flowing motion

Root out 4 time wasters. Modularize your job properly

Posted on: December 11, 2009

Productivity is all the rage

We hear of drilling our inbox down to zero.  We hear about agile sprints and personal kan bans.

All these productivity systems have one thing in common.  Finish what you start and don’t start what you cannot finish.

Work cycles

Now some poor unfortunates have job cycles of 20 seconds.  These jobs are mindless.

Others have job cycles of between 30 seconds to 10 minutes.  They are called managers. (You didn’t know that?  Now, you do.  Professor Mintzberg of McGill University brought that to our attention a long time ago.  When you work with managers, break things into small pieces for them!)

Others have long job cycles.  University lecturers have “seasons” of 7 years – from sabbatical to sabbatical.  That is the time it takes to write a proposal, get funding, do the work, write it up and publish it.  They give lectures that are 50 minutes long.

If they are wise though, they remember that they are human and few of us can concentrate for longer than 10 to 15 minutes. Hence, a university lecture is broken into five parts.

  • What this lecture is about.
  • First chunk of theory
  • Change-up – change pace, delivery style and activity of students
  • Second chunk of theory
  • Memorable conclusion

Design what goes in to your job cycle

The secret of any job, I think, is breaking it into parts that fit our ability to start-and-stop and link it to other parts.

3 components of jobs design

Job design is about modularization and all 3 things matter

  • Our attention span and the features of our “box” – the human body.
  • The size and shape of the piece that we are working on
  • The way we link one piece to another to make a coherent whole.

The 4 time wasters in badly designed jobs

When we get any of the 3 features of job design wrong, then we create 4 inefficiencies.

  • We spend the 15 minute chunk working out what we are supposed to be doing rather than doing it
  • We do the wrong task because the linking mechanisms are sending us the wrong messages
  • Our attention is split or frayed with fatigue and our work is poor and has to be re-done
  • Or the task we are doing isn’t bundled properly and we cannot start, finish and put it back in the pool in one pass.

The job of managers and job designers

Inefficient managers tend to think that problems with productivity are to do with the way the task itself is done.  Sometimes that is the case.  To play tennis well, I practice the same shot over and over again.  Training time is important.

Most times, we are wasting time because we cannot start and finish something completely.  And on big tasks, we haven’t broken the task into modules that can be started, finished and handed over.

There is a genius to managing work.  And there is an explanation about why some teams get done more than others.

They aren’t having to redo work.  Everything is handled once, by the first person who touches it. And never again.

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