The Busyness Law

collapse - Copy1

If you saw a man collapse in front of you, in a clearly distressed state and needing help, would you stop and help? The answer is that it depends. In a famous experiment, social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson ran an experiment with people who might be expected to help: trainee priests. Just before leaving for the lecture, some trainee priests were told they were late, others had plenty of time. The effects were dramatic. Only 10% of those trainee priests who were late stopped to help the collapsed man (who they had no way of knowing was an actor). Of those with more time, 63% stopped!

Continue reading…

Big problems and busyness

aliens - Copy

In the 1940s Enrico Fermi was listening to other distinguished physicists discuss the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Given an enormous universe, it seems scientifically unlikely that life has only occurred on this planet. It appears, for example, that planets orbit most stars that could sustain life. It also seems that, when life evolves, it is likely to produce intelligent beings given enough time. Finally, they argued, an intelligent species capable of exponential reproduction could colonise a galaxy in a million years. At this point Fermi stepped into the conversation and asked ‘So where is everybody?’ The question ‘Why haven’t we found any aliens yet?’ has become known as Fermi’s Paradox.

Continue reading…

Taking the risk to move beyond busy

balancing risk - Copy

There’s a lot of insecurity in the job market these days, so it’s natural to want to play it safe; and the safest option is normally to do what everyone else is doing.  To hide ourselves in the herd.  So what does this mean?  It means to cram our days with activity, to respond instantly to every message and request; to be always on and always available.  To race from meeting to meeting, proclaiming in our body language or our conversations how busy we are; because hat’s what everyone else is doing.  Anything less would make us stand out; anything less would exposed us and put us at risk.

Continue reading…

Hot emails and emotional control

angry email - Copy (2)

Abraham Lincoln got mad at times.  When he did, he had an interesting technique to deal with it. 

He’d write what he called a ‘hot letter’.  In an article published yesterday in the New York Times, Maria Konnikova describes how Lincoln, for example, wrote a hot letter to General George C. Meade to express his fury and frustration that he’d allowed Robert E. Lee to escape Gettysburg.  He would pour all his bile into these letters, then mark them ‘Never sent. Never signed.’ Continue reading…

Time awareness

time untime

My watch broke a few weeks ago. No big deal. However it’s summer, the children are at home, and my wife has broken her watch too (careless you might say). The effect has been dramatic. We get hardly anything done; routine has disappeared; days race by in a flash; and we are loving our untimed life. So I started thinking about time, or more particularly, time awareness.

Time is weird. We sense it, yet we have no sense organ to detect it. It’s fixed and regular, yet we know it’s relative. It doesn’t exist in any concrete sense, yet our lives are built around it. Time affects everything. Specifically, our awareness of time also affects our productivity, creativity and happiness.

Continue reading…

Productivity through chunking and slicing

salami

How long does your attention stay on one thing at work?

One study found that office workers switch task every three minutes.  You’re working on a project and ‘ping’ an email arrives. You leap into action and deal with the email before returning to the project…then an IM pops onto your screen. It feels good swatting away all those incoming demands, like some task-juggling Jedi: the brain rewards bouncing between tasks with a release of dopamine. The more we hopscotch, the more effective we feel. Continue reading…