Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

StopwatchRight now I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport. With an hour to kill, I decided to write this blog entry with the harmonious sound of slot machines ringing in my ears.

I know so many road warriors who pride themselves in being able to get to the gate just as the doors are closing. Not me. I appreciate having extra time at the airport to relax and work before my flight. In fact, I tend to get to most places early. And there is a good reason.

My background is process design where there is a concept called “the theory of constraints.” The general idea is that “success” is limited by at least one constraining process (i.e., a bottleneck). In the business world, this means that if you want to make more money, the best way to do that is to increase the throughput at the bottleneck so that overall throughput is increased. You can think of this as strengthening the “weakest link in the chain.”

I use the theory of constraints in my personal life. With nearly 1 million miles of flying under my belt, I have never missed a flight. How is this possible? Because I allow plenty of time to get to the airport. I live a mere 15 minutes from Logan International in Boston, yet I typically leave for the airport two hours before a flight. Why?

We are all at the mercy of various bottlenecks: traffic on the way to the airport and long lines at the check in counter, baggage drop-off, and security. Any one of these could prevent me from getting to my plane on time…and I can’t predict when it will happen.

Therefore, instead of sitting in my office working until the last minute and then scrambling to get to the plane on time, I get to the airport early and work there. My philosophy is to put as many of the potential bottlenecks behind me before I settle down. When I get to the airport, I always check in first and drop off my luggage (I know I can print my boarding card from my computer before going to the airport, but I find this saves me very little time as I still need to check my luggage). Although I could then sit down at Dunkin’ Donuts and relax, I still have another bottleneck – security – ahead of me. Therefore, if possible, I go through security before getting my bagel and diet Coke. Besides, we can’t bring liquids through security anymore.

With technology these days, I can be as productive at the airport as I would be in my own office. I have a BlackBerry which delivers my email. I use my BlackBerry as a modem to connect my computer to the internet. The airport is an effective remote office. And doing it this way allows me to be totally stress free. I “put bottlenecks behind me” nearly every day.

If I am heading to a meeting, but haven’t eaten, I may drive through the known traffic spots before getting some food. I always leave plenty of extra time. The worst that happens is I arrive at my destination ahead of schedule. And since I assume that I will be early, I plan activities (work or pleasure) for me to do during this spare time. The good news is, I never have to have a contingency plan for if I am late.

It costs $2 to ride the T (Boston’s subway/train system), and you must have a ticket to go through the turnstile. When finishing one trip, I always purchase tickets for my next trips. This way I do not need to buy tickets when I am in a hurry to catch a train. There is nothing worse than shoving dollars into a ticket machine (and having the machine spit out your crumpled bills) when you hear the train pulling into the station. I know if I miss a train, I will have to wait at least another 15 minutes.

With potential bottlenecks behind you, you save yourself time and frustration. You will almost always be on time. And you can still be highly productive when you arrive at your destination early. OK, you won’t get that wonderful adrenaline rush this way. But in the long run, this approach keeps my blood pressure in check. Besides, numerous studies show that people who are not under severe time constraints operate at higher levels of performance. Goal-Free Living is stress-free living which is highly-effective living.

  1. Brilliant, Steve!

    I read your e-mail as I was trying to decide between leaving early for a speaking engagement or finishing up some work.

    Decided to take five minutes to post this comment, leave early for the venue and do the work there!

    many thanks,

  2. Richard Brandt says:

    Steve and all,

    This comment is a bit off topic, but I’ve tried something that I feel is consistent with the goal free approach.

    The idea is to use “deliberate delay” to set up time where I feel that I am exceeding my expectations. – Actually by not having any.

    Let me give some examples:
    If I decide that I won’t leave my car and go into work for ten minutes, I am likely to clean it out, or maybe listen to the radio, or maybe remember to make a meaningful cell phone call.

    If I tell myself that I won’t turn off my TV for “at least” 15 minutes, I am giving myself permission to enjoy the program or decide on programs to tivo.

    If I decide that I won’t finish this comment for “at least” 30 minutes, I can feel good about working on this for an hour. This type of “deadline” lets me maintain my direction (moving on) without making my present time “worth less.” It’s also a deadline that I can extend without guilt.

    I feel that setting the usual deadlines for my tasks set me up for failure.
    They are based on estimates of what I am able and willing to do, and for me they keep me from enjoying the moment and increase my fear of failure.

    These deadlines are also likely to result in “expectation inflation.” We “should” do everything faster so that we can get to the next thing that we “should do.” – a never ending project, with “to do lists” seen as “should have done already lists.”

    Note to Steve,
    You have my permission to edit any or all of this comment in any way.
    Also an FYI.
    When I did a google search for self improvement through deliberate delay I didn’t find this concept.

  3. Richard, very interesting concept. I will try this some time. Instead of hopping out of my car when I reach my destination early, I will linger longer.

    And by the way, I never feel as though watching TV is a waste of time. Because I have Tivo I don’t channel surf. But I do watch my favorite shows whenever the mood strikes me. For me, watching an episode of MythBusters is a nourishing experience.

  4. Reading your blog gave me a new way to describe what I do, as well, since I treat my frequent travel experiences the same way that you do. Now I realize that I am using the “theory of constraints.” I thought I was just managing my time in a way that avoids stress and raises the chances that I will meet my goal (getting on the airplane on time).

    Another thing that I do to support these two objectives, as well as a third one, which is “to always be at my best, especially for clients” is to, whenever possible, arrange my schedule so that I am able to work at my best times in my own body clock timezone. I live in the Mountain time zone, and when I travel to the East Coast, I endeavor to schedule my work with clients at times that correspond to my most alive times in my regular world. That means that I present at 10am at the earliest. Rather than give in to pressure to start facilitating a group at 8am, which is really 6am in my body clock world, which would translate to getting up at 5am in my body clock world, I push back. Clients balk sometimes, but when I explain that they are paying top dollar for me and they would want me at my top productivity, they see my point and re-arrange schedules to accommodate that, if at all possible. Age brings wisdom (and courage)! Elayna

  5. Annalie Killian says:

    Steve, I too work in orgainisational creativity and innovation in Australia, and am a regular follower of your work. But I am a typical ENTP….always leave all the options open and squeeze the maximum out of living fully in the moment every minute I have got, THEN make the mad dash to arrive just in time because I see airport time etc as dead and wasteful time. (I am also an eternal optimist and somehow having positive expectations means things go right!) I havent ever missed a flight yet either!)But…your perspective has challenged me to reconsider my mental script and I can see that there is merit in an alternative approcah. Will give it a go sometime?

  6. Elayna, very interesting perspective. I have to admit, I never really thought about scheduling my speeches around my body clock.  I will have to try that some time when it seems appropriate.   

    Annalie, nice to hear from you. I am an ENFP. I too love to keep options open. I just choose to create options at my destination rather than my origin, so there is never “dead and wasteful time.” Maybe your optimism is partly responsible for your 100% on-time success. Alas, when it comes to traffic and queues, my experience has been less than positive.

  7. Your blog is a great source of ideas! THanks a lot!

    I like this concept of coming early (as for now, I am unrealistic in planning and often come late).
    I often move together with my 4 yo son, who hates to wait and for him coming 1 hour early will be a tough situation to handle. But as we visit several places a day, most of them not at all interesting for him, we can use intervals to play/talk togehter 😉

  8. Do you believe that people that were born late are late for events in life and those that are born early are early or on time for events???

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