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Discussion Forum > Breakthroughs vs Balancing

Here are some more thoughts on applying Theory of Constraints (TOC) to time management.

Every chain has a single weakest link. Likewise, every complex system with interdependencies has a single weakest link -- a single Core Problem. And that's the kind of world most of us live in.

The Core Problem is the thing that lies at the root of all the other problems in the system. If you resolve it, you will get a breakthrough. Every time. Because it's the Core Problem.

So here are the implications for time management.

Minimize everything you are doing. Do it all as quickly as you can, with as little attention as you can. If you have a choice, don't do it at all. Minimize as much as possible.

Except for the Core Problem. Here, you should maximize. Put as much focus and attention as possible on resolving the Core Problem.

Once it is resolved, you will have a breakthrough. Things will change. You will get results. You will get momentum. And soon, you will be ready to tackle the next thing -- the next Core Problem. And so you continually repeat this process.
March 23, 2017 at 4:51 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
What exactly does "minimize" mean? If I cut everything to the bone, it will create all kinds of problems!

Here is what it means. You cut everything as much as you can, but not so much that you will create a new Core Problem.

That's it! It's very simple.
March 23, 2017 at 4:51 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
This approach eliminates the process of making trade-offs.

Trade-offs are compromises. They are an attempt at finding a way to optimize how much attention to give to two or more conflicting priorities. So you move from one to another, touching each base, keeping each plate spinning, trying to give each item enough attention, but not too much because you have other things to take care of, too!

A balancing act.

But here is what is really happening. Behind every set of trade-offs is a persistent unresolved conflict.

And the way to address it is to eliminate the conflict. If you can find the cause-and-effect relationships between the conflicting priorities -- ie., how they relate to your overall goal, and how they are logically each contributing to that goal in an interdependent way -- you can find the one main thing to focus on, the one domino that will knock down all the others, if you apply your focus to it.

This domino is your Core Problem. And the way to get rid of it, is to maximize your focus and attention on it, and minimize everything else.

So instead of keeping plates spinning, trying to find the optimum balance between them, you just do the absolute minimum on everything so that you don't create a new Core Problem. And maximize your focus and attention on that one domino that will knock down everything else.
March 23, 2017 at 4:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Here's an example: email.

Some email is really straightforward.

I clearly don't need it: delete.

I clearly need to respond quickly: respond, and archive.

I can clearly associate it with some ongoing project: OK, take action, or save it with the other tasks in that project.

It's the rest that's complicated. All that gray stuff in the middle.

The request from my manager that requires a response -- but how much time should I really spend on it?

The article from my coworker on a topic of real interest -- but it's really not urgent, and maybe not really important. But I really want to read it!

Other odds-and-ends, opportunities, problems, other people's emergencies, etc. I can't finish them easily in one go. I am not sure what to do with them. How to handle them?

Typically I've cleared out everything else, then have a handful of these left over. And I get stuck. I could easily spend an hour or two dealing with these. But I've got all my other projects, meetings, tasks. What to do.

With the approach "maximize focus on the Core Problem, minimize everything else", it becomes very straightforward. My goal is to clear out all my email as quickly as possible, so I can get more time to focus on resolving my Core Problem.

So all the quick emails -- I handle them even more quickly!

And all the project stuff -- likewise! Get it done as quickly as possible! Or file it with the project!

And all those middling gray-area monstrosities? What about them?

Well, it's easy.

Is it required for my job? I mean, *REQUIRED* for my job? In the sense that, if I ignore it, it will create a new Core Problem?

If not, then delete or archive. Done.

If yes, then do the minimum required, and you are done. The key here is *minimum*. As quick as you can. So you can get back to your Core Problem, which is where you will get real results.

This gets rid of 80% of them, very quickly.

Then there might be one or two left over that are actually central to helping you solve your Core Problem. If that's the case, it's also easy. I give these ones full attention as soon as I can.

This has cut my email processing time by more than half in only a few weeks of using this approach. But even better, it's eliminated all email backlogs and kept them eliminated.
March 23, 2017 at 4:54 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
All this also relates to procrastination.

As I wrote on Jupiter's thread, maybe procrastination is your unconscious mind trying to tell you something.
http://markforster.squarespace.com/forum/post/2665120#post2665234

For me, procrastination usually means there is some conflict lurking somewhere, but I can't put my finger on it. I feel conflicted about the thing that I am resisting. I feel at some level that I should do it. It keeps calling me. But I can't help myself from avoiding it and doing other things.

If I find this happening, I work it into my analysis of my Core Problem. It probably means I haven't addressed something important.

Once I feel I have it addressed, then my new clarity around my Core Problem defines my priorities. Maximize attention there, minimize everything else. This new focus, on the Core Problem, generates breakthroughs, which creates results, which creates momentum, which generates deeper creativity and engagement, which greatly reduces procrastination. It also reduces extraneous work, which eliminates backlogs, which frees up more time and attention, which allows me to go faster next time, getting faster breakthroughs, more momentum, etc. Which all reduces/eliminates procrastination.
March 23, 2017 at 5:00 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim:

I'm not clear about how exactly this works out in practice.

In your example about email, I started off by thinking that you meant that email was the Core Problem. Yet it quickly became apparent that it wasn't. You were telling us to get rid of email as quickly as possible in order to spent more time on sorting out the Core Problem, which you didn't identify.

So two questions;

1) How is this different from the general advice to spend less time on trivia and more time on what really matters?

2) What if you had identified the Core Problem as email itself? Would you give us exactly the opposite advice, i.e. spend more time on sorting out email and less time on everything else?
March 23, 2017 at 13:31 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi Mark,

(1) The idea to spend less time on trivia and more time on what really matters certainly isn't new! But this method provides a very specific and effective way to determine which is which, and how to carry out that advice.

(2) If I had identified the Core Problem as email, then yes, I would give the opposite advice. Namely, keep everything else running with as minimum attention as possible, and focus on solving your email problem.

In practice, email itself would rarely ever be the real Core Problem -- the reason one might have too much email is probably because of other factors. You address this idea in DIT -- the backlogs aren't the problem, they are the result. The problem is too many commitments.
March 23, 2017 at 15:26 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Mark,

Your Black Cloud hunt sounds very similar to this method!
March 23, 2017 at 15:27 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
The idea "maximize focus on the Core Problem, minimize everything else" is familiar to me. It is near the principle of Eisenhower method (A, B,C,D).

This is why I advocate written list instead of digitals. There is a better control. I really think that we must focus on the big stone of our lifes even if sometime by exception we have to care about sand (ie details).

For myself I do my best o close everything I can, even incoming information in the same day. If I dont I create backlogs and bag-logs are terrible for my motivation.

Anyway, about procrastination and sticking actions or projects I am sure that effectively my unconscious mind want to tell me something. But What ...
March 23, 2017 at 19:19 | Unregistered CommenterJupiter
Jupiter:

<< Anyway, about procrastination and sticking actions or projects I am sure that effectively my unconscious mind want to tell me something. >>

I used to encourage people to ask themselves the question "If this resistance were a message from my subconscious mind to me, what would the message be?"
March 24, 2017 at 15:26 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
>>Minimize everything you are doing. [...]
Except for the Core Problem. <<

I think this structure is in-build into DIT. Yesterday I worked straight away 4-5 hours on the CI, the Core Problem; and then of course I finished the Task Diary, which contains tasks that are the bare (daily) minimum needed to move the respective project forward by definition. Yes, you could do more, but the minimum you must do is clarified.

So, I would say DIT does this naturally - whenever the Core Problem is included in the CI!
March 25, 2017 at 3:00 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher
Christopher -

Yes, DIT fits very well with this approach, especially by identifying the Current Initiative with focusing on the Core Problem.

There is one additional element. Mark's book emphasizes working on it FIRST, and EVERY DAY. In addition to that, MAXIMIZING time and attention on the current initiative helps achieve the breakthrough faster. It increases the octane level of the system.

Minimizing time and attention on the Will-Do list has a side benefit. It is a direct attack on Parkinson's Law. Otherwise, the Will-Do list tends to fill up the whole day.
March 26, 2017 at 0:15 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
"For me, procrastination usually means there is some conflict lurking somewhere, but I can't put my finger on it. I feel conflicted about the thing that I am resisting. I feel at some level that I should do it. It keeps calling me. But I can't help myself from avoiding it and doing other things."

That feels true. The solution, though, is not fun. We have to acknowledge the conflict exists and make tough decisions.

"If this resistance were a message from my subconscious mind to me, what would the message be?"

A very good question.
March 26, 2017 at 0:18 | Registered CommenterCricket