Frank’s secrets for increased productivity and a longer life

by Frank 31. January 2020 14:19


Sequencing & Overlapping

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 and minimum duration. It takes less time to empty and clean the teapot that it does to boil the jug.

Two Simple Examples

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. Too many mistakes like this and I would be late for work. With my approach 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.

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 Computer example

Many years ago, when I was a trainee programmer, I learnt all about overlap while being trained at IBM. The 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 task 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.

How to Begin?

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.

Asynchronous Events & Multi-Threading

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 number of tasks to be performed are 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 or ‘discrete’ 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 asynchronous events at the same time). Computers aren’t smart (at least not yet but AI is coming) 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. Human beings who don’t make use of sequencing and overlap drastically reduce the time they have to live and enjoy life.

Why Sequencing and Overlap can extend your life

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 probably won’t be cheap, and it probably 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 effectively 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 left to live and enjoy life. It is the easiest and lowest cost way to increase your effective life span. Decrease your work time and increase your leisure time.

Work to live, don’t live to work

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 will of course, need to quantify your proposal and add in some metrics so your increased productivity can be measured and proven so the boss is sold.

Don’t avoid work, outsmart it

Please also 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 because success will extend your effective life span; the time you have to live and enjoy life.

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 the burden of modern-day commuting, it is really now more like six-hours sleep, twelve-hours work, and six-hours play. Your objective should be to double those play hours; to double the time you have to live and enjoy life.

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 really live and enjoy life. Work smart and 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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