Where’s your slack?

I’ve been rereading the book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency recently.  As I alluded to in my last post, my life has been rough for the last few months.  My nephew’s passing took the wind out of an already saggy sail; I’ve spent a great deal of time just trying to balance work, family, and life in general.  Some people turn to counselors; I turn to project management books.

The premise of the book is that change requires free time, and that free time (slack) is the natural enemy of efficiency.  This is a good thing; if you are 100% efficient, you have no room to affect change.  Zero change means zero growth.  I’ve been a proponent of slack for a while (less successfully than I’d like); it makes sense to allow people some down time to grow.  Just to be clear, slack isn’t wasted time; it’s an investment in growth.  Slack tasks include:

  • Research into interesting projects.  Lab work allows you to experience the unexpected, which gives you time to prepare for the unexpected in production
  • Building relationships. Teams are built on trust, and trust is earned through building relationships.  Teams that like each other are more likely to be successful when it comes to problem solving.
  • Shadow training.  Allow team members to work in other teams for a while; learn how the rest of the company operates.

In short, slack is necessary in order to promote growth; if you want your organization to stay ahead of it’s competition, cutting resources in the name of efficiency is sure-fire plan for losing.  The best advice for slack time is the 80/20 rule; run your team at 80% capacity, and leave 20% for slack.  In the case of emergency, slack time can be temporarily alleviated, but it’s the responsibility of management to return to normal work levels as soon as possible.

So what does this mean for me personally?  In the name of efficiency, I let slack time go.  I work a full time job, a couple of different consulting gigs, act as a chapter leader for AtlantaMDF, and am an active father.  I have no hobbies, and suck at exercise.  I love to travel, but trips are planning exercises in and of themselves.  In short, I have zero slack to deal with emergencies.  When something goes wrong and time gets compromised, I immediately feel guilty because I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul in terms of time.  That’s not living,

I’m done with that.

Change is incremental, so I’m not planning on upsetting the apple cart just yet, but I am trying to figure out ways to make my slack time more of a recharge time.  Don’t get me wrong; I waste time.  I sit and stare at Facebook like the rest of the modern world; I binge on Netflix when new series drop.  That’s not slack, and it doesn’t recharge me. Slack is using free time to grow, to change.  My goal is to find an hour a week for growth-promoting free time.  I’ll let you know how I’m doing.


April 11, 2016 · stuart · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Blogging is FUN!, Professional Development

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