Maintaining Maximum Speed
Gordon Wainwright is an independent management training consultant. He has written several books on management communication skills, including 'Read Faster, Recall More' (also published by How To Books) and runs courses for a wide range of organisations, including multinationals and government departments.
Maintaining maximum speed does not mean going at a task hell for leather without any regard for its difficulty or importance. That is the headless chicken’s way.
No matter how fit, young and energetic you may feel yourself, there are bound to be times when you just cannot seem to get done the things you want or have to get done. You feel at the end of the day that you are really no further forward than you were at the beginning of the day. Clearly, something needs to be done about this. There are several possible remedies you can try. It is up to you to refuse to be beaten and to ask yourself how the laidback bear would tackle the problem.
Among the most useful and effective methods are these:
- 1.Find some way of taking a break, even if only for a short while.
- 2.Get a change of scene. Try working in a different place with a different environment if you can.
- 3.Change the activity if you can. Sometimes when you cannot make progress with one thing you can proceed better with another.
- 4.Tackle the difficult parts of a task first and then, when you are beginning to fade, you will only have the easier parts to worry about.
- 5.Put some music on if you can. These days you can listen to music through headphones without disturbing someone else who may be working nearby. The music should be the kind you like, but not something that you like so much it becomes more important than the work you are doing.
- 6.Set a slightly tighter deadline. This may compel better concentration without effort on your part.
- 7.Review what you did on similar occasions in the past when things did not go as you would have wished. You may identify a long-forgotten method of solving the problem.
- 8.Consider whether the task really needs doing or not. Sometimes we become embroiled in activities because they seem a good idea at the time, but do not have much relevance for the achievement of our objectives in practice.
- 9.Discuss with colleagues, if you can, how they overcome fatigue.
- 10.Avoid using artificial stimulants as these may be addictive. In any case, they simply mask the problem and do not solve it in the long run.
- 11.Avoid forcing yourself to do something unless it is absolutely vital that, no matter how you feel, the task has to be done.
- 12.Look through this book to see if a technique suggested for a quite different problem will work for you in this instance. Not everything works for everyone in the way it is supposed to and sometimes unlikely solutions can be the most effective.
Acceleration and Deceleration
When we are driving a car we automatically speed up when the traffic is light and slow down when it becomes heavier. It can be hazardous to our nerves and even our health not to. If we do not speed up when everyone else does we incur the wrath of other drivers. If we do not slow down when the traffic builds up we risk an accident.
Life, however, rarely runs smoothly and we may well encounter situations where it appears impossible to speed up and we may find ourselves in others where the pace of events carries us along willynilly. We have to find some way of controlling this kind of situation or we shall find ourselves dashing around frantically again.
Feedback can, of course, tell us whether or not speeding up or slowing down is affecting our performance adversely and we can then react accordingly. That may be one solution.
Effects of Speed on Skill Levels
It is natural to assume that if you increase speed in an activity you will automatically make more mistakes and perform less effectively. This is not necessarily true. If speeds are built up gradually, this gives you time to adjust and become accustomed to the new levels and usually a better performance is the end result.
Responding to Emergencies
Crises will always occur even in completing the best-organised tasks. The immediate reaction of the headless chicken is to panic. This is the least-helpful reaction. Don’t panic - as Corporal Jones in the TV comedy series Dads’ Army used to say. Step back and ask why the emergency has arisen. Ask yourself why you did not see it coming, for many emergencies can be predicted. For example, overfill a chip pan and leave it unattended on too high a heat setting and the chances of a chip pan fire are greatly increased.
Where emergencies cannot be predicted, keep a cool head and look for a way out. You would not pour water on a burning chip pan, but cover it quickly with a dampened cloth. This would be both easier and quicker and is the correct laidback-bear approach.
Try to do too many things at once and you will very quickly have an emergency on your hands. You have to know your limitations. The headless chicken thinks that he or she can do everything at once. To any sensible person, this is clearly impossible. Set a reasonable target of things to be done within the time available. Resist all attempts by others to force you to go beyond this. I once taught an audiovisual aids technician who was continually overloaded with requests for her skills in producing visual aids for company presentations. She simply could not cope with the demand. I suggested she get a laminated wall planner and put all the requests on it with their deadlines and the names of the senior staff who had requested them. Then, when someone came along with a last-minute request that simply had to be done, she asked them to identify for her the senior member of staff who could be made to wait for their work to be done. Last-minute requests ceased very quickly after that, as no one was prepared to upset superiors and the chart showed them unequivocally just how much pressure her limited time was under. It was not long before she got an assistant as well.
Artificially Induced Urgency
This is simply the kind of haste which does not really need to be there in the first place. It is extremely common among headless chickens and is the result of not allowing sufficient time to complete a task before the deadline, whether that is self-imposed or imposed by others. A common example can be seen in people dashing to get to work in a morning because they are late. This can easily be avoided, of course, by setting off a little earlier. If this means getting out of bed earlier, the loss of sleep can be avoided by going to bed earlier at night. It is a wholly avoidable situation and this is the principal characteristic of urgency which is artificially induced rather than unavoidable.