43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Vox Pop: Re-creating scarcity

I have a friend who told me he was thinking about giving his project managers a weekly pile of chips that could be redeemed for person-hours in meetings. So, to schedule firewalled, group face-time, the PM would need to cough up the equivalent number of tokens from her pile. Thus, one, long, all-hands meeting might require the whole week's stack. While, fewer, shorter meetings with smaller groups made the pile go further.

It was just an idea, and I'm pretty sure he never implemented it, but I think it's a fascinating concept. Why? Because I love the idea of re-introducing scarcity into systems that lack boundaries.

Think how the internet in particular (for better and worse) is working to erase any sense of scarcity in our lives -- at least in terms of access to people and ideas. You can email anybody any time; you can divebomb onto someone's radar screen with an IM or SMS; you can have Amazon deliver almost anything to your door tomorrow morning; you can find and download from millions of files instantly; and, given the right tool, you can locate almost any fact in seconds.

But what about the very real (and truly limited) resources that involve human time and attention? Do we want to make ourselves as available as Google and Wikipedia are? Do we want our entire staff to be "always on" for anyone who wants them? What if, for example, emails to a distribution list cost something?

The Question to You

Have you thought about ways to re-introduce scarcity into your life and work? Are you or your team using any homemade systems to govern resources that might otherwise become overtaxed or abused? How would you solve the “too many long meetings” problem?

LiamH's picture

maybe I am lazy...but I do not think so

One thing that is often scarce is quaility work and this makes people bored. I used to work for a chap who did not really enjoy his job. He used to convene meetings at a local Starbucks. There'd then be ten minutes of joking around, a catch up from the week before, followed by an informal and tediously overlong meeting. The man was avoiding work and was dragging those who reported to him in on his game. He got sacked. But for a few months me and my colleagues often ended up working late to catch up with our proper work.

I am relatively senior now so I have just let everyone know I am not a meeting person and that my time is scarce for farting about. My emails are short as are phone conversations.

What also is scarce is a bit of slack to allow people to work properly, sensibly and with the appropriate time for a given task.

Essentially my work system based on a certain amount of confidence on my part (probably misplaced). My work is ok, so I let people I work with know I work at my pace and that they cannot have me will nilly. I am happy to say I can't help someone with something.

I am straight with my time estimates for doing work; or perhaps... maybe not...I overestimate. I use a system from the film "Alien": Brett estimates that it will take 17 hours to repair Nostromo's engines and Parker immediately passes this on to Ripley as 25 hours.

At lunch time my phone is off, I go to a local cafe and sit in peace for an hour I read a newspaper or listen to podcasts.I avoid lunch with colleagues where possible, even ones I socialise with. Before 9am the morning I do not answer the phone. I get up have a leisurely breakfast with a cup of tea and some nice music on. I want a clear and relaxed frame of mind. When I get to work I feel ready to work and I do work.

Reading this back I sound like a lazy, awkward sod. I am not (well lazy anyway). My goal is trying to maintain a relatively high average productivity. Going hell for leather and being totally immersed in the work environment for too long is unhealthy and counterproductive. In order to do this I have had to adopt a slightly cantankerous work persona which means I am known as someone not to be put upon; that's a failing of mine though.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »