Timing And Synchronisation
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.
If you are to be fully successful in using time creation techniques, you will need to develop your sense of timing and your ability to synchronise activities. Things need to be done not only at the right time for doing them but also at a time which fits in with whatever else has to be done.
Timing is almost an art – more than doing the right thing at the right time – and has much in common with the concept of serendipity discussed earlier. It is that quality of being able to judge precisely the right moment at which to act. It is a concept which comedians understand very well, for they know that if they do not deliver the punch line at exactly the right time the audience may not laugh. Synchronisation is concerned with fitting actions together without overlap. Such dovetailing enables actions to be timed for maximum effect, avoiding cutting across others in discussions and thus achieving smooth changeovers from one activity to another.
Developed timing and synchronisation are evidenced:
- in the existence of time slots
- in the ability to accommodate overrunning of an activity without overlap by being flexible
- in changeovers between speakers in conversations, discussions and meetings
- in moving smoothly from one stage of a task to another
- in timetables and programming
- in critical paths
- in schedules and diaries
- in all kinds of rhythms and activity patterns. Skilled users of timing and synchronisation as techniques:
- exhibit smoother performance
- make fewer errors
- are more relaxed and confident
- waste less time
- make generally faster movements
- are responded to more favourably by others because they interact more skilfully
- exploit opportunities for effective action because their developed sense of timing helps them to identify an opportunity before others realise it is there.
To exploit timing and synchronisation to the full, it is necessary to be able to identify the ends of tasks and stages within tasks, to recognise pauses and natural breaks in activities and to be able to sense what it is appropriate to do at any particular moment in time. Good anticipation skills are therefore also necessary, as is a preparedness to make use of sudden and unexpected opportunities for action. A sensitivity to what others are doing and how they will react helps timing and synchronisation to be used more effectively. Other time creation techniques, such as anticipatory scanning and selective perception of cues naturally have an additional contribution to make that is very important. From what has been said, a number of benefits of timing and synchronisation can be identified. As well as enabling unexpected chances to be exploited, they provide a useful supplement to other techniques by saving wasted time, reducing costs (for example, by timing telephone calls where appropriate), increasing interpersonal effectiveness and enabling more than one activity at a time to be managed. In serving the public, for instance, as a bar person, they help in the process of being able to take one person’s order, serve another and give change to a third, all at the same time.
Apart from those in public-contact occupations, better timing and synchronisation are important to speakers, participants in meetings and negotiations, travellers, students, house managers, cooks, factory supervisors, politicians, organisers of various kinds, broadcasters, engineers, architects, lawyers and secretaries. Indeed, as with other time creation techniques, it is difficult to think of a group of people who could not benefit in some way from better timing and synchronisation. And the headless chickens among us can benefit most of all.
We shall go into more detail later over when to speed up and when to slow down, but no consideration of timing and synchronisation can be complete without at least a brief look at acceleration and deceleration in activities. Generally speaking, speed is controlled first of all by the rate of information flow. When there is a lot of information to process, that is, when the information density is high, it is necessary to slow down. When the information density is low, it becomes easier to speed up. A serious time creator will make sure that speed is increased to the maximum when information density drops. He or she will also exploit timing skills when plans have to be varied for whatever reason and will exploit synchronisation skills in situations such as when distances between people involve time differences, in planning campaigns or when organising events.
There are at least three ways in which all of these aspects of timing and synchronisation can be developed. Firstly, you can observe people whom you have previously identified as being skilled in this aspect of time creation. From this simple activity much can be learned. Secondly, you can reflect on your own experience and learn from that. Thirdly, you can learn by practising with exercises and experiments like the following:
- 1.Observe a comedian on a TV programme. Study his or her timing, the waiting for laughter to die down but not out, the pacing of jokes and the delivering of punch lines. Are there any lessons from these observations which you can apply in your own work? If you have to attend meetings, make after-dinner speeches or go to conferences and conventions, you should find some at least that you can use.
- 2.Attend a meeting or discussion. Observe how the contributors synchronise with each other. Note the reactions to talking across others or interruptions. Note the role of the person in the chair and the cues (most of them nonverbal) which are used when synchronising. You should find, for instance, that when a person is about to speak, he or she will try to establish eye contact with the chair. Some of the more interesting cues to be observed are those to show disapproval when one person talks across or interrupts someone else.
- 3.Study someone who is preparing a meal. How are the various activities synchronised? What is the critical path (that is, the sequence of main events which must be done in order and usually to a schedule with time limits)? When and how do errors occur? How is activity overload (that is, trying to do too many things at once) avoided?
- 4.Plan an event (a party, a fete, a conference or a wedding). What synchronisation problems arise? How crucial is timing and at which points? How do you allow for the plan to go wrong and what kind of contingency provisions do you have to make?
- 5.Plan your diary for the week ahead so as to make the best use of every time slot. What can be done to overcome and resolve competing claims upon your time? How will you fill ‘downtime’ (that is, any time during which, for whatever reason, you are unable to proceed with your planned activities)?
- 6.Plan a holiday. Study as you do so the timing implications (for example, arriving just after the carnival has finished or when the weather is poor). Study also the synchronisation implications (for example, sorting out railway or airline timetables). What solutions can you devise for the problems that do arise?
- 7.Watch a TV discussion with the sound off. What kinds of nonverbal signals are given by the participants to manage timing and synchronisation? Are there any that you may be able to use in your own encounters with other people?
Trying these exercises and experiments should help to convince you that a sense of timing and an ability to synchronise activities can make a significant contribution to the effective use of time creation techniques. You will have taken yet another step towards building a more effective strategy for both keeping up with the pace of change and for creating time for yourself. You will have moved further forward in your own metamorphosis from headless chicken to laidback bear.