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Discussion Forum > Questions for Clarke Ching, Author "The Bottleneck Rules"

Clarke Ching has very kindly agreed to visit regularly to answer questions about his book (and hopefully any other related topics that may arise). So please put your questions below so that we can keep them all in one place.
July 3, 2018 at 12:06 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Love your book.

Not a question yet, but I’ve been pondering on the way I am overwhelmed by paper that I haven’t sorted or dealt with, and how your thinking about bottlenecks could help me solve this.

E.g. piles collect on the dining table over days or weeks, then visitors come and I put it in a box or bag to deal with later and never get back to it, all due to prioritising other things, so then the pile of boxes and bags containing undorted paper grow in another room........

I suspect identifying the bottleneck in my processing of paper, both at home and work, would do much to change this longstanding pattern
July 3, 2018 at 14:13 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
Here’s a snippet from the book to help you think about bottlenecks.

The key problem with bottlenecks is that we’re not trained to see them. We are pretty good at spotting queues, though, and those queues are caused by bottlenecks.
July 3, 2018 at 22:01 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
How brilliantly simple. I’ve read your book, but I hadn’t put together that my paper “piles” are queues waiting to be actioned, filed or trashed. Now where is my bottleneck? - food for thought.......
July 3, 2018 at 23:12 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jane
Sarah, the bottleneck is the resource that processes the work at the front of the queue.

Does that help?

July 4, 2018 at 3:35 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Hello Clarke, I read your snippet. Interesting stuff!

I have come to the conclusion the bottleneck is simply me and the speed at which I'm able to process tasks. Tasks certainly do queue up, but they get done in the end. I guess that is the case with most of us and I imagine we all have some sort of backlog/queue of tasks of varying size.

I think the main thing I struggle with is to find a way of pushing through the right tasks at the right time through the bottleneck. The bigger the queue, the more difficult it seems to manage and keep track of the right things to do at the right time.

At the moment I would describe my system as simply having 2 funnels of work. One for urgent things and one for not so urgent. I try tasks on a ratio of 2:1 and oldest first. It means the urgent get more of my time, but all the tasks trickle through the funnel/bottleneck.

How do you generally decide on what to push through first and do you have a system you have stuck to that really works?
July 4, 2018 at 13:37 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Dear MrBacklog,

I’m not a time management expert, but now that you’ve identified your bottleneck, my FOCCCUS formula can help prompt you to think about how to make the most out of your bottleneck. The F stands for Find the bottleneck, which you’re already done, and the O stands for optimise. When you optimise you focus directly on the bottleneck and ask how you can squeeze more out of the bottleneck. You’ve probably done that already. Things like sitting down and working rather than facebooking.

The three Cs think of the whole system - because the bottleneck is not the only part of the system. The first C is Coordinate. When talking about a 1 person system this is often todo lists and other management systems like Mark teaches. From what you’ve described, you probably have pretty good coordination though I’m not an expert in this. The second C is interesting. How can non-bottlenecks help by COLABORATING? If you can hand off stuff to others - even if they’re not as fast or if they cost a little, that’s good. I use Upwork to find freelances for the bits of my work I’m not good at for instance. I suspect for you the magic is in the 3rd C which is CURATE - like a museum curator does. It involves carefully choosing what work you decided to do. I put my fees up considerably a while ago and took on less work, for instance. I make more money now and I’m very flexible with my time which my clients love. Saying no is great curation. The leader of a volunteer org changed the frequency of her newsletters to buy back time - and no one noticed!

Hope that helps.
July 4, 2018 at 22:09 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Thanks Clarke, yes the concept of bottlenecks has got me thinking quite a lot and gives me a clear picture of how tasks flow through my system.
I can liken it to a motorway, where the cars are the tasks and the number of lanes determines the capacity. Too much traffic and it all grinds to a halt eventually.

Yes colaborating/delegating certainly increases the capacity - another lane in the motorway etc.
I like the curate idea - I suppose that is like taking cars off the road.
I wonder if time management is a bit like traffic management. I understand if motorway controllers lower the speed of cars in peak times to say 50 mph instead of 70, that actually gets more cars going through as the stop/start inefficiency is eliminated. Maybe that principle applies to time management as well? i.e. if we are overloaded with work - we tend to make mistakes by rushing, too much time organising priorities, dealing with chasers, stopping and starting dealing with crisis tasks etc.
Thanks again Clarke for your ideas.
July 5, 2018 at 9:50 | Unregistered CommenterMrBacklog
Traffic has bottlenecks, but even big cities only have a handful of bottlenecks. You can probably identify some of them without much thought. They’re usually at the points where roads merge or cross, or where the number of lanes shrinks. The beefy of bottlenecks is knowing that small improvements in coordinating the flow at the bottlenecks, or curating the trafficmthat goes through the bottlenecks can have a huge benefit to the flow of traffic. But changes elsewhere don’t.
July 5, 2018 at 20:25 | Unregistered CommenterClarke Ching
Thanks for opening up such an interesting thread. I'd like to add a few ideas from our work at 2Time Labs, some of which have made it into my latest book.

I'm also a long-time fan of Eli Goldratt. As an industrial engineer/operations researcher who worked on the factory floor, I couldn't' put his book down back in 1988 after discovering it. (My first book paid homage to his work.)

The analogy between his book and time management is a limited one for a few reasons.

1) Time can't be managed.

2.) What we actually manage are what I call "time demands." Each one is an individual, internal commitment to complete an action in the future. Some become tasks which are placed in an external system of some kind.

3) Time Demands are psychological objects. (ref Kurt Danziger) They behave differently from physical objects. However, we treat them as if they are the same because it's just easier to do so... at first.

4) We start inventing systems of habits, practices, tools, apps, and devices for managing time demands in adolescence, without being taught.

5) They work for a while, then most of us become overwhelmed and require changes. This is where the trouble starts as I note here -

At this point, we need an upgrade. In other words, we need to find the "bottleneck" and tackle it effectively.

Unfortunately, Goldratt's tools are necessary, but not sufficient because the biggest challenge we have with psychological objects is that they disappear on us. In other words, we "forget."

Obviously, this isn't a problem in the physical world. A tangible widget doesn't disappear!

The biggest challenge, therefore, isn't to find the "Herbie"/i.e. the point where the flow of tasks becomes constricted but to put in place system upgrades that prevent disappearance. It's not the kind of bottleneck Goldratt perceived.

In this context, having the right tool to diagnose your current system to determine the smallest change necessary is everything, just like it is on a factory floor. It's just that the method of diagnosis must be different.

In this sense, the "bottleneck" is really just metaphorical - a useful way to think about the limits to any man-made system.

Hope this helps!

2Time Labs
September 5, 2018 at 19:37 | Unregistered CommenterFrancis Wade /2Time Labs