Diversions: Ready, set … whoa!

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    Photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire (https://gratisography.com)

    By Andy Sciarabba, P.E.

    Time and time again we think about time. Personal time, sick time, family time, time off, time out, overtime. Is there ever enough time? We always think so. Then we try to stuff 10 pounds of it in a five-pound bag.

    We trick ourselves into thinking we can manage it. We set our clocks back a few. We tell ourselves we need to leave much earlier than we have to. But most of us are never on-time. A famous reality TV star once said something like, “You’re not late until you get there.” So, for those who can’t manage time and hate being late — don’t arrive. Problem solved!

    But in the working world you need to show up and you need to manage your time. If you were lucky, you may have been taught time management. But time management takes time. Time to plan.

    There are a myriad of time management programs, planners, and software out there. And no one system suits everyone. Even within a small firm, you’ll see a range of different approaches. Some folks swear by the more formal, hard copy planning systems like the Franklin Planner, Day Planner, or Freedom Planner. Some prefer planner software such as PlanPlus, Week Plan, or ProofHub. And for the app-savvy folks, programs such as Rescue Time, Todoist, or Remember the Milk fit the bill.

    Some go old-fashioned. They grab a pencil and pad of paper, mix in a slew of sticky notes (maybe go crazy with multi-colored ones) and Voila! Some purists rely solely on memory. Ok, you may argue that relying on memory is not really a “system,” but to each his (or her) own. Why judge?

    No matter what system you use there is one immediate flaw: Humans are over-optimistic. We tend to think we can get things done much quicker than we can. We can get 10 hours of work done in five hours, right? Maybe. If we only had one job and could work on it from start to finish, then just maybe. But we tend to forget about reality.

    Here is how a planning session typically goes:

    You set aside time for reflection. You plan to plan your day, your week, or your month. You settle in and relax. You stimulate your brain receptors and look at everything you have to (or want to) get accomplished. You prioritize, pick the big rocks, sort out the pebbles, and 15 minutes (or hours) later you finish. You feel great about your efforts. You reward yourself with a fresh cup of joe and are ready to dive in.

    Then the schedule goes out the window.

    The phone(s) RING, email(s) DING and text messages PING. Your well-thought-out schedule is at risk even before you finish your first task.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could mute everyTHING for a few hours?

    A structural engineer friend of mine used to have a “no contact day.” Or was it a half day? I’m not sure, but the point was he needed a block of time with no distractions so he and his staff could fully concentrate on their work. He had a set day and time where his clients, contractors, and associates could not reach him.

    Sounds brilliant right? Or is it impossible with today’s technology demanding 24/7 access? I’ll have to think on that one.

    I’m late for my deadline.

    This column is due.

    And I’m out of time.


    Andy Sciarabba, P.E., is a principal with T.G. Miller, P.C., Engineers and Surveyors in Ithaca, N.Y. T.G. Miller, P.C. (www.tgmillerpc.com) is a consulting civil engineering and surveying firm that serves municipal, commercial, institutional, and private clients throughout central New York. He would like to know how you like “Diversions;” Please send him a note at ajs@tgmillerpc.com.