Overclocking your tasks

As a continuation of the active time management thought experiment (makes it sound fancier than time tracking) there is a piece that requires consideration: overclocking. Since most professional productivity experts (myself included) have written off the concept of multitasking as a faulty idea, there is still something to be said for the productive use of time when more than one thing can accomplished. This isn’t true to the concept of “multitasking” where more than one thing is accomplished with equal levels of success and quality. The idea of overclocking for my purposes is pushing a system or process to result in a greater output than it would normally achieve. Let me set an example and then we’ll deconstruct it. 

Commuting. It’s the bane of existence for many people, especially those who have extended commutes (I consider extended any commute of more than 30 minutes.) When working within a time budget, commuting is one of those high cost / low value activities that are part of life. To raise the value of that time expenditure there are only so many things you can do. One of them is to find other high cost / low value activities that can be bundled together. Take a look at this formula: 

(X + Y) / 2 = Z 

Where X is your first activity, Y is your second, and Z is the amount of productive results. In this case we are mirroring the classic model of multitasking, and finding that both tasks are diminished due to their nature and combining their efforts.  The result requires Z to be doubled for X and Y to reach full completion. 

Now let’s look at high cost / low value (HCLV) tasks where X is commuting for an hour and Y is listening to a podcast while driving: 

(X * .8) + (Y * .8) = Z 

You’ll notice that rather than each task being reduced by half they’re only reduced by 20%.  You could even make the argument that X would not be reduced at all (though I’d disagree – 10% may be more realistic but there’s always a cost when you overclock, in technology it’s heat and power consumption, here it’s focus and quality.) So the test of this becomes can you find activities that when combined can result in an “overclocked” state? 

Let’s look at another example.  In this case we’re going to take the common situation of waiting at a sports practice for a kid. If we are going to evaluate this as an overclocking opportunity (something I highly recommend) look for considerations that will impact the success of the effort, for example: 

Does the location provide you access to the infrastructure you need? If you’re planning on working on a computer, do you have access to Wifi? If you’re going to be reading and taking notes is there a place you can focus? 

Do you have to plan in advance to take materials with you to work or are you looking at working on information you have with you already (such as catching up reading?) 

When planning your overclocking remember you can never 100% overclock your time.  In best circumstances I’ve seen people get to about 75% (45 minutes out of an hour window) but realistically if you’re able to achieve 60% on a consistent basis (36 minutes out of an hour) you’ll be doing well. The question comes to mind though how is this helping? 

Think about the situation in time budget terms.  Out of 168 hours you have available, you have to commute to and from work for 30 minutes each way, each day.  That’s five hours per 168 you are spending on a zero-return investment. If you’re able to recoup 15 minutes out of each drive, that’s 2.5 hours you have not had to budget separately for and are still able to accomplish the required tasks. 

Keep in mind that overclocking results in a lowering of the focus and quality of at least one of the overclocked tasks.  If you’re commuting and listening to podcasts, you can’t easily take notes and likely may miss content due to focusing on your driving (which is what you should be focusing on Mr. Text-and-Drive.) You have to decide if the lowered return on the time investment is worth the recouping of the time. 

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