Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Time Management Tuesday: Summer Reading--The Word We've Been Looking For Is Metrics

Today's essay from Manage Your Day-to-Day is Scheduling In Time For Creative Thinking by Cal Newport.  Newport's big issue in his essay is the cost of distraction, by which he's talking about people in organizations who are "asked to be constantly available by e-mail and messenger and in meetings--an administrative goal that creates constant distraction." He believes this situation comes about because there's no "clear metrics in the knowledge work sector"...there's no "clear evidence of exactly how much the behavior is costing the organization."  I'm assuming there is also no clear evidence of exactly how much the behavior is producing for the organization, either.

Business metric--"a raw measurement of a business process." Good to know.

How Do Metrics Relate to Writers?

The term "metric" puts a nice label on the problem writers deal with in terms of their reactive work--all the noncreative work we do in reaction to publishing (marketing) or to inquiries for appearances (hmm, still marketing) or to rfps for workshops (which still has a marketing aspect). We lack a clear metric to determine whether using time in that way is cost effective. Is there a return on our investment of time? Since the time we spend on these reactive marketing activities means we no longer have the opportunity to use that time for creative work, is what's known as opportunity cost worth it?

Sales figures come in slowly for traditionally published writers, and even when they come in, it's impossible to tell which marketing effort worked, if any of them did at all. There is no metric for the value of their time spent marketing. Self-published eBook writers can check their sales quickly and regularly. But if they have spent time on several marketing efforts, there is no metric that will let them know which one helped sales, if any of them did at all.

Hey, we don't have metrics. Let's remember that.

Getting Away From Work Distractions

Newport's suggests workers within organizations deal with distraction by using a variation on the Unit System. He calls his units of time "daily focus blocks."  (Last week's essayist talked about mental intervals.) Because he's dealing with interruptions from co-workers, he advices treating these focus blocks as appointments, scheduled time during which you can't be interrupted, just as you couldn't be interrupted during any other kind of appointment. Assigning each block a specific task will also help workers stay focused on it and resist distraction.

Notice a recurring theme in these Manage Your Day-to-Day essays we've discussed so far? Yeah, me, too. Many of the writers I've pointed out break time into smaller segments in order to manage it.

Applying The Metric Question To My Present Work Situation

I learned this weekend that I'm going to be back to a three-day work week, probably into September. Actually, it started last week. Having a three-day work week means I'll often have an even shorter work week, because when more life stuff pops its head up, whatever problems it brings with it will come out of my work time.

I had already changed my work schedule around so that I was keeping Mondays and Tuesdays for writing and Fridays for marketing to keep reactive marketing distraction from creeping into all my work time. Now that I'm certain I won't have Wednesdays for work, this schedule gives a third of my time to marketing. That's way too much when you consider I have no metric to determine whether or not that time is well spent.

What I'm going to do for this next six weeks (a unit of time!) is put off marketing on Fridays unless something drops into my lap. (I do have a workshop proposal due the beginning of September.) I'll continue my blog marketing research, which I mainly do in the evenings, but I won't contact anyone else until I've got a longer work week again. Then I'll go back to making contacts on Fridays. At that point if those new contacts result in an invitation for a guest post, I'll have more time to write it.

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