Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Elephant's Tail

The XO of my first command in the Navy (peace be upon him) used to use a bunch of funny colloquialisms, which amused me to the point that I began keeping a running list in my standard-issue green notebook.  At times, this list created needed amusement for the wardroom.

One of the things he used to say was this: "When you eat the elephant in bite-sized pieces, you eventually get to the tail."

It's good advice.  Between now and mid-December, it's serving me well.

I'm not sure if I've ever been this busy for such a sustained period, at least in a civilian context.  As Cliff recently reminded me in a comment, too busy is better than not busy enough, so I realize it's not all bad. And I also realize that it's a situation completely of my own making, so this isn't so much a complaint as it is a statement about reality.

There are stacks of papers to grade (yes, the picture here is an au naturale candid of my kitchen table). There are assignments and cases to complete.  There are inboxes to (try to) clear.  And there are 5 MAG seminars every week.

One of the best time management tactics I've heard of is the pomodoro technique.  It's named for the Italian word for tomato, apparently because an Italian guy came up with this using a timer that looked like a tomato. What it basically boils down to is this:  You set a timer for exactly 25 minutes.  During those 25 minutes, you just focus on one single thing.  When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break to clear your mind, walk around the house, or write a blog entry...or whatever else.  Then, back to the timer.

Eventually, what happens is that as a few of these time blocks start to whiz by, your plate looks a little bit less full.  Slowly but surely, you slog through until you realize, "Wow...that case I had to write up is done, and I understand why the MinuteClinic is a disruptive innovation" and "Wow, that thing I'm doing in Beverly next week is almost ready now...and I actually understand what Len Kleinrock was saying about packet switching."

The beauty of the pomodoro system is that it prevents you from falling prey to analysis paralysis.  Basically, the stress of being overwhelmed with a monumental task list leads to a temptation to want to buckle.  It's the absolute worst thing you could do, when you think about it rationally, but it's something everyone who has ever faced sustained periods of stress (and c'mon, that's all of us) understands:  Unless you have a way to really get yourself rolling, you could wind up actually doing nothing.

And on that note, it's time for 25 straight minutes of grading.  And after that, it's off to Lynnfield and then Templeton for work.

December come she will.

In the meantime, it's pomodoro time for this Captain. 

No comments: