How to waste time and accomplish nothing
On a recent trip to the movies with my son, Aban, who turns 14 in May, an unexpected delay meant that I was able to spend time with him one-on-one, and have a few interesting conversations without any interruptions. We talked about a couple of issues, and I got his views on specific topics from a teenager’s perspective, and what I heard was eye-opening.
To be completely honest, I had not expected to hear that the young these days are more sophisticated than they have ever been, in a digital age and armed with the Internet of things. But what we discussed is less important. What is more interesting is how.
Aban and I were walking in a mall and decided to see a movie. The earliest showing of the movie he wanted to see was an hour and a half away. We bought the tickets anyway and decided to wait. Little did I know the hour and a half I spent talking with Aban would be the highlight of my trip.
I turned to Aban and asked him what we should do before the movie began. Aban answered: “Let’s waste time.”
I laughed and started walking with him toward the shops, but he chided me. “Mom,” he said, “walk slowly — there is a plan for wasting time!”
According to Aban, the first step to wasting time is to make a plan to waste time. The second step to wasting time is to progress as slowly as possible while following the original plan. The third — and final — step is not to walk too fast in order to slow your progress, enabling you to accomplish the second step more successfully.
The experience made me think. I started questioning how effective plans are — are they always productive, or sometimes is it just that they feel productive, but are actually a waste of time? Moreover, how can we know whether or not to stick to a plan if we have no prior indication if the plan is any good, which, by extension, we can only discover through trying to follow it?
I know what you’re thinking: This sounds like a nightmare. These questions fill every project manager with dread, but it is something that we all need to think about. The solution, I think, is getting more people to look over a plan, in order to get a broader range of opinions, especially from the people that will have to execute it.
If those following the plan don’t trust it, what reason do they have to follow it? They will revert to Aban’s laws of time wasting, making progress as slowly as possible while following the plan. They have no reason to hurry — the plan was dropped on them, and they just follow it, regardless of what their instinct or experience tells them. Why should they care, if no consideration of their potentially valuable input and insight was taken.
My trip with Aban meant we could walk and talk, which, if we were not wasting time, we could not have done. It allowed me to get to know him a little better, how he views the world, and how, strangely, doing things at a different pace can be productive.
We should listen to executors as we should listen to teenagers, and get their input on making plans. If we include them in the process, we may waste time, but we may also discover new ways of looking at things, and get them accomplished sooner, or in a better way. They may just surprise us with what they have to say!
Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, an international public speaker and an entrepreneurship mentor.