Friday, October 24, 2008

Jam and stuff

Jam! I don't mean the nice kind, the kind Bob Marley insists upon in his confectionery [1] ,but the kind that snarl up motorways. In fact, I really mean the phantom jams (explained here by that nice Andrew Marr) that happen without any accident or breakdown. Individual cars, driving too close to each other, snarl up when one of them brakes quickly. It takes longer for them to regain their speed than it takes for them to brake sharply to avoid a crash so the effect of slowing ripples backwards and gets worse and worse until it ends in cars coming to a stop.

This week has been like that. I have lots of different things to do. Each one of them is manageable in itself. But they are just coming too soon one after another. So if I have to put the brakes on for any reason, even if it is just to stop getting myself into a tangle, then everything eventually comes to a stop and I am left with a big pile of stuff on my desk which seems to be getting ever bigger.

Here is the real source of the problem. I have too many different sources of stuff to do and they are not at all co-ordinated. What I need is some third party to filter the stuff and send it to me in a single and ordered stream. I would be very happy doing each thing as it comes in and then moving on to the next thing. But that's never going to happen. Sure, academic jobs are 'flexible', and we manage our own time and efforts but part of what that means is that there is no upper limit to the stuff you do and no one who can step between you and more stuff to do to say that maybe this next thing can wait and delay it popping up in the inbox... Just having to decide yourself that something can wait is another bit of stuff to do.

RJR introduced me today to the notion that we should 'prioritise low-hanging fruit'. That's OK if it's obvious how low each thing is hanging...

[1] How does Bob Marley like his doughnuts? Wi' jam in. My elder daughter classifies this as a 'Daddy joke'. I think that means it's not at all funny but gets told at every occasion it seems even remotely relevant.

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