The secret to increased productivity

by Frank 4. August 2015 06:41

By nature I am and have always been a sequencer and an overlapper. It comes naturally to me. It is how I process everyday events. For example, in the morning when making a pot of tea I first fill up the jug and turn it on to boil before emptying and cleaning the teapot. This is because I want the two tasks to overlap for maximum efficiency. If I emptied and cleaned the teapot first before filling up the jug and turning it on, the elapsed time required to make a pot of tea would be longer and therefore inefficient. With my method I save time because the total elapsed time to make a pot of tea is how long it takes to fill the jug and get it to boil. I correctly sequence and overlap the two events to be more productive. It also helps me to get to work on time.

Here is another simple example. Have you ever been in a restaurant and watched with frustration as the waiter brought out meals and then returned to the kitchen without picking up your dirty dishes? Then watch in frustration again as the waiter comes out to pick up dirty dishes but leaves someone’s lunch at the kitchen counter getting cold? Why doesn’t the waiter pick up dirty dishes, or take your order, on the way back to the kitchen? Life, business and government is full of such everyday examples of non-overlapping, poorly sequenced processes all resulting in lower productivity and higher costs for everyone.

The worst example of all is when employees are allowed to tightly redefine their jobs concentrating more on “this is what I don’t do” instead of “this is what I do”. For these employees, the terms ‘multi-skilling’ and ‘multi-tasking’ are anathema. I envision them standing within a tiny, tight circle where anything outside of that circle is not their responsibility. We may as well brick them up inside a chimney. These are not the kind of employees or practices I want in my business or our public service or our government for that matter. Unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of ant-productivity practices we find throughout our public sector and our government. As most of us are already more than well aware, the problem is more than endemic; it is systemic and probably not fixable short of a revolution. It is no secret why our taxes are so high and getting higher all the time.

Many years ago when I was a trainee programmer I learnt all about overlap while being trained at IBM. The patient instructor made the point that computers only seem to do multiple things at the same time. In fact, the architecture of computer processing at that time meant a computer could only process one command at a time but in making use of overlap and time-sharing it appeared as if it was doing many things at once. For example, the IBM 360 processor would issue an I/O command to a channel to go off and read a record from a disk drive. Relatively speaking, this took an enormity of time because disks were so slow compared to the CPU. So instead of waiting for the channel to complete the I/O request the processor would process other work all the time waiting for the channel to interrupt it and say “I am finished, here is the data you asked for”. So the computer appeared to be doing multiple tasks at once because it correctly sequenced the tasks it had to perform and took full advantage of overlap. Therein lies a lesson for all of us.

When faced with a list of tasks to perform first think about the opportunities for overlap. Then sequence the tasks to take maximum advantage of overlap.  

All it requires is the desire to work smarter, a little thought and a sense of pleasure in making best use of the limited time life allows us all.

In my role as a designer of computer software I always try to take advantage of sequencing and overlap. In my business, the two terms most used when implementing this approach are asynchronous events and multi-threading. These two techniques should always be applied when a list of tasks to be performed is not sequential. That is, they don’t have to be completed one after the other in a strict sequence. We take advantage of the fact that some tasks are independent and therefore can be processed at the same time we process other tasks. We do this in various ways but usually by defining them as asynchronous events and by utilizing a form of multi-tasking or multi-threading (starting two or more events at the same time). Computers aren’t smart (at least not yet) and they rely totally on human programmers to make them behave in an efficient and ‘smart’ way. Computer programmers who don’t understand sequencing and overlap can write very bad and very slow programs even to the extent of making very fast computers look very slow. Then, they waste everyone’s time and become major contributors to the anti-productivity movement.

There is an enormous amount of money being invested today in the science of longevity; in trying to find ways to make it possible for people to live longer lives. When the solution becomes available it won’t be cheap and it won’t be available to ordinary people like you and me. It will initially only be available to the elite and to the very rich. However, don’t despair; there is a low-cost way to double the amount of time you have to enjoy life. An easy and available now way to double your life span.

All you have to do is be aware of the possibilities of sequencing and overlap in your life and then work to take advantage of them. If you reduce the amount of time you take to do ‘work’ every day by fifty, forty, thirty or even twenty-percent you are adding years to the time you have to live and enjoy life. It is the easiest and lowest cost way to increase your effective life span.

For example, don’t try to impress your boss by working longer hours; arriving first and leaving last (as my generation did). Instead, impress your boss with a proposal whereby you do more work in fewer hours. You of course need to quantify your proposal and add in some metrics so your increased productivity can be measured and proven.

Please don’t waste your time and your effective life span by pondering ways to avoid work; instead, utilize those same cognitive processes to work out how to complete your assigned work in the fastest way possible. Approach every project looking for ways to better sequence tasks and take advantage of overlap. Make it a game; enjoy it.

I was once told that the average pattern of a human life is eight-hours work, eight-hours sleep and eight-hours play. Of course, with commuting, it is really now more like eight-hours sleep, ten-hours work and six-hours play. Let’s try and double those play hours.

As I am fond of saying, it isn’t rocket science. It is just common sense, a very simple and achievable way to significantly increase your effective life span; the time available to you to enjoy life. Give yourself twice as much time to enjoy life and in doing so, live twice as long. 

Increased productivity doesn’t just provide benefits to the economy; it can also provide very substantial personal benefits. Why don’t you give it a try?

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