"time management"

Do I wish to revise my time management tips?

I wrote this in 2004 on MR:

Here are my suggestions:

1. There is always time to do more, most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

2. Do the most important things first in the day and don’t let anybody stop you.  Estimate “most important” using a zero discount rate.  Don’t make exceptions.  The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

3. Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them.  Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

4. Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to.  Better to approach your next writing day “hungry” than to feel “written out.”  Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

5. Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always “now.”

Rahul R. asks me if I would like to revise the list.  I’ll add these:

6. Don’t drink alcohol.  Don’t take drugs.

7. At any point in your life, do not be watching more than one television show on a regular basis.

8. Don’t feel you have to finish a book or movie if you don’t want to.  I cover that point at length in my book Discover Your Inner Economist.

I think I would take back my old #5, since I observe some bloggers who have gone years, ten years in fact, without being so productive.

My sentence on time management

All people are equally good at time management, but some people are more willing than others to admit that they are doing what they want to do, while others maintain the illusion they wish they were doing something else.

Here are my previous posts on time management, most of all here and yes this is the single most frequent topic question I receive from MR readers.  I thank Jacqueline for the query.

Addendum: Will comments, worth reading.  My view is simple: forcing yourself to use your time better just isn’t that costly, so if you want to, you can.  What does *Getting Things Done* sell for?  That’s about its marginal value.   It doesn’t reflect a big shift in time use.

Trudie on time management

First, check out Tyler’s earlier tips on time management.  Read this one too.  That’s right, you.  The one who doesn’t usually click on the links.  Read them.  Don’t tell me you don’t have enough time.

The bigger question is whether time management is something you need to improve.  The "Friends" part of your brain sounds quite fundamental, why tamper with it?  Don’t think all that Bruckner stuff, or for that matter the Journal of Law and Economics, beats a good TV show.  (Even Nigerian movies can be worse than Law and Order, believe it or not!)  Cost-benefit analysis suggests that acceptance will come easier than change.

It sounds as if you are already an expert consumer, and indeed consumption is the ultimate goal of economic activity.

Being "completely rational" would be a high form of hell.  Tyler tells me that his high levels of cultural consumption are his form of irrationality, not the contrary.  And most of his activities are quite passive; he has never been in a kayak, refuses to go "natural diving," and surely blogging does not compare with building a software company or hunting a boar.  Don’t confuse a restless nature with seizing life by the throat and living it to the fullest (although, of course, some people do both, including Tyler).  In any case the key is to enjoy and indeed cultivate the irrationalities you have (indeed that is all you have), at least provided they do not become destructive vis-a-vis other people.

Trudie again thanks Tim Harford for pioneering the concept of economic advice; Tyler has added Tim’s website to the Interesting People roll on the left hand side of this blog.

Time management tips

John Quiggin offers some time management tips over at CrookedTimber.org.  I’ll second his call for a daily "word quota", but express horror at his notion that you should ever devote a morning to "8-10 jobs that ought to take 5 minutes each."

Here are my suggestions:

1. There is always time to do more, most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

2. Do the most important things first in the day and don’t let anybody stop you.  Estimate "most important" using a zero discount rate.  Don’t make exceptions.  The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

3. Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them.  Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

4. Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to.  Better to approach your next writing day "hungry" than to feel "written out."  Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

5. Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always "now."

Monday assorted links

1. “Why don’t they come?”  It’s not what they like, I would say, plus they are worse at planning and time management, and they enjoy TV more.  “Why should they go?” is maybe a better question than “Why don’t they come?”

2. How much does the Apple Watch cost to make?

3. Restaurant traffic meters.

4. Do agricultural conditions matter for institutions?

5. “In our sample, attraction seems to be more important than trust…

6. Croatia arrests the president of Liberland.

What are humans still good for? The turning point in Freestyle chess may be approaching

Some of you will know that Average is Over contains an extensive discussion of “freestyle chess,” where humans can use any and all tools available — most of all computers and computer programs — to play the best chess game possible.  The book also notes that “man plus computer” is a stronger player than “computer alone,” at least provided the human knows what he is doing.  You will find a similar claim from Brynjolfsson and McAfee.

Computer chess expert Kenneth W. Regan has compiled extensive data on this question, and you will see that a striking percentage of the best or most accurate chess games of all time have been played by man-machine pairs.  Ken’s explanations are a bit dense for those who don’t already know chess, computer chess, Freestyle and its lingo, but yes that is what he finds, click on the links in his link for confirmation.  In this list for instance the Freestyle teams do very very well.

Average is Over also raised the possibility that, fairly soon, the computer programs might be good enough that adding the human to the computer doesn’t bring any advantage.  (That’s been the case in checkers for some while, as that game is fully solved.)  I therefore was very interested in this discussion at RybkaForum suggesting that already might be the case, although only recently.

Think about why such a flip might be in the works, even though chess is far from fully solved.  The “human plus computer” can add value to “the computer alone” in a few ways:

1. The human may in selective cases prune variations better than the computer alone, and thus improve where the computer searches for better moves and how the computer uses its time.

2. The human can see where different chess-playing programs disagree, and then ask the programs to look more closely at those variations, to get a leg up against the computer playing alone (of course this is a subset of #1).  This is a biggie, and it is also a profound way of thinking about how humans will add insight to computer programs for a long time to come, usually overlooked by those who think all jobs will disappear.

3. The human may be better at time management, and can tell the program when to spend more or less time on a move.  “Come on, Rybka, just recapture the damned knight!”  Haven’t we all said that at some point or another?  I’ve never regretted pressing the “Move Now” button on my program.

4. The human knows the “opening book” of the computer program he/she is playing against, and can prepare a trap in advance for the computer to walk into, although of course advanced programs can to some extent “randomize” at the opening level of the game.

Insofar as the above RybkaForum thread has a consensus, it is that most of these advantages have not gone away.  But the “human plus computer” needs time to improve on the computer alone, and at sufficiently fast time controls the human attempts to improve on the computer may simply amount to noise or may even be harmful, given the possibility of human error.  Some commentators suggest that at ninety minutes per game the humans are no longer adding value to the human-computer team, whereas they do add value when the time frame is say one day per move (“correspondence chess,” as it is called in this context.)  Circa 2008, at ninety minutes per game, the best human-computer teams were better than the computer programs alone.  But 2013 or 2014 may be another story.  And clearly at, say, thirty or sixty seconds a game the human hasn’t been able to add value to the computer for some time now.

Note that as the computer programs get better, some of these potential listed advantages, such as #1, #3, and #4 become harder to exploit.  #2 — seeing where different programs disagree — does not necessarily become harder to exploit for advantage, although the human (often, not always) has to look deeper and deeper to find serious disagreement among the best programs.  Furthermore the ultimate human sense of “in the final analysis, which program to trust” is harder to intuit, the closer the different programs are to perfection.  (In contrast, the human sense of which program to trust is more acute when different programs have more readily recognizable stylistic flaws, as was the case in the past: “Oh, Deep Blue doesn’t always understand blocked pawn formations very well.”  Or “Fritz is better in the endgame.”  And so on.)

These propositions all require more systematic testing, of course.  In any case it is interesting to observe an approach to the flip point, where even the most talented humans move from being very real contributors to being strictly zero marginal product.  Or negative marginal product, as the case may be.

And of course this has implications for more traditional labor markets as well.  You might train to help a computer program read medical scans, and for thirteen years add real value with your intuition and your ability to revise the computer’s mistakes or at least to get the doctor to take a closer look.  But it takes more and more time for you to improve on the computer each year.  And then one day…poof!  ZMP for you.

Addendum: Here is an article on computer dominance in rock-paper-scissors.  This source claims freestyle does not beat the machine in poker.

What I’ve been reading

1. Richard A. Posner, Reflections on Judging.  I’m not seeing this book receive enough attention.  It is written in a somewhat fragmented manner, but it is an important and stimulating look at how growing social and economic complexity and the increased specialization of knowledge make the current organization of judgeships increasingly problematic.  Furthermore the opening “legal autobiography” offered by Posner is fascinating and it could be turned into a longer book of its own.

2. Peter Temin and Hans-Joachim Voth, Prometheus Shackled: Goldsmith Banks and England’s Financial Revolution after 1700.  This book argues that the financial revolution led to a reallocation of resources toward war and other public purposes, away from private investment, and that such shifts were partially responsible for the slow growth of living standards in the eighteenth century.

3. Gerald D. Feldman, The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914-1924.  A 1000 pp. plus tome — readable throughout — on exactly what went wrong in the Weimar era, a work unlikely to be surpassed, good on both the politics and the economics.

4. Steve Lehto, The Great American Jetpack: The Quest for the Ultimate Personal Lift Device.  The title says it all.

5. Daniel Tanguay, Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography.  Perhaps the most frequent sets of questions I receive from readers have to do with a) time management (try here and here), b) low-skilled jobs, c) future inflation, and d) Leo Strauss.  (Bitcoin was once on that list, no more.)  This book will answer your questions on the latter, and there are few other good sources on Strauss.  But it’s more than that, it is a splendid work of intellectual history, wide-ranging an insightful on every page, I loved this book.

A third Industrial Revolution?

James Tien has a new paper:

The outputs or products of an economy can be divided into services products and goods products (due to manufacturing, construction, agriculture and mining). To date, the services and goods products have, for the most part, been separately mass produced. However, in contrast to the first and second industrial revolutions which respectively focused on the development and the mass production of goods, the next – or third – industrial revolution is focused on the integration of services and/or goods; it is beginning in this second decade of the 21st Century. The Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) is based on the confluence of three major technological enablers (i.e., big data analytics, adaptive services and digital manufacturing); they underpin the integration or mass customization of services and/or goods. As detailed in an earlier paper, we regard mass customization as the simultaneous and real-time management of supply and demand chains, based on a taxonomy that can be defined in terms of its underpinning component and management foci. The benefits of real-time mass customization cannot be over-stated as goods and services become indistinguishable and are co-produced – as “servgoods” – in real-time, resulting in an overwhelming economic advantage to the industrialized countries where the consuming customers are at the same time the co-producing producers.

Keywords: Big data, decision analytics, goods, adaptive services, digital manufacturing, value chain,
supply chain, demand chain, mass production, mass customization, industrial revolution

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

How to get stuff done

This is a good discussion, I agree with most of it, for most people.  Here is one bit:

The hardest part is often just starting. I’ve found that it’s especially hard for me to start when a task is difficult or complex. The more importance and weight a certain activity has in my life or business, the more I seem to put off starting.

However, if I can just get moving on it, even for a few minutes, it tends to get easier.

Because I know this about myself, rather than setting the intention to finish something, I resolve myself to start. The more often I start, the easier things get finished. Overcoming that first bit of inertia is the biggest challenge (just like getting started on a run, or the first push of getting a car moving).

Once things are moving, momentum is on your side.

That is from Jonathan Mead, hat tip goes to Anya Kamenetz.  You also can enter “time management” into the MR search function, and then scroll down a bit.

The culture that is Taco Bell (cheap chalupas edition)

This article is superb throughout, here is one excerpt:

Every Taco Bell, McDonald’s (MCD), Wendy’s (WEN), and Burger King is a little factory, with a manager who oversees three dozen workers, devises schedules and shifts, keeps track of inventory and the supply chain, supervises an assembly line churning out a quality-controlled, high-volume product, and takes in revenue of $1 million to $3 million a year, all with customers who show up at the front end of the factory at all hours of the day to buy the product. Taco Bell Chief Executive Officer Greg Creed, a veteran of the detergents and personal products division of Unilever (UL), puts it this way: “I think at Unilever, we had five factories. Well, at Taco Bell today I’ve got 6,000 factories, many of them running 24 hours a day.”

…When I take my place on the line and start to prepare burritos, tacos, and chalupas—they won’t let me near a Crunchwrap Supreme—it is immediately clear that this has been engineered to make the process as simple as possible. The real challenge is the wrapping. Taco Bell once had 13 different wrappers for its products. That has been cut to six by labeling the corners of each wrapper differently. The paper, designed to slide off a stack in single sheets, has to be angled with the name of the item being made at the upper corner. The tortilla is placed in the middle of the paper and the item assembled from there until you fold the whole thing up in the wrapping expediting area next to the grill. “We had so many wrappers before, half a dozen stickers; it was all costing us seconds,” says Harkins. In repeated attempts, I never get the proper item name into the proper place. And my burritos just do not hold together.

With me on the line are Carmen Franco, 60, and Ricardo Alvarez, 36. The best Food Champions can prepare about 100 burritos, tacos, chalupas, and gorditas in less than half an hour, and they have the 78-item menu memorized. Franco and Alvarez are a precise and frighteningly fast team. Ten orders at a time are displayed on a screen above the line, five drive-thrus and five walk-ins. Franco is a blur of motion as she slips out wrapping paper and tortillas, stirs, scoops, and taps, then slides the items down the line while looking up at the screen. The top Food Champions have an ability to scan through the next five orders and identify those that require more preparation steps, such as Grilled Stuffed Burritos and Crunchwrap Supremes, and set those up before returning to simpler tacos and burritos. When Alvarez is bogged down, Franco slips around him and slides Crunchwrap Supremes into their boxes. For this adroit time management and manual dexterity, Taco Bell starts its workers at $8.50 an hour, $1.25 more than minimum wage.

My email to Ben Casnocha

He's totally ignoring the market data.  Do law partners and top investment bankers multitask?

Yes.

I won't quite write "end of story" but…

Or look at the top people at [top tech conferences].  How many of them check their iPhones all the time, etc.

Lots of them.

Of course top CEOs don't multitask all the time, they multitask selectively, combined with periods of extreme focus.  Still, I would say that multitasking is passing the market test.  That point does not receive nearly enough attention and oddly it is usually not mentioned in the major polemics against multitasking.  It's one thing to think that a seventeen-year-old teenager will multitask too much; it's another thing to make the same claim about an extremely valuable executive, surrounded by assistants, time management specialists, and so on.

Here is further commentary on the entire issue.

MR vocabulary guide

1. “Self-recommending”: the very nature of the authors and project suggest it will be good or very good.  This also often (but not always) means I haven’t read it yet.  I am reluctant to recommend *anything* I haven’t read, but I am signaling it is very likely recommendation-worthy and I wish to let you know about it sooner rather than later.

2. An “Assorted link” that ends with a question mark: Worth thinking about, but I wish to distance myself from the conclusion and the methods of the study, without being contrary per se.

3. Hansonian: of, or relating to Robin Hanson.

4. The Jacksonian mode of discourse.  I am opposed to this.  Political and economic pamphlets in the Jacksonian era were excessively polemical and sometimes the Jacksonian mode is still used today, in 2009, believe it or not.

5. Wunderkind: Take the average age of that person’s relevant peers.  If said person is either under twenty or less than half that average, that person may qualify for “Wunderkind” status.

6. Markets in everything: Some of these are celebratory but many of these are sad or tragic.  Usually I am trying to get you to think about — as a philosophical question — why the market exists at all and not whether it should be legal.

7. Tyrone is my brother and alter-ego who believes the opposite of what Tyler believes.  Trudie offers personal advice.  Neither has good time management skills and thus they don’t write very much these days.

8. “Shout it from the rooftops”: What to do with wordy, obscure truths which the world badly needs to learn.

What have I left out?

How to read fast

I am unfamiliar with speed reading techniques, so I cannot evaluate them.

The best way to read quickly is to read lots.  And lots.  And to have started a long time ago.  Then maybe you know what is coming in the current book.  Reading quickly is often, in a margin-relevant way, close to not reading much at all. 

Note that when you add up the time costs of reading lots, quick readers don’t consume information as efficiently as you might think.  They’ve chosen a path with high upfront costs and low marginal costs.  "It took me 44 years to read this book" is not a bad answer to many questions about reading speed.

Another way to read quickly is to cut bait on the losers.  I start ten or so books for every one I finish.  I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it.  I am ruthless in my discards.

Fairfax and Arlington counties have wonderful public library systems, and I go about five times a week to one branch or another.  Usually I scan the New Books shelf and look at nothing else.  I can go shopping at the best store in the world, almost any day, for free. 

I am both interested and compulsive.  How can I let that book go unread or at least unsampled?  I can’t.

Virtually every Tuesday I visit the New Books table at Borders.  Tuesday is when most new books arrive.  Who knows what might be there?  How can I let that New Books table go unvisited?  I can’t.  About half the time I buy something, but I always walk away happy.

Here is another reading tip: do less of other activities.

Blogging hasn’t hurt my writing, it has helped by non-fiction reading, but I read fewer novels.  That is the biggest intellectual opportunity cost of MR, though for the last month I’ve made a concerted effort to read more fiction.  But it is not like the old days when I would set aside two months to work through The Inferno, Aeneid, and the like, with multiple secondary sources and multiple translations at hand.  I no longer have the time or the mood, and I miss this.

Here are two earlier posts on time management.

Addendum: Jane Galt comments.  And here is Daniel Akst.

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