Allocating an Hour a Day For Oneself is a Fantasy

There are those who recommend we set an hour a day to step back from our busy schedules.

I would really wish that could be true.  We all could use an hour a day to reflect on what we’ve achieved, organise our thoughts, develop ideas, and plan. 

Experience, however, shows it can’t happen for most of us. Many who commute to work already spend so much time going to and from their jobs.  If so-called time management experts suggest that the time while commuting is an opportunity for reflection, it is likely they haven’t undergone the daily hustle of riding public transport or the necessity of attention while driving through traffic.  

We wake to immediately get ready for our day and we sleep at the latest hour possible so we can maximise time with our families or to do that very last task we want to finish.

There is really not much we could allocate in terms of time to retreat and regroup. 

If we want to get a handle on things, a daily allocation of an hour for ourselves is not the answer.  It is right we should assess and plan our tasks but we need not a continuous full hour to do it.  Instead, we should dynamically assess and plan in short intervals throughout our day. 

We won’t need more than five (5) minutes when we wake up at the start of our day to see what we will do in the next one hour or so.  One to two hours later, we would have another five to maybe at most ten (10) minutes to see what comes next for our day.  We can arrive at our workplace at the start of our daily work shift and do a quick mental review of the one or two tasks we will do.  

We should only look at most three (3) tasks at a time.  Not more.  Else we overwhelm ourselves. 

We can do these 5- to-10-minute intervals of planning every two to three hours during the day. 

We should be ready for interruptions and disruptions.  Interruptions are those things that vie for our attention.  It’s the bosses asking (which is really telling) us to do another task they deem urgent.  It’s our spouses who call us and ask us to pass by the supermarket after work to buy a dozen eggs.  It’s the friends who text asking us to chat with them for a few minutes online. 

Interruptions may deserve an initial response:  No.  But it’s nice to include a reason.

No, boss, but I’m finishing the other tasks you assigned me the other day

No, dearest spouse, but you can make a full list of grocery items so that I can schedule going to the supermarket later in the week and buy all what we need in one go. 

No, friend, I’m not available for an online chat today, how about we text and meet next weekend? 

Unfortunately, many who interrupt us won’t take No for an answer.  When this happens, we may cede but we can still work our schedule to minimise the interruption. 

Okay, boss, I’ll get on your request right away.  But in reality, I’ll do it later. 

Yes, dear, I’ll pass by the supermarket after work.  But I’ll pass by the convenience store instead which is on the way and get in and out fast.   

Okay, pal, let’s talk now online if it’s really urgent.  But I’ll end the conversation after 15 minutes.

Disruptions are those things that force us to stop what we’re doing and demand our attention before we can resume what we were doing. 

We either challenge the source of a disruption or sidestep it.  In most cases it is wise to do the latter as disruptions can be just too difficult to overcome (e.g., natural disasters, traffic, angry boss). 

We end up not doing as we planned when we encounter disruption and the best way to get back on track is to re-evaluate and re-schedule what we couldn’t finish.  It would be best to take a short break to collect our thoughts and plan what we’re going to do for the rest of the day.  

Disruptions are products of adversities.  And because adversities are hard to anticipate, the disruptions they bring are practically unavoidable.  We get hit, we roll with the punches, we pick ourselves up, and we get back on track. 

We can never get the hour we want in a day because we will get our share of  interruptions and disruptions.  We can say No to interruptions or negotiate with the ones who are doing the interrupting.  Disruptions, however, are unavoidable and they wreck our schedules.  The bright side to any setback from interruptions or disruptions is we can always bounce back.

When we set our minds to what we want to do, we can get it done whatever life throws at us. 

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

– Vince Lombardi

About Overtimers Anonymous

A Letter to the IE: More than Ever, We Need to Lead the World to Productivity

:

Dear Industrial Engineer*          

The year 2020 ended without a happy ending.  The SARS-CoV-2 virus had not gone away.  It continues to be a global threat going into 2021. 

Political and enterprise leaders have done all they can to defeat the virus. 

There was hope. 

Thanks to record-breaking world-class collaboration efforts, vaccines have become realities and are on their way to inoculate millions.  We are grateful to the scientists, engineers, health-care professionals, executives, and numerous support personnel who have done so much and continue to do so.

But there was frustration. 

The pandemic, however, had spread to every continent, including remote Antarctica.  It continues to infect and force governments to restrict movement and distance.

We have become more lonesome and insecure.  Some of us had pushed back but to no avail.  The virus retaliates without discrimination.  More had gone sick.  More tragically had passed away. 

Throughout the war against CoVID-19, we industrial engineers have been conspicuously left out.  We don’t really know if it’s because leaders are ignorant of what we can offer or if it’s because many executives think they have enough expertise.   Whatever the reason, we could have done more. 

Most of us industrial engineers are hard at work in different careers and jobs around the world.  Many of us have made big differences to the enterprises and organisations where we are employed or engaged. 

But for whatever we have done, whatever we continue to do, it hasn’t been enough. 

Long before the pandemic, productivity growth has been on a decline.  The gap in productivity year-to-year between advanced economies and developing nations has widened.  Disruptions ranging from natural disasters to socio-political upheavals had taken a toll on enterprises.  Growth has been curtailed.  Many enterprises, notably small businesses, have lost ground in competitiveness. 

The 2020 pandemic hit global productivity when it was already down.  It’s the culmination of its decline.  And we have felt the impact like a hammer driving down on the nail. 

We need to do better.  We need to make our world more productive.

Productivity is a misunderstood measure.  Unlike financials like profit, sales, costs, and cash-flow, it is not easy to describe productivity in one metric.  Economists try to do that by defining productivity as the output of a person; but doing so makes it incomplete and inaccurate. 

Productivity is delivery versus consumption; how much one delivers correctly to customers against how much resources and time are consumed in doing so.  Productivity requires direction.  What are we delivering, how many or how much, how close to what customers want, and when?  What are we going to use to make and deliver, how long it should take, how it will be conveyed, and with how much support?   It’s not efficiency which measures how fast we’re going; it’s more like velocity which measures how much nearer we are to our objectives given the resources we spent.

Productivity drives value.  It connects to the priorities of the enterprise.  It’s what gives us industrial engineers purpose because we’re in the best position to understand it and improve on it.  Productivity is our watchword. 

In an age where supply chains and operations are in the midst of crisis,

we find ourselves in an unprecedented position to make a significant difference. 

I don’t suggest a political campaign or a public relations drive.  We just need to demonstrate.  We don’t need to debate our proficiencies; we have the skills.  We know what we have and what we can contribute

How we can show what we got can be summarised in four approaches:

First, Point Out Problems and Volunteer to Fix Them

We shouldn’t wait to be assigned.  We should point about problems, make visible opportunities, and offer ideas and solutions.  In short, we should be proactive, i.e., act on our own without waiting for someone to tell us about problems.  We know more than a lot of people when there’s a problem. 

Second, Drive the PDCA Cycle

We should drive the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, the basic process of carrying out solutions.  What many people don’t realise is that it’s a cycle, not a model for a one-time project.  We don’t stop after implementing a solution; we seek opportunity for something even better.  It’s why we also call it continuous improvement.  PDCA is a wheel that we keep spinning to keep productivity moving and growing. 

Third, Stand Up and Be Heard on Strategy

Keeping the PDCA cycle spinning requires leadership.  We are those leaders.  Our superiors are our audience.  Feedback, justification, and assertion are therefore essential.  We should have a say on strategy because productivity depends on direction.  It doesn’t just ensure the PDCA cycle keeps spinning but  that we spin the right cycles; we address the problems that are most important. 

Fourth, Promote Productivity

As industrial engineers, we promote productivity.  No one else will.  Not the economists, not the post-graduate business administration executive, not other engineers.   It’s us because our education and experience have us focused on productivity more than anyone else. 

Productivity has become a forgotten term in the decade of 2010 to 2020.  Its growth has fallen by the wayside.  It is on us to remind everyone about it, show how important it is to the viabilities of enterprises and competitiveness of organisations, and reveal its potential in the fight against disruptions, especially versus seemingly insurmountable ones like the pandemic. 

The anchor of our IE vocation is productivity.  It’s our unwavering principle we base our accomplishments on.  It is the flag we wave amid disruptions and difficulties. 

Let’s get going. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

*I had suggested we change our titles to supply chain engineers.  😊

Acknowledgment:

Alistair Dieppe. 2020. Global Productivity: Trends, Drivers,
and Policies. Advance Edition. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO.