A Better Way To Work TimeBack Management

About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

Leveling; smoothing out the flow; e.g., doing two performance evaluations a day for 3 weeks, rather than ten a day for three days -- and then needing to take a vacation because you're so burned out.
Overburdening people, process, or equipment; e.g., people working 100 hour weeks for months on end -- come to think of it, like most lawyers and accountants.
Uneveness or variability; e.g., leaving work at the normal time on Thursday, but having to stay at the office till midnight on Friday because the boss finally got around to giving you that project...at 4:30pm.
Waste; activities that your customer doesn't value and doesn't want to pay for; e.g., billing your customer for the really expensive 10am FedEx delivery because you didn't finish the document on time.

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Workspace or Storage Space?

Posted April 12, 2007 @ 10:14 AM

Some quick math for you: You've got about 12.5 square feet of desktop. Total.

Now, take off space for your computer, phone, office supplies, picture of the dog, cup of stale coffee, Jerry Seinfeld bobblehead doll -- and you're probably down to about four square feet of space to work.

Oh, wait. If you're like most people, you've got at least one, and probably three, piles of paper just sitting on your desk. You know, the stuff that you're planning on getting to, but just haven't found the time. That's another two square feet gone.

Now you have two square feet in which to work. To think. To plan. To figure out how to get from here to there. Or, if you’re like the partner at a large accounting firm I once worked with, your desk is nothing but piles of paper, and there’s NO room to actually work. (He spent all his time in a conference room.)

Feeling claustrophobic yet? You should. You’re penned in like a rat in a maze, trying to find the physical and psychological space to do your work. And it's not there.

Do you cook? Have you ever tried making dinner in a kitchen where stuff is piled up everywhere, with no organization and barely any space in which to mince the garlic? It stinks.

Your desktop is a workspace, not a storage space. Keep it clean of all unnecessary stuff so that you can physically – and mentally – spread out. Keep only what you're working on at that moment on the desk in front of you.

You'll find that you're more productive and more focused. You'll get more done in less time. And you'll feel an almost palpable sense of relief.

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The Obesity Epidemic

Posted April 9, 2007 @ 12:42 PM

In the beginning, there was the manila folder. And it was good. All your information fit into one compact place. So you put more info into it. And more. And more.

And then it stopped working. Folders bulged like Vegas-era Elvis in a three-piece rhinestone suit. Stuff spilled out. You couldn't find what you were looking for. You bought Pendaflex pocket folders to handle the spillover, but that only posponed the inevitable. Eventually, you were back in the same boat.

It's not just kids with the obesity problem. It's your filing system. It doesn't work.

Here's what to do: separate your working files (the active stuff that you touch daily, or several times a week) from the reference files (the stuff you only look at occasionally).

So you'll make two fiiles for Spacely Sprockets: a working file and a reference file. the working file is in your desk and has only the current contract and papers relating to a recent order. It's easy to access the six pieces of paper (or email or Word docs) that are an issue today.

The reference file is in a file cabinet and contains everything you've ever done with Spacely. If you need it, it's there. When you don't -- which is most of the time -- it's out of your way.

The 80/20 rule holds true for your paperwork (and electronic files): 80% of your work will be in 20% of your files. Keep that 20% separate, and you'll avoid the stress and chaos of misplaced information.

Even if you eat at McDonalds.

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One -- and only one -- thing at a time, please.

Posted March 27, 2007 @ 10:32 PM

Repeat after me: multi-tasking doesn't work.

Saturday's New York Times ran an article on the perils of multi-tasking. According to the article, David E. Meyer, a cognitive scientist and director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan, reports that

Multitasking is going to slow you down, increasing the chances of mistakes. Disruptions and interruptions are a bad deal from the standpoint of our ability to process information.

And if you still believe that you're different, that you really can talk on the phone to a customer while writing an email, this is what René Marois, a neuroscientist and director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt University has to say:

A core limitation [of the human brain] is an inability to concentrate on two things at once.

But the truly pernicious effect of multi-tasking (which is really just rapid, sequential tasking) is not the lower efficiency and higher error rate. The real damage is due to our tendency to lose focus on the task at hand and forget what we were doing.

The NYTimes article points out that

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites. I was surprised by how easily people were distracted and how long it took them to get back to the task,” said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft research scientist and co-author, with Shamsi Iqbal of the University of Illinois. If it’s this bad at Microsoft,” Mr. Horvitz added, “it has to be bad at other companies, too."

Are you ever frustrated because you lose track of the little things at work? Or, conversely, that you never seem to finish the important tasks on your list? Well, choose a few blocks of time during the day and learn to say "no." No interruptions. No email. No phone calls. No distractions. No multi-tasking. Just focus on your work and get it done.

It works. Really, it does. Just give it a try. One task at a time.

(Read Merlin Mann's excellent post on this topic here. Or read & download a longer article I've written here.)


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