"Mate, with more time today, you didn't get more done."
It's my sous chef. He's commenting on a particular garnish I'm responsible for—a thinly sliced cucumber that's quick pickled in a cryovac machine before being rolled tightly and cut into small sections. Similar to this, but about 1/4 the size by using thinner slices and keeping a tighter spiral:
Chef knows yesterday I had a half hour to prepare enough for service (each salmon dish needs 3 of these) and today I had 45 minutes.
"And these aren't even good, are they?"
As I open my mouth to respond, he swiftly grabs the six pan full of my finished cucumbers and tosses them into the trash. Instantly, I was cast into the same position I'd be in had I spent the last 45 minutes standing with my hands in my pockets. In a kitchen where there's hardly enough time to finish the work without setbacks like this, I knew how painful this was going to make service. Every time a salmon dish was ordered, I'd have to be making these cucumber twists on the spot, adding minutes to each plating and interrupting the flow of the kitchen.
Even before the Chef came over to inspect my work, I knew it wasn't my best. And it certainly wasn't Michelin-star level work. But I was moving, and that made me feel like I was making "progress."
This is one of the most dangerous pitfalls of productivity. When we spend time on something that will ultimately go to waste. This doesn't have to be a dish. It could be a delicately-crafted email rewritten several times that won't even be read by the recipient. Unless you're willing to dedicate that amount of time sheerly to practice email-writing skills, the efforts have been a waste.
I'm guilty of this all the time. It's often hard to know that efforts will go to waste until they do. So, the most effective technique I've found is when working on something, acknowledge that it may not be effective. And given that, decide how much time you're willing to spend on it. For example, it's possible no one opens the email that contains this post (albeit unlikely, thankfully). Even if that is the case, I realize I'm still willing to spend an hour just practicing writing. So I've tried to spend under an hour writing this. In that, I free myself from outcomes I can't control and "own" the spending of time.
Timing an Email
Active time to complete: 1 minute
Next time you write an email that's more than a quick "thank you!," think about how much time you're willing to spend on it and how that relates to the goal of the email. Start a timer on your iPhone and see how your actual time compares to the "allowable" time.