Cut yourself some slack

Cut yourself some slack!

One of my client managers showed me the first draft of his updated role scorecard. Due to organizational restructuring, his role and responsibilities within the company were changing.

His role scorecard contained all the key elements I recommend, including the metrics and target level of performance he was accountable for, with a prioritized list of his key duties (tasks), and what percentage of his time he should allocate to each duty/task.

But, he added another element that was most illuminating for the purposes of our coaching discussion. He included the number of hours per week that he expected to devote to each duty/task.

I tallied up the total at the bottom. It came to over 60 hours per week. This client works hard and puts in long hours. That’s his choice and I have no problem with that.

The challenge I put to him, was that his time was fully utilized. Every hour was allocated. There was no “slack time” built into his schedule.

My use of the word slack time does not refer to “slacking off” or laziness, it refers to factoring in additional time or capacity to enable flexibility.

What happens when there is a surge in demand? What happens when “stuff” hits the fan? What happens when someone on your team is sick and you need to cover for them? When do you make time to think and plan? When do you make time to innovate and create improvements?

I often think of my local medical clinic. The doctors are booked solid for 15-minute consultations every day. Invariably a patient requires more than 15 minutes, and it sets off a cascade of late appointments for the rest of the day. Waiting rooms are full, patients are annoyed, and the doctors are frazzled. Everyone is working hard, but no one is happy with the level of service being provided.

In my opinion, it can be detrimental to allocate 100% of your time or capacity in the name of short-term “efficiency”. Building in some slack time or additional buffer capacity at an individual (or team) level is required for overall long-term “effectiveness”.

Tom Demarco in his book “Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency” states:

“It’s possible to enhance an organization’s efficiency without improving it. Driving out slack results in that … You must reintroduce sufficient slack to the organization to enable it to breathe, reinvent itself, and implement essential changes”

I’ve read that Jeff Bezos used to leave his Mondays and Thursdays completely unstructured to allow slack time to think about improvements and plan for the future of the company.

My recommendation for clients is to factor in 10% of their time each week as slack/buffer time. Minimum 4 hours per week. If you schedule every hour of your day with back-to-back meetings and time blocks for tasks, you run the risk of being “short-term efficient, long-term ineffective”.

Until next time…