Friday, May 18, 2001

Interstitial tasks in the matrix of life

Computer programming teaches us to decompose any given task into "procedures," the smallest logical unit of action. There's a host of reasons why taking this approach to managing life's complexities make sense, but one of the least appreciated is its ability to run interstitial tasks in the matrix of life.

I don't know about you, but I often find myself with dead spots in my day. Perhaps I'm on hold while I'm waiting to speak with someone. Maybe I'm waiting to download a particularly long file. Or maybe I only have 5 minutes to kill before I hop into a meeting. These are the interstices of life: tiny, self-contained, pockets of life.

Too often, our response is to waste the time--to look at for the umpteenth time that day (at home, this is the same urge that fuels ESPN SportsCenter's viewership: millions of husbands who have finished washing the dishes, and want a 5 minute break before taking the garbage out.). If, on the other hand, you have decomposed your tasks into procedures, you can use that 5 minutes to accomplish a atomic (self-contained, not nuclear) task.

Those interstices really add up--a fact exploited by network television programmers. The average 30-minute sitcom represents only 17 minutes of programming--the rest are commercials. In other words, 57% content, 43% commercials. The same thing applies to your day. Of your 8 hours (or 10, or 12, or 16), as much as 43% might be wasted on coffee breaks,, and that porno site that you "accidentally" stumbled upon late at night.

Maybe you don't want to work that remaining 43%, but even if you don't, you'd be much better off focusing on being productive throughout the day, and then going home for a block of real leisure.

So stop wasting the interstices; find the procedures that will make you more productive, or get you home faster. If not, there's always SportsCenter....

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