It’s possible for a grown man to cut himself with scissors.
Something the kitchen staff didn’t believe until I came down from the garden that day with a bleeding left ring finger. Sure—a paring knife can deliver an unexpected poke while prepping vegetables or an oyster knife can slip mid-shuck, but don’t scissors have idiot-proof plastic handles?
“Yes.” I answered, “but I was trying to move so fast that it just…happened.”
The reason I was moving so fast is because of my deadline.
“Trimming micro greens” sounded almost relaxing when I was first assigned the job on day one of my 200-hour externship in a restaurant. But it wasn’t until I started the task that I realized how long it takes to fill up the plastic pint and quart containers I had. Having a popular tasting menu with 6-10 courses, the restaurant could do over 400 dishes a night on a busy night, and almost all of those dishes would need these micro greens in one way or another.
After the first hour of my first day trimming in the back garden, I heard the door open behind me. It was the sous chef:
“How much longer?”
I looked down at my “harvest”—about half of what would be needed that night. If I quoted a number too high, I’d risk getting an immediate earful; too low, and I’d be setting an unrealistic expectation.
“15 minutes.” I said.
“These need to be done in an hour going forward.”
I got back to work, finishing as quickly as I could. It actually took me another 30—an hour and a half in total.
Somehow, within a couple weeks I was finally able to get my speed to a point where I could do the job in an hour, even when more plants were added to the list as the seasons changed. The one-hour mark is a 33% improvement from my one-and-a-half-hour first performance, or roughly 10 hours of time savings if you added that all up during the course of the externship—10 hours to be useful in other ways to the team. A full shift.
Even stranger than how I was able to meet the new time standard was the way my brain began to feel the hour mark approaching. I subconsciously knew when I needed to be done, similar to my time as a college swimmer being able to accurately guess my time in a particular event after swimming it enough times.
I thought about how few times I felt that “I really should be done with this soon” sensation while working at Apple. Even though there were several tasks or deliverables I completed on a routine basis, I really couldn’t tell you how long they usually took me. Even with deadlined tasks, I could stay late, come in early, or take coffee breaks midway through if I needed a pick-me-up. All skewing my internal clock.
If I could go back in time, I’d start measuring, at least once in a while. Not in a psychotic robotic way, but enough to make sure I was always improving my speed, at least on a few major items (while still producing at or above the same quality level). The benefits of using this timing technique to develop a better feel for the passing of time include…
- Appreciating time more
- Setting more accurate goals and expectations for yourself and your bosses
- “Gamifying” work by trying to beat your prior times (especially helpful for the not-so-fun stuff)
And, once improvement occurs…
- Freeing up time
- Accomplishing more
- Feeling happier
Active time to complete: 5 min
Try taking one day this week to set an alarm that goes off every hour. Are you able to start anticipating the alarm before it goes off? Do some hours seem to go by faster? Slower? What were you doing during those hours? Write down a few notes on this.
Active time to complete: <1 min
Try guessing how long one of your most common tasks will take you, then time yourself (while working at normal speed) to see how close you get. You’ll want to choose something that takes significant time (10 minutes or longer, and is done on a regular basis).
Some possible tasks to time to get your mind going:
- Updating Reports
- Completing Forms
- Building Presentations
- Writing weekly emails
- Doing work around the house
P.S. It took me 1 hour and 47 minutes to write this post…looks like I have one more thing to get to the hour mark ;)