When I was running a business in the solar industry, I was entrusted a task to be performed within three weeks. It was a solar installation which had to be done and we were able to manage the supply of the material and finished that work within the allotted three weeks time. The customer was happy. We were happy. All was good.
One of my previous employers asked me to speak with my field team and get something accomplished. I was supposed to call them, hear them out, get updates, create a presentation on the status of the work that was accomplished and share my findings and ways to improve the current task status. I was given two days to do this.
To his surprise, I did everything in 6 hours and presented my findings by the end of the same day itself. This I could do because I was in constant touch with the ground team and I already knew what the shortcomings were. He was happier. I was happier. All good!
I went to Kashmir in September this year. It was a trip of 4 days in the beautiful valleys of Kashmir ranging across Pahalgam, Srinagar, Sonmarg, Amarnath to name a few. After coming back, I was supposed to write my experience in the form of a travelogue.
Lazy old me, I still haven’t done it! So much for Procrastination!
I was travelling by Metro, going to meet a friend. I was standing at my place with earphones in my ears when suddenly I saw a piece of paper fell down from the pocket of the gentleman standing next to me. I immediately pointed him to the direction of the piece of paper, he looked down, retrieved the paper, thanked me, I smiled back and we continued our journey. All good again!
The Three Types of Work
Broadly speaking, all kinds of work that we do can be classified into three categories:
- Someone to me: This is the kind of work when someone asks you to do something. A boss, a parent, a friend, a colleague, a stranger or a million other people in our lives who have ever asked us or will continue to ask us in the future fall under this category. This kind of work is very common in our day-to-day lives. Office work, family work, a request by a friend, a stranger etc fall under this category. Tasks 1 and 2 mentioned above fall under this category of someone to me (Type I) kind of work.
- Me to me: This is the kind of work that I give to myself. My to-do list or any other work that I think is necessary for me to meet my goals fall under this category. Task 3 in the above situation would fall under me to me (Type II) kind.
- Divine to me: At times, I get work which is purely situational and couldn’t have come into existence if I wasn’t present at that particular moment in that particular place. At some rare instances, I get an opportunity to do something, say help feed a crying dog on the street, help an old lady cross the road, or in the above case the gentleman next to me with his piece of paper. This is the kind of work that no one ever asked me to do but out of a feeling of courtesy, empathy, humanity or pure common sense I ended up doing things of my own accord. I call all such exceptional cases as work given by the divine to me (Type III).
Work and the Equilibrium of the Mind
The moment I am chosen to do a particular task (or I have chosen the task myself), the Equilibrium of the mind is disturbed. The disturbance may be a negative or a positive one depending on how I am looking at the task that is being given to me.
Physically and mentally pleasing tasks lead to positive disturbance of Equilibrium and I feel happy doing them. Going out for trips, fetching a new client, doing work that I enjoy doing etc fall under this category.
At other times the task that is given is seemingly daunting and something I don’t really appreciate doing. Such tasks, for example preparing a presentation overnight, doing home work when I actually want to play and other similar tasks would fall under this category. In most cases, such would be the tasks which someone gives to me. For all I know, I would barely choose a kind of task that disturbs the Equilibrium in a negative manner (unless I intentionally want to go beyond my own zone of comfort to do things I have never done before. More on this in a later post.)
Further, the extent to which the disturbance happens is dependent on the presumed Intensity of the task that I am supposed to do.
Intensity of Tasks
The more intense or daunting the work is, the more the Equilibrium of the mind is disturbed. Heavy duty work such as doing things in short deadlines or one which requires immense physical or mental stress would be High Intensity tasks.
Alternatively, the less presumed effort the task is going to take, such as preparing Tea or putting dirty clothes in the washing machine are usually Low Intensity tasks.
Note: High Intensity and Low Intensity of tasks depends entirely on the person and the situation in which she/he is in at the time the task is originated. With sufficient practice, all tasks can be converted to Low Intensity tasks which do not disturb the Equilibrium of the mind a lot.
Optimum Time Window
Every task that we do has a time limit which comes with it by default. Even mundane things such as preparing tea for the family, pulling down clothes from the hanger after they have dried, washing utensils after use or any task that you can imagine, has a time limit, specified or unspecified, within which it must be done. If not, something very bad happens!
In other words, for every work that we do, there is an Optimum Time Window within which it must be done. Most often the time window is dependent on the kind of work that is present at hand (as shown below).
Let’s look at the concept of Time Window from the perspective of the three types of work mentioned above:
Someone to me: For Type I (someone to me) work, in the formal/office scenario the time window is usually specified, not leaving anything for the assumption of the receiver. These are commonly called as deadlines. At the informal/home scenario, particularly in case of the tasks like mother asking me to prepare tea or other similar tasks mentioned above, it is assumed that it is going to be done immediately or else a specified time is allotted.
Me to me: For Type II (me to me) work such as going to the gym, following a particular diet pattern, doing daily exercises, joining that new dance/guitar classes et al, it is usually the prerogative of oneself to give a specified time to one’s own tasks or else they just keep getting delayed. This is mainly because in this particular scenario, one is not answerable to anybody but oneself if the task is not done. Procrastination is the word.
Divine to me: Majority of Type III (divine to me) work is short-lived and must be done within that moment itself else the moment is gone and nothing can be done afterwards. How many times have you had the buyer’s remorse where after purchasing something you had a sinking feeling since you thought you could have haggled a bit more with the seller? In a lot of situations, if the work is entrusted to me by the divine as in case of the fallen note in the metro, it needs immediate action. Else I would lose the moment to help the man and maybe someone else will do it instead, leaving me thinking with ‘What if’ thoughts.
Doing the Work within the Optimum Time Window
As we can see, doing an allotted task within the Optimum Time Window is, almost always, the best case scenario.
For tasks where a deadline is specified, the best time to complete the task is the deadline and the Optimum Time Window contracts to the Best Time to Completion (as shown below).
For tasks where a deadline is not specified, the Optimum Time Window may extend for some more time beyond the Best Time to Completion since in this case the Best Time to Completion is itself a presumed time.
Of course it is best to complete the task within the Optimum Time Window to avoid delays. Let’s say I decide that I want to wake up at 6am every morning. The Best Time to Completion of this particular task is 6am. I may wake up at 5.55am which is good but not before 5.45am or else I may lose out on some precious 15 minutes of sleep! Similarly I may give myself a slack of 10 minutes on the higher side say till 6.10am. Thus the Optimum Time Window in this case would be between 5.45am and 6.10am. The Best Time to Completion of course being 6am sharp.
For obvious reasons, there’s happiness in the air every single time I complete a task within the Optimum Time Window!
Doing the Work before the Optimum Time Window
This happens a lot in cases when the work that is entrusted has a specified time, aka Type I and at times Type II. Every time I finish a task before the specified time (before the Optimum Time Window), one of two things can happen.
- The work that I did was up to the mark and I get praised for completing it before time. This is primarily because I exceeded the Expectation of the giver and hence I became a positive Exception for them. This would of course happen only if I have worked hard and/or fast to get all the required information and have done the task in the way it was supposed to be done. Good job! The upside (or downside depending on how you look at it) is that this Exception will now become the new Norm for me and the next time I will be expected to perform in the same manner.
- The work that I did was not up to the mark since I completed fast and for the sake of completion, but the quality suffered. This also happens at times when in the race of doing it fast, I end up missing a lot of intricacies, didn’t get the right information or the data and hence the quality suffered.
It may be a good thing to finish the task before the Best Time to Completion but within the Optimum Time Window.
Doing the Task after the Optimum Time Window
What happens if the work I am doing exceeds the Optimum Time Window? In this particular case, not only will I be causing trouble to the task giver (or to myself if it’s me who’s the giver), but I will also be causing distrust in them over a period of time. The Expectation was not met and I became an Exception in the negative side of the Exception-Norm Continuum.
Engaging a lot in this behavior will lead to distrust and eventually breakage of the relation with the other person. Think of all the husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend fights over going for a dinner and one of them coming late almost all the time. Or forgetting that one was supposed to get an anniversary present!
For tasks that I give to myself I will feel less and less confident of completing that task and may even go to the extent of blaming myself for all such tasks that require effort. Think about the times you say to yourself that you will go to the gym but when the time comes, you get lazy and just don’t go. Eventually you yourself will start feeling that gym is not the right place for you. Or that you’re just too lazy and laziness is what characterizes you. Or maybe even to the extent of self-loathing and saying things like ‘I can’t even get up and go to the gym, what will I do in life?’
After effects of repeatedly exceeding the Time Window can be catastrophic in the long run.
Time Window is absolutely crucial for every single task that is allotted to me. It doesn’t matter if it is allotted by another person, me or the situation. Understanding the Time Window and finishing the task within the Optimum Time Window is the key to growth, maintenance of happy relationships and also of a clear conscience.
Think-it-over: Think of the different types of tasks you’ve been doing over the last 4 weeks. Have you finished any of them within the Optimum Time Window? How did it feel? Before the Time Window? How did that feel? What about after it. How was that feeling?
Every time a task is given by a person or a situation or an idea of a task comes to mind, step back, reflect how much time and effort will it require, create an Optimum Time Window and with that Time Window in mind, begin with the task and aim to finish within the Optimum Time Window.
I repeat there’s happiness in the air every single time a task is completed within the Optimum Time Window!