I have to admit from the start that I’m no fan of Jim Collins.
Mr. Collins is a top management advisor and the best-selling author of Good To Great, telling companies how to make the transition to high performance profitability, innovation, and growth. I always thought that his “over-the-shoulder analysis”, conducted by his graduate students ,was under-informed by real-world experience and missed important nuances that were driving successful cases. Bob Sutton also has a good critique.
I’ve worked for several firms that were infatuated with his principals, but have found that they are very hard on people. His maxim that you move people into their proper seats on the bus (or get them off the bus) as a prerequisite to anything else has led to people being shunted aside and dismissed, rather than constructively included project planning and execution. Jack Welch’s rule, that it’s better to hire the skills you need than to train those without them, is similarly awful to experience.
In my own life, I work to find a good blend of task timing and balance to make my days ever-more productive and happy. Thus, I was interested (with a bit of dread) to get Mr. Collins’ most recent thoughts on Time Management, reported recently in the New York Times.
On the work-side, I am putting half of my time into contract fulfillment: committing billable hours, regularly, to client projects that progress towards deadlines and pay the bills. These generally have to be done across contiguous uninterrupted hours that let me gather thoughts into a structure and work with them. It’s a way to achieve a “flow state”: best on generalized conceptual thinking and planning early in the day, and on specific data analysis and documentation later. I also need to accommodate the likelihood of meetings in the early evening to match US working times.
I reserve the other half of my time for establishing the business: creating structures, building the band, prospecting clients, self-education. At the moment, that’s tending more towards pushing through the incorporation and residency processes and sounding out colleagues about their plans. In the future, I‘d like to get an hour’s time for study, reflection, and writing built into my mornings.
To get a better work / life balance, I think back to when I used to work a 10 hour /4 day schedule when I worked for Physio-Control under Eli Lilly, and always found that to be much more congenial than five-eights. The three day weekends left time for leisure and housework, while the longer working day allowed more uninterrupted time for following a task through.
Mr. Collins has made similar top-down commitments to managing his time better. He defines three broad buckets (and goals), Creative work (50%), Teaching work (30%), and Everything else (20%). He keeps three stopwatches in his pocket, and turns them on and off as he switches tasks throughout the day, tracking his trends in a spreadsheet. He keeps a sleep log that he’s been able to use to find his minimum necessary sleep duration.
It’s all a very data-driven, objectified process that yields patterns and trends, but I don’t think gives a lot of insight. I think that we learn from guessing and anticipating, then experimenting and observing: along the lines of the cognitive model in Hawkin’s On Intelligence.
While I know that I want to contain my work to 40 hours, and divide it roughly into two buckets, I’m taking that as a hypothesis, not an ideal. I expect to learn the tasks, times, styles, and breakpoints that work best as I go along.
I also recognize that work is a collaborative activity. If I want to work with insightful, creative people, my schedule may need to bend to theirs (and vice versa).
Finally, time is only one resource that has to be managed in life, and it’s not independent of all the rest. Am I better spending less money on a train ride where I can think but not write, or take a more expensive plane that yields working hours from the time saved?
As with “Good to Great”. this feels so divorced from people and from life that it no longer succeeds for me as a prescription.