Friday, October 21, 2016

On my mind today: Parkinson’s Law

Ever heard of Parkinson’s Law?  If you haven’t take a second and go read up on it a little.  It’s pretty interesting.  In case you didn’t go read the whole wikipedia entry, I’ll give you the reader’s digest version:  A task is going to take about as long as the duration given to complete it.  This can be taken and said a couple of different ways. Give yourself two weeks to complete something, it’s going to take the two weeks.  Give yourself two hours to complete something, it’s going to take the two hours.  I like thinking about things this way, it really helps put into perspective how much time I could be wasting on a daily basis.  My best example is feeding the dogs in the morning.  I am notoriously horrible at this.  I get up in the morning, start the coffee pot, and take the dogs out.  I think about feeding them, but I get distracted by an email or some other task.  I think about feeding them again, I even talk to them about eating(yes I talk to my dogs…A LOT)  Another distraction comes up.  This could go on multiple times.  Invariably Laura will come into the office, ask if I’ve fed them, shake her head and feed the dogs.  Her involvement took maybe 45 seconds.  I spent probably a good 5 minutes when you add up all the distractions or in this case, conversations.  This is admittedly a goofy example, but it illustrates the point very well.  I didn’t give myself a deadline or a due date, I let the task linger… Parkinson’s Law.
  My favorite way of thinking about Parkinson’s law is this:  My dad is retired.  He jokes with me that he “finds something to do, and makes it take all day”, this sounds really good to me.  Once and if I retire, I’d like to be able to do that.  I try to look my things to do as, the quicker I get these done, the more time I’m going to have for the things I want to do.  Key word there is that I try to do that.  I find that I’ve gotten really good at allowing distractions to pull me by the nose wherever they damn well please during the work day.  Usually it’s from one problem with work to another, but still, I’m allowing them to dictate the day and not seeing as many items as I could all the way to closure because I’m on to the next distraction.

How do I get better at this?  How do I close those tasks that I think I should be closing and then get out of my comfort zone again and attempt to get more productive?  If you’re facing the same or similar issues, how do you cut out the noise?  For me it’s a constant reminder that discipline is the key to getting things done.  I find it very easy to get in the mindset of either feeling productive or not.  Productivity isn’t a feeling, it’s a byproduct of discipline.  Just start doing work, don’t stop to check fantasy football, or check how your new tower is coming along in clash of clans.  There will be time for that later.  For now, put some work in.  I’ve found setting timers to be a useful thing here.  When I need to force myself to buckle down, I set the timer for 20 minutes and give myself a goal.  Or 30 or 60 mins depending on what I need to get done. Anyway, hope you found this useful or at least an interesting thing to think about.  Have a good weekend everybody!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Reactive to Proactive

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks feeling like Penny and Jack(Our fearless 4 legged protectors).  I’ve been spending a lot of time chasing my tail and feeling like I haven’t gotten anywhere.  I haven’t taken my own advice, I haven’t been able to just focus on one thing and see it through.  I have been allowing myself to move from task to task with very little completion.  So here’s what’s going to happen:
  • Going to spend at least 30 minutes every day do some physical activity.  Whether that be running, working out, or playing ball with the kids, I’m going to get up from this desk and move.
  • Going to spend at least 30 minutes every day doing non normal chores, there’s stuff that needs to be done every day, but there’s also that list of things I never get to.  Time to tackle them bit by bit.
  • Going to spend 30 minutes every day writing.  Whether that be writing everybody sees, or just writing for me, it’s going to happen.  Hopefully this equates to more posts here, and organizing other thoughts in my head.
  • When it comes to work, I’m going to ignore the long list of emails except for 2 times a day, focus on a list of stuff that needs to be done, and get things off my plate as quickly as possible.  Focus on touching things one time.  Do it right the first time, there’s no need to revisit.  The extra few minutes that may take up front will be worth it in the end.
  • As things come in, if I can deal with it immediately, I do that, otherwise it goes on the list.
  • Time to drastically reduce the amount of time spent in front of the TV.

This may be another list that most view as common sense.  I’m looking at this again as somewhat of a pep talk to myself.  I can get in front of all these things and make my life a lot less hectic.  Focusing on what needs to be done, and doing things to make my future self not have to deal with them will pay off.  I’ll keep everybody up to date as to how things go.    

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


      Laura and I are lucky enough to live in a very nice neighborhood just outside of Chicago.  We live in a neighborhood where a lot of people do quite well for themselves financially.  Nice cars, nice houses, and from the people that we met a few weeks ago at the block party, nice personalities as well.  We’re not necessarily well off financially yet, raising 5 kids has a way of making sure that happens slowly.  The good news is that Laura’s catering business is going well, I know, shameless plug, I’m sorry, but it’s the best food you can find!  My oldest boy is in the basement right now working on an application to one of the academy’s that our school district provides.  He’s working to get into the STEM academy, he’s in the gifted program.  My oldest daughter is taking AP classes in high school.  My twin girls are on one of the better soccer teams for their age in the state, and performing well in school, and my youngest is in a dual language gifted program where he spends half his day learning amazing things in Spanish. My point in talking about all this isn’t to brag.  All of this got me thinking about competition.  The other day the oldest boy was stressed about the application process for the academy and everything he had going on.  I’ve always tried to raise my kids with the sense that as long as they tried their best and worked hard, that’s all that really mattered.  Up until now, and truthfully for probably 85% of things in life, that will be enough.  If you work hard and try your best, things are going to generally work in your favor.  This still leaves that other 15% though right.  Obviously like most other statistics this stat is completely made up, but I think the number is at least somewhat accurate.  Anyway, sometimes, pick your percentage, your best and working hard aren’t going to be enough.  You’re going to fail despite your best efforts, or someone out there is going to work harder, or their best is going to be better than your best and you are going to miss out on something.  Competition.  This isn’t a new concept by a long shot.  I’ve written about competing against yourself and the differences between winning and success.  There are approximately 4,326,921,371 (more made up math) motivational memes on the internet just waiting for you to print out and put on the wall to make you feel ready to go out and tackle the day.  The thoughts around competition that I’ve been thinking about with all of this and what I said in the opening paragraph are around: Are we competing for what matters?  All these people in nice houses, would they be just as happy in a more modest house; or a more modest car?   What about the kids?  Would the girls be just as happy on a team that didn’t play at such a high level?  What about grades?  I’ve got 3 kids taking advanced classes, and two that are in regular classes.  Is one kid now more worthy somehow?  My favorite example of competition thus far has been while driving, does it really matter if that car coming up on my right sneaks in ahead of me when IT’S PAINFULLY OBVIOUS CARS ARE STOPPED AHEAD AND YOUR LANE IS ENDING!!!  That still really ticks me off…
My point here is that some competition doesn’t matter.  As much as it irritates me, the driving example doesn’t matter.  Houses, cars, and other nice to have things, those are obviously paid for with jobs, and as long as you love what you’re doing, there’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with something you like.  If you’re simply getting that new car or TV to keep up with Chuck next door, then you’re probably falling on the unhealthy side of competition.  What it really gets down to for me is, how do I frame things for the kids as they get older?  We’ve always talked about how an education is the key to everything in life.  Getting an education will allow them to do what they want to do.  Obviously there are always going to be people that are left out to find something else.  If the boy gets a spot in an academy that means there’s a spot another kid won’t be getting.  If he doesn’t get a spot, I would use that as an opportunity for a teachable moment talking about rebounding from failure and preparing for the next thing he wants.  I think that’s what is important in this competition discussion.  Are you competing for what you want?  The girls love playing soccer, and love having the competition and the challenge of playing new and tougher teams.  Win or lose, they are competing for the right reasons.  We encourage the kids to continue and “compete” against themselves in school because that’s going to open doors and opportunities.  Again, competing for the right reasons.  We’re going to continue to grow Laura’s business because she loves what she’s doing, and I love being able to help with the non cooking aspects of the business.  I know, two shameless plugs in one article…

I don’t know if any of this will resonate with you out there but I hope it makes sense.  Obviously there are always going to be winners and losers, and that’s fine.  I hope you take the time to think about what you’re competing for, and that it matters to you.