Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Efficiency Strategies

Activity Categories
My brother and I were recently talking, and he shared with me his belief that most things he does in a day can be fit into three categories:
  • Energy Drain: these are things that he doesn't enjoy and has to force himself to do as they run him down.
  • Neutral: these are hard work and he enjoys them, but they don't run him down.
  • Booster: these are "Sharpen the Saw" things. These make him feel good inside.

Efficiency Strategies
As expected, the problem is that often all one wants to do is the Booster and Neutral activities, but never the Drain activities. One can waste tons of time avoiding the Drain activities. As a result we discussed the following efficiency strategies:
  • Throw out the chaff - Basically, is there anything you can get rid of? Getting rid of things in the Energy Drain category is more valuable than the Neutural, which is more valuable than the Booster. But when it comes to time, you can gain no matter which category you can cut out from.
  • Eat your veggies before your dessert - If you're like me, you can eat and enjoy dessert anytime (e.g., beginning of the meal, end of the meal, in lieu of the meal). Veggies aren't the same way. They're my least favorite part. I'm not going to love them at any point in the meal, but I will love them less (i.e., they will be an even bigger let down) if I eat them after dessert.
  • Break drains into smaller drains - As compared to having one big block of time for the drain work (which could be so demoralizing that you waste time avoiding it), consider breaking the drain into smaller parts. I find doing three 30 minutes sets of drain work easier to stomach than 1 90 minute set.
  • Work more efficiently - If there's a way to get 25% done in the same amount of time, score!
  • Steel plate should be the norm; gold plate when necessary - Said another way, balance incredible with good enough. It's not possible to do everything incredibly well. Not only that, not everything needs to be done incredibly well. It certainly requires good and pure judgement, but being able to know when good enough will suffice is important.
  • Remove distractions - Many studies have shown that we as humans are not near as effective when we constantly switch between tasks. We aren't like a computer processor that switches between multiple programs per second. Removing distractions so one can focus is key.

Efficiency Strategies Applied
Application for the principles above:
  • Is there anything in your list of activities above that you can get rid of (favoring drain to booster)?
  • Is it possible to get the drains out of the way before the neutrals or the boosters? Can you do the neutrals before the boosters? If you have a lot of homework, it's easier to get energized and do the booster items at 10pm then it is to do the drainers. While it stinks to not give your best and most alert hours to what you enjoy most, it is a survival technique.
  • Do you see anyway to break up your drains? For example, If you have 60 minutes of of reading to do, can you do 20 minutes before school, 20 minutes before tennis, and 20 minutes when you get home?
  • Do you have any ideas on how you can work more efficiently? A couple of example ideas: could you print your Spanish vocab and put it in a protective sleeve hung up in the shower and/or the bathroom? Could you record your Spanish vocabulary and listen to it in the car, or as you walk to class from the parking lot?
  • Do you find yourself doing more than you need to? For example: while it's nice to type up a lab on the computer, is it necessary, and more importantly, does it save you time compared to hand writing it?
  • What distracts you? Phone calls? IM? Web browsing? If you can't control your distractions, it's ok to remove yourself from them. For example, if the computer is a distraction while reading, read somewhere where there is no computer. In the business world, some companies advocate that for certain hours or days, employees quit out of their email program to not be distracted.

"I don't pray for money"

A friend here who is always stretching to get by each month told me, "I don't pray for money. I pray that my family would be safe and that I can put food on the table by having a paying job." I've met others in a survival mentality who try to game life and try to get as much as they can as quickly and easily as possible. My friend's understanding of work,and the thankfulness with which he receives it is refreshing.

Stuff About Food

The subject of food has come across my path recently. There's been discussions with my Dad while helping with some small projects for Chuckanut Bay Foods. When hiking Chirripo, the hostel owners shared a lot with me about NAFTA's effects on Costa Rica and Mexico's food production. Amazon's blog had a recent interview with the directors of the new documentary Food, Inc. I suspect this isn't coincidence. What has piqued my interest is realizing that it is a justice issue and that real lives are affected by it. There are the GREEN reasons too, but environmental reasons aren't as engaging as people reasons for me. We'll see what comes of this.