  We don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings.  We don’t want to aggravate a crisis.  We want to avoid conflict. 

When my boss cooled off and finally said I could sign the documents, I then took them out of the drawer and sent them, already with my signature, on their way. 

Since the issue was resolved, I did not bother to tell the boss what happened. I rationalised that it would just be for naught if the boss found out, got mad again, and subjected me to a scolding.  The case was closed, that was it. 

The Catholic Church would warn that my behaviour can lead to abuse.  It was already lying, first of all.  Doing it as a habit and excusing it as mental reservation, equivocation, or white lying, and saying it’s for good reason may result in more long-term harm than any perceived benefit whatsoever.

It’s like the motorist who is driving home in the middle of the night and decides to run a red traffic light.  There’s no other vehicle around at the intersection so the motorist rationalises that there’s no harm to disobey the red light. 

Over time, however, the motorist does this more often.  He runs red lights every night and even during the day whenever he sees no other vehicle around.  It becomes a habit that one day, he doesn’t notice an oncoming vehicle and he gets into an accident.  

To many of us, honesty is not always a best policy.  Being too honest can get us into trouble, so we bend the truth.  We spin our speeches, avoid addressing questions, or just plain lie.  We see many people doing it (e.g. politicians, executives) so we believe we can do it too. 

It is true that religions like the Catholic Church give us some leeway to lie.  But it’s more of the exception than the rule.  We should realise the more we bend the truth, the more likely it will break.  And more harm will come than good as a result. 

Honesty is still a best policy, exceptions notwithstanding.

About Overtimers Anonymous

Six Reasons Why We Don’t Need A Purpose in Life

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?  –Charles M. Schulz

Do we need a purpose in life?

Many so-called gurus would say yes.  We need to have one in order to have a direction.  A purpose gives rationale to our life.  A purpose gives each of us a unique reason for existence.  

Some of us, however, don’t have a clear purpose. If we were asked and if we answer in the negative, sometimes we would be chastised for not having one and the one asking would insist we have one and we should spend a considerable amount of time formulating one. 

Rather than wracking our brains finding a purpose, some of us plainly don’t need one for six (6) reasons:

First:  We’re not beholden to any person, group, or cause.

Some people say we should have a purpose and the people who usually say this are those who are looking for followers for their own causes.  Religious groups, for instance, have been notorious throughout history for preaching that we all have the purpose of being a follower of their god or gods.  If we follow them, we would be rewarded with eternal life and a place in heaven. Not following would doom us to hell or eternal punishment. 

Political activists also attempt to enroll individuals to their cause.  And similar to religious organizations, they would work hard to convince us to submission. 

Endless streaming of information in the internet age bombard us constantly about causes we should support, if not join.  We should fight climate change.  We should combat hunger.  We should help refugees.  We should change our lifestyle.  We should join a network to get rich.  The messages that pressure us go on and on. 

We aren’t beholden to anyone’s causes or dogma.  We don’t owe anyone anything in the first place.  We as individuals have the freedom to choose what we want or how we want to lead our lives (within the bounds of whatever rules at wherever we live in of course).  We also have the choice of whether we want to have a purpose or not.    

Second:  On the other hand, some of us are really meant to be followers.

Not all individuals are meant to be leaders.  Not all of us want to be leaders.  Some of us would just rather follow someone else. 

This doesn’t mean that we are enrolled mind and heart to the mission of someone else.  We follow because of the benefits. 

Many employees of businesses go to work because they simply need the money and the benefits that go with it.  We do what our bosses tell us to do and we nod when our employers preach about the business’s visions and ideals.  But when it’s time to go home, we leave all of that behind. 

Some of us join religious or political groups because we just want to meet friends.  Some of us like to join groups because there’s free food in meetings.  (I’m not kidding, I’ve met people who go to Sunday church services just because of the free food). 

Some of us join as followers because it makes for a better alternative than to have a purpose of one’s own.  Some people would say these people have nothing better to do.  I would say these people have chosen something they believe gives them the benefits they want.  They may not have their own direction but they did make their own choices.  And maybe that’s all that matters.

Third:  Not everything is certain.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  -John Lennon

There is nothing certain in life.  Tomorrow is another day.  We don’t know what will happen next year, the next day, or the next minute.

We believe in these principles but yet pro-purpose-in-life people still think we should have a rock-solid purpose to determine our direction. 

We can make a purpose that visualizes our values, principles, and goals, and we can write them down in one beautiful statement.  But all it would take is one swoop of reality to tear them all apart. 

Okay, a well-made purpose, according to the pro-purpose people, is supposed to act as an anchor against what life hurls at us.  It should form a foundation of where we stand in making decisions or when we are facing tests and temptations. 

But if we adopt a purpose just for the sake that we think we need one, chances are we would be tying ourselves down to stuff that we are not really interested in the first place. For example, if a person adopts a purpose to do social work for his local community, he might make himself too busy with obligations in his neighborhood that he’d have no more time to travel out of town which might be something he originally wanted to do.    

Fourth:  Life can be just as much fun acting on a whim than having to pursue a purpose

Many of us like to travel.  Some of us change careers every few years.  Some of us like to taste new food or appreciate art.  And some of us just want to escape and be left alone somewhere.   But we don’t do it because we say we are too busy or we don’t have the money.  Sometimes we say it’s because our parents won’t allow us even if we’re already 50 years old. 

We then adopt a purpose to try to define our own direction or escape route.  By experience, it doesn’t work.  No matter how desirable we make our dream via an adopted purpose, a purpose for the sake of finding a way out of our current life offers no respite from the realities we dread. 

We’re much better off acting sometimes on a whim.  I’ve known happy people, young and old, who travel without much planning.  I’ve known happy people who decide to learn a new craft, like pottery.  They sometimes do it with their children and it becomes a happier experience.  And I’ve known families who decide to drop everything out of the blue so they can go to the beach. 

Some people frown when we do things on a whim or for no rational reason.  Travelling for example several times out of the year can be criticized as spending too much time or money from what we should really be doing.  Critics would say we should be doing something more useful for society rather than just gallivant aimlessly around the world.

But being aimless is sometimes good for us. Going to other places, doing different things help us gain new experiences.  And if it makes us happier, then who cares?

Fifth:  Being aimless can lead us to success

A good friend of mine had no clear direction in her career.  She started out as a temporary worker.  Next thing I knew she was in Japan doing on-the-job training.  Someone liked her personality and hired her to come back home to sell software to banks.  After a couple of years, she moved to the United States to work as a web developer.  After another few years, she set up her own audio-visual production business.  Today she helps her local parish church and earns a living as a real estate broker. 

My friend is happy.  She met very good friends from Japan and the US.  She developed new skills and is presently gaining new ones as a real estate broker.  She finds fulfillment helping people at church.  And she is financially secure. 

She didn’t set any limits or boundaries to what she can do.  Her life’s path seemed aimless but that didn’t stop her from pursuing fulfillment by trying new things. 

Sixth: There is no need to be ambitious or that passionate.

Some of us just want peace of mind or are happy with what we have. Some of us just want a simple life without any complications or too many obligations. 

Being too passionate about a purpose can cause us to lose focus on the simpler things in life.  We’d be spending much time chasing something we think we believe in and less time smelling the flowers or just living well with what we have. 

We hear about executives who retire early so they can spend more time with their families.  Many people from Europe allocate weeks or months to travel to Asia and South America to see or experience new places. 

We also hear about ambitious managers who work very long hours to try to get that promotion at work.  Or that environmental activist who risks life and limb to defend a forest in the middle of nowhere. 

Being driven with ambition can actually be good especially if it will end up helping society but sometimes we just have to pause, take a break, and ask if it’s really worth it.  In some cases, it’s not. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying having a purpose is bad.  What I’m saying is we shouldn’t be pressured to have one because maybe we don’t really need one.  No matter what other people say, sometimes we can live without a purpose and still enjoy life and even help society at the same time. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Delegating is a Subset of Teamwork

The following are some lines I’ve heard bosses tell their subordinates when the latter are feeding back about difficulties in their jobs: 

  • “Be creative.”
  • “Just do it.”
  • “Don’t give me problems.”
  • “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
  • “I can count on you.”
  • “That’s what I pay you for.”
  • “That’s what I hired you to do.”
  • “You have to be a team player.”

When bosses give responses like these, chances are they themselves have no clue on what to do.  Chances are too that these bosses don’t want to bother spending time helping their subordinates. 

Some bosses have the mindset that subordinates are nothing more than minions, followers on a payroll who are meant to do dirty work the bosses would rather not be doing. 

Bosses who think this way risk unfavourable repercussions. 

A middle-aged businessman thought he had a good life.  His packaging business was doing well.  He had long-term contracts with clients that assured steady revenue for succeeding years.  He had no problems procuring materials and his work force was productive as they met delivery targets to customers without fail.   

The businessman one day delegated most of the day-to-day administrative work to his accountant.  For many years after, he would hardly report to the office.  The accountant took care of everything. 

The accountant would occasionally ask the businessman to sign documents and checks, and report that all is well with the enterprise. 

The businessman would spend most days at a nearby cafe, sipping his favourite coffee, reading the newspaper, and chatting with friends.  The businessman had a steady source of income as the accountant would regularly deposit his salary to his bank account.  Life was good. 

One day, one of the businessman’s office staff reported that the bank called saying there was not enough money to fund one of the checks he signed.  The accountant was absent, so the businessman called the bank.  He found out that his cash balance at the bank was low.  He went to the office and found out most of the enterprise’s money was gone.  The accountant had fled, she apparently had been embezzling cash from the enterprise for years. 

The businessman had no cash to pay his workers and vendors.  The businessman had to lay off his workers, renegotiate debts, and cancel contracts with clients.  The businessman spent years afterward to rebuild his reputation and re-start his business from scratch.  To this day, the businessman goes to work every day to manage the day-to-day operations of his company, no longer entrusting money matters to anyone. 

It’s one thing to assign work to employees and trust them to be stewards of important tasks.  It’s another thing to assign work to employees and leave them on their own. 

Delegation is not about giving work to other people so the boss can relax and forget.  Delegation is about working together with employees to spread workloads to capable people for the sake of productivity and innovation.    

Delegation is a subset of teamwork.  Team leaders assign jobs but don’t leave the team.  When team leaders delegate, they work with team members.  Not so much in looking over their shoulders but more in communicating, responding to feedback, and helping secure needed resources.  It’s about entrusting employees to do important jobs and treating them as partners. 

When we treat employees not as minions but as partners, we not only boost productivity but we open doors for opportunities via new ideas that employees with their expertise and feedback would bring. 

We delegate not to evade work but to improve it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Can’t Fight City Hall

Can’t fight city hall is an idiom for any futile effort against a large institution like government.  If you’re just one among millions of citizens who has a complaint about a government law or regulation, chances are you’d be unsuccessful, if not dismissed at the start. 

Paying taxes and fees to the Philippine government is an example where this idiom holds true.  No matter how much anyone would disagree with the rules, we’re compelled to comply.  Else we get slapped with penalties or worse, criminal litigation. 

Some experiences:

  • The Philippine Land Transport Office (LTO), the agency that oversees automobile transportation, just let out new rules for motorists renewing their driver’s licenses.  The applying motorist has to watch a five (5) hour streaming video and then take a test before he or she could go to the nearest LTO office to do the renewal of license.  Many people have protested against the new rules but it looks like the LTO won’t budge.  Many have resigned to watching the five (5) hours and taking the test otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get their renewed licenses; 
  • The Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue audited and assessed a small enterprise for additional taxes and penalties.  Despite presenting all the paperwork requested, the BIR disallowed a significant portion of expenses the enterprise claimed for deductions.  As much as the enterprise’s accountant tried to explain that the expenses were legitimate and that some of the BIR’s tax computations were wrong, the BIR pressed the enterprise to pay a large penalty.  The enterprise owners decided to pay up rather than go through a lengthy legal fight;
  • A city government’s Idle Land Tax division assessed a property owner for unpaid “idle land taxes.”  The city notified the owner that he didn’t pay the idle land tax for the past ten (10) years.  (The idle land tax is a surcharge for land that has no improvements or is unused). When the property owner met with the Idle Land Tax supervisor, he explained that he has been going to the city hall’s Land Tax office every year to get a tax assessment of his properties but not once has he received a bill for idle land tax.  The Idle Land Tax supervisor replied that was because the Idle Land Tax office is separate from the Land Tax office and that the property owner should have gone to the former to get the assessment.  The property owner asked how come the Idle Land Tax assessment was separate from the ones from the Land Tax?  The Idle Land Tax supervisor said that was because the computer system integrating both offices hadn’t been set up then (never mind that both offices sits side by side each other).  The property owner fully paid the Idle Land Tax. 

Government bureaucrats argue that it is the duty of citizens to find out for themselves how much taxes they owe.  Ignorance cannot be an excuse. 

There are literally millions of ordinary people, small business proprietors & enterprises who had gone through similar experiences.  Government sets a rule, slaps taxes & fees, citizens grumble & complain about the inefficiencies, the lack of logic, the unjustified amount, and/or the poor service.  But we end up complying & paying. 

As the Borg would say:  resistance is futile.

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Death Industry’s Supply Chain

Dying is a complicated business.  No one really plans for it in advance.  For those who are charged with the affairs of the ones who pass away, there is always so much to do and limited time to do so.

Funeral service providers have become more than just parlours where proprietors prepare the deceased for burial.  They have evolved into invaluable assistants in helping bereaved families retrieve the remains of loved ones from the hospitals, prepare legal documents, and make available facilities for relatives and friends to get together. 

Many funeral providers also offer cremation services, which instead of burial, the deceased’s remains are burned and the ashes placed into urns or vessels.  Families would then inter the urns in niches at a columbarium, the final resting place for cremated remains often located at the grounds of religious churches. 

Cremation has become a popular option due mainly to economic reasons if not for the expediency it provides.  Many families do still opt for the traditional interment of late loved ones at cemeteries and funeral providers do help in the paperwork and burial assistance.

Cemeteries and columbaries are typically separate entities that funeral providers and the bereaved of the deceased deal with.  On top of needs such as urns and coffins, funeral providers also procure materials (e.g. chemicals) for the preparation of the remains either for cremation or burial.  They also supply paraphernalia, such as flowers, guest books, cards, and placeholders.  In some Asian countries, these paraphernalia include banners, streamers, incense, ceremonial clothing, and paper money.

The business of sending off the dead is a complicated one that requires a supportive supply chain. 

Demand first of all is not certain.  The dying do not arrive in steady predictable numbers one day to the next.  Funeral service workers may be idle one week with few arrivals only to find themselves working overtime the next due to a surge. 

A friend of mine who works in the funeral business says that arrivals are few in number usually before Christmas but many towards the end of a calendar year.  “It’s as if those close to death are scheduling when they will go,” she said. 

Funeral providers by experience keep stock of coffins and urns in anticipation of those surges but they sometimes still run out.  Coffin makers would always be busy even if their market share has dwindled due to the growing preference for cremation and urns.  Churches and private groups have invested increasingly in constructing columbaries to make available more niches.  And funeral supply shops always make sure they have enough paraphernalia for the traditional rituals families would hold for their departed loved ones. 

During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 to 2021, funeral providers were challenged.  Health protocols forced the temporary closure of chapels but caused a spike in demand for cremation. 

Funeral providers who already had cremation facilities didn’t feel fortunate; they had limited capacity on how many can be served in any one day.  Service crews were also not allowed to report to work every day to avoid risk of infection. 

The queues for cremation grew as a result and so did the demand for coffins to temporarily safe-keep remains while they waited their turn.  This surprised the coffin makers who believed their businesses were becoming a sunset industry.  They found themselves busy when they thought they would no longer be needed. 

Funeral providers lengthened operating times to accommodate the continuous arrivals.  They did so carefully.  Cremation furnaces needed to cool off and rest for at least a few hours a day.  And one cannot speed up the burning.  The process had standards to follow to ensure completion and thoroughness. 

What funeral providers gained in cremation revenue, they lost in the drop in the demand for venues and paraphernalia.   But for my friends in the funeral business, that didn’t matter.  As the pandemic raged on, they found no time to reflect. 

The dead just kept coming.  They had to keep on working. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

There’s Air Up There

The scuba dive instructor was teaching us first-time divers what to do if we run out of air underwater.  He pointed his finger to the sky and said, “Go up! There’s plenty of air up there.” 

It does not deserve any thought.  If we scuba divers run out of air underwater, we simply go up to the surface where there’s plenty of air. 

But the dive instructor wasn’t finished. 

“When you run out of air and your dive buddy is not there to help you, you do an emergency ascent to the surface.  You take off your weight belt and push upward with your flippers.  Exhale air as you go up to unload pressure from your lungs.  Right before you reach the surface, you quickly turn your body such that it’s parallel to the surface and pause for a few seconds. This is known as a “flash” and it allows your body to minimise any side effects from the sudden change in pressure.”

Scuba dive instructors teach several options when divers face low air or out-of-air scenarios.  The emergency ascent is just one of them.  But all are based on common sense:  when out of air, go up to where there’s lot of air

When we find ourselves in an emergency or under immediate threat, common sense is often the best place to start. 

When there’s a fire, we run to escape the flames and smoke.

When there’s an earthquake, we duck for cover if we’re indoors.  Outdoors, we run away from nearby electric posts or buildings. 

When there’s rising flood waters or an oncoming tsunami, we run to higher ground or climb to the second floor or roof of a building. 

It’s what we do afterward, however, that finally determine our fates. 

After escaping from a fire, do we run back in to save valuables or look for any loved ones we might have left behind?  Do we try to put out the fire ourselves? 

Do we go back in to the building we went out from after an earthquake? 

Do we stay on the roofs of our houses as flood waters rise or do we jump into the water to swim to higher ground?

It is here, the second thing after we did the first, that we sometimes run into conflict with our common sense.  This is where we need guidance or education. 

Experienced emergency management professionals always teach us to always stay calm in the face of threat.  And they teach us to be aware of standard steps depending on the emergency. 

Running from a fire, for example, is always the most sensible first thing to do.  The second thing, fire safety officers teach, however, is to alert others that there is a fire.  In short, sound the alarm.  The idea is for others to know there’s a fire so that those who do not know there’s a threat can escape and those like a nearby fire brigade can come fight the fire.   

Firefighters also can teach us how to operate fire extinguishers and fire hoses so we’d know what to do if we were to try putting out fires.  But first things first, when there’s a fire, get out of danger, that is, escape.  Second thing:  sound the alarm.  And only then can one perhaps think about fighting the fire. 

Safety is first about common sense but it comes together with some horse sense, that is, knowledge on top of what is obvious.  Scuba dive instructors teach us the obvious:  go up when you need air.  But they also teach us the knowledge of how to go up to get air in the safest way possible.  Take off the weight belt to lighten the body, exhale to regulate pressure, and flash to minimise the sudden change in pressure at the surface. 

When we face dire threats, we sometimes react too quickly without thinking.  Common sense is important but it can go only so far.  Education in handling emergencies as taught by professionals and experts are just as vital in making sure we and the people we value come out safe at the end. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The First Step is Always the Hardest

It’s hard to just get started.

It’s hard sometimes to wake myself up in the morning to work out despite the fact that I told myself I will and that I even set the alarm to make sure.  And when the alarm sounds, I find myself questioning whether to really go through with it. 

I find excuses.  My back aches.  It’s cloudy and might rain.  It’s too cold.  It’s maybe better to use the time to work on my business report.  Etcetera.  Etcetera. 

But once I realise that I’d lose that precious time slot I invested for my morning exercise, I decide (sometimes with difficulty) to get up, suit up, and do my workout. 

Once I’ve lifted that barbell and start to break a sweat, I find myself feeling good that I had decided to push through with the morning exercise. 

It happens a lot of time to us.  Just getting started is always the hardest part.  But once we’re into it, there is momentum.  It becomes easier to finish a job as we get deeper into it. 

A journey of a thousand miles indeed begins with the first step.  And the first step is always the hardest.  Whether it be a simple job or a long trip, we find it often hard just to get started.

This is because a journey’s first step isn’t really that one foot out the door.  A first step begins with writing a plan, packing that suitcase, or in my example of my morning work-out, getting out of bed. 

For several years, my relatives have talked about travelling to Spain and taking that long hike to the Santiago de Compostela

The Santiago de Compostela is a cathedral located in the city named after it.  It is the reputed burial site of St. James, one of the Twelve (12) Apostles of Jesus Christ.  The Santiago de Compostela has been a famous destination for Catholic pilgrims and tourists especially those who took the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, a network of walking trails that lead to the cathedral. 

Many who have taken the walking route found it very much worth it.  Plenty of scenery. Fresh air.  Good exercise.  Staying overnight at inns and sampling the local Spanish Galician cuisine.  And finally seeing that majestic cathedral at the end of the trail.  The awesome baroque cathedral that takes away the breath of many who see it the first time. 

A pilgrim along the norther route of the Camino de Santiago
The Cathedral of Santiago de Composela

The traditional route favoured by die-hard travellers is the French Way which goes as far as 800 kilometres and would take several days even for the fastest walkers.  Tourists usually opt for the much shorter routes although in order to secure a certificate of pilgrimage, one has to at least walk a hundred (100) kilometres. 

But as I and relatives have talked about taking the trip.  It so far has been just that: talk.  We haven’t taken any first step, which isn’t that first footstep on the trail but just getting to making an itinerary, booking a flight, or deciding which of the walking journeys to take.

Whether it be a daily morning work-out, an 800-kilometre hike like the Camino de Santiago, or a job we have to do at work or at home, we don’t get anywhere unless we make that first step.  It’s not deciding that we’ll do it.  It’s not telling ourselves we will do it.  And it isn’t that first footstep or that first lift of a barbell.  It’s the execution, the act itself that matters. 

It’s getting out of bed, booking that reservation, making that phone call, and finally getting to work that constitute those very first steps to whatever we intend to do. 

It’s hard to get started.  But we won’t regret it when we do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous