Managing time for creative idleness

A short piece to finish 2016 on after reading a very insightful and thought provoking article on ‘A brief history of time management, (Burkeman, Oliver, The Guardian, Thursday 22 December 2016).

Work study to help improve efficiency and effectiveness is a subject area I would encourage all ground staff to become familiar with. All types of surfaces might be produced – but at what cost (in time and resource input)? Is the best use of resources being achieved? Are the end results fit for purpose? Work study will help to answer this part of the puzzle.

There does come a limit to what can be achieved though and this is where an analogy given within the article makes one stand back and reflect on time management: it was the

“sliding number puzzles, in which you move eight tiles around a nine-tile grid, until all the digits are in order. To use the available space more efficiently, you could always add a ninth tile to the empty square. You just wouldn’t be able to solve the puzzle any more….. it’s hard to see how improving your personal efficiency – trying to force yet more tiles on to the grid – is going to be much help.”

8 tile puzzle in 9 grids

8 tile puzzle in 9 grids

The modern workplace is very much like this puzzle, however, with 9 tiles being expected to be juggled on a daily basis. Unfortunately any space for creative thought (i.e. the empty grid space in the image), especially considering how one may improve services or products,  or to provide reserve capacity to attend to unforeseen circumstances (which can include typical day to day activities held up due to the actions of others or passed on by others for various reasons) has been eliminated in the mistaken (and non-achievable – well from a human, but maybe not a computerised robotic, perspective) desire or belief in 100% effectiveness and efficiency.

“… any increase in efficiency, in an organisation …, necessitates a trade-off: you get rid of unused expanses of time, but you also get rid of the benefits of that extra time. …

[In any] … corporate cost-cutting exercise that focuses on maximising employees’ efficiency: the more of their hours that are put to productive use, the less available they will be to respond, on the spur of the moment, to critical new demands. For that kind of responsiveness, idle time must be built into the system.”

The best managers will have an efficient workforce that is effective in what it produces; the ‘creative idle time’, which is arguably essential for a modern sustainable business, will be neither too much or too little, but will be in that optimum ‘Goldilock’s zone’, being just right for all concerned. We will certainly need some positive creative idle time in 2017 and beyond considering what happened in 2016.

Chris Gray, December 29, 2016

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