Week’s Tallies

I started re-reading Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, and one of the first points he makes is that effectiveness begins with an understanding of where your time goes. I’ve read this and agreed with it many times, but for some reason, I’ve never actually implemented it. I’ve never actually kept track of where my time goes.

If I don’t do that, then I can’t assess if I’m actually using my time effectively. I can’t assess if I’m prioritizing appropriately. And, ultimately, I can’t adjust or improve. So, here goes. Here’s where my time went this week, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.*

  • Meetings = 885 minutes
  • Teaching = 150 minutes
  • Writing = 100 minutes
  • Grading = 180 minutes
  • Administrative tasks = 60 minutes
  • Writing student evaluations to go home to parents = 330 minutes
  • Editing = 180 minutes
  • Planning classes = 90 minutes
  • Emails, drop-ins, unplanned urgent events, commuting between campuses = 300 minutes
  • Lunch = 100 minutes

*I tend to work outside of these hours, as well, but I think it’s best, for the purposes of this experiment, to focus on what happens within the proverbial 40-hour workweek. As I become better at tracking my time, perhaps I will extend into mornings and evenings.



Some Terms

Today, while discussing Julius Caesar with my ninth grade class, I stopped class at one point to introduce the three rhetorical appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos.

One student excitedly said, “you can use those almost everywhere.” And another one said, “I see those everywhere.”

In the simplest sense of the term, that’s education. One person opens a door for another. Or a window. Or walks them just slightly around a corner and points: look at that!

Assuming both of the above students convert their new knowledge into some kind of practice or action — even a slight one — they will have more control over their world, more agency. They might be a little more bold in what they dream and how they make their dreams a reality.

I’ll assess them on the terms, and some possible extensions and applications, because I think the concepts matter. They will use the assessment to both show me what they know and to solidify what they have learned.

Slowly, simply, the simpler the better, and layer by layer by layer: teaching and learning. School. Freedom.

You Can’t Book Me

I’ve long been a fan of David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founder and CTO of Basecamp. Though I don’t use his product, I do read his books because they tend to argue for a sane, slow, and steady approach to work and productivity. His latest book, in that sense, is utterly “on brand.” It’s called It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Today I’m going to highlight an excerpt from one of Hansson’s recent interviews (published by a company called Owl Labs) because it cuts against an approach to calendaring that I’ve been advocating over the past few years. I encourage people to be efficient — and respectful of one another’s time — by using “youcanbookme” type applications, polling software, or transparent calendars to schedule meetings. I’ve argued that such practices eliminate frustration for the people being invited to meetings. Hansson, on the contrary, prefers to leave the frustration in the process. In particular, he wants the people calling meetings to have to work to build those meetings into people’s schedules. In his words:

One of our strategies for protecting people’s time is by skipping the game of calendar Tetris at Basecamp. At most companies, calendars are shared and open, so every employee sees each others’ schedules and set meetings during their colleagues’ open blocks of time. When everyone’s time is available in that way, it’s hard for people to plan their days around doing their best work, and instead, they get pulled into meetings. We want coordination and taking other people’s time to be manual, annoying, and difficult.

Here’s how we do it: If you’re trying to coordinate a meeting between four people, there’s no technology to help you do it. You have to contact each person individually and ask if they can meet during your proposed time. And if someone says no, you have to keep going back and forth with everyone to find a time that works. In short, it’s a pain in the ass. Because you can’t see everyone else’s calendar, you’re forced to do this manual song and dance to set a meeting, and that’s exactly how we like it, because people won’t go through that inconvenience unless they really need to hold a meeting. The policy also helps communicate that that open space on someone’s calendar doesn’t make them available for wasting time. The default policy is that open space on someone’s calendar means they’re working, which in most cases, is a better use of time than a meeting.

https://www.owllabs.com/remote-work-interviews/david-heinemeier-hansson

Take the frustration out or leave it in? Most of us would quickly say, “take it out!” In the eyes of a workplace designer (i.e., boss) with as keen an eye as Hansson’s, frustration itself becomes another tool to serve company mission. I’m going to chew on that thought for a while.

Talking Shop

Today, we had an in-service day after a two-week break. We started an hour later than usual and ended an hour early. In between, teachers mainly talked shop. They talked about approaches to what they teach and how they teach. They talked about observations they had made of other teachers, often in other disciplines. They talked about what they learned from videotaping their teaching or being observed or evaluated. It was an outstanding way to re-start school.

In part, I think it worked because it wasn’t over-programmed. We “designed” for slow conversations, gentle collisions, catching-up, being together. Tomorrow, when the students show up, I expect the school to feel warmed up and a bit warmer. Ready to convince 425+ young people to begin learning — in high school — again.

High-Bandwidth Communication

Yesterday I wrote about the “transmission” and “ritual” views of communication. Today, I’m still thinking about communication, but from a different angle. Here’s a quotation from Naval Ravikant, CEO and Co-founder of Angel List and, in my summation, philosopher-of-the-moment for the entrepreneurial set.

Nothing is going to replace in-person, human warmth and communication. When two humans are in a room next to each other, they communicate at a much higher bandwidth through all kinds of subtle, physical signals than they do over video. And even that’s much greater than over audio. This hidden, high-bandwidth human communication is only possible in person.

But you don’t need that all the time. When you’re sitting at your desk, you know what to do, and you just have work to crank it out, but your boss walks by, you’re suddenly going to have this high-bandwidth communication whether you like it or not. It’s going to suck a lot of energy out of you. Or maybe you’re not feeling super productive today, and you’d rather work on Saturday. You don’t get that choice. Yeah, you can not show up, and you might have a flexible work environment, but there’s still the social pressure of, “My desk is sitting empty while everybody else’s in the office.”

https://angel.co/blog/why-naval-ravikant-thinks-remote-work-is-the-future

I like the expression “high-bandwidth communication” (HBC) because, on the one hand, it helps me understand what is both exhilarating and exhausting about working in an office or school setting. Face-to-face communication both gives a lot and takes a lot.

On the other hand, Naval’s quote helps me to realize that participating in HBC, or asking others to do so, is often a personal choice. As such, it should be made by considering its affordances and limitations. Before siphoning off someone’s bandwidth, you might ask yourself, is this the best possible way to have this conversation? Is this the only possible way? Should I save that kind of conversation for a different topic, or does this conversation require HBC?

On the other other hand, lots of HBC is also an institutional choice — to set up a work environment to either encourage HBC or discourage it, to allow it to be self modulating or non-stop, to put buffers between it or to allow it to flow freely. If you’re the boss, you might think about whether you actively designed the communication plumbing in your organization or if you allowed it to develop willy nilly. (Not that there’s anything bad with willy nilly: desire paths or desire lines exist for a reason!)

Finally, on the other other other hand, Naval’s naming and amplification of HBC makes me want to do it better, makes me want to work harder to be fully present when I have the opportunity to converse with someone in the same room, face-to-face, with the highest possible frequency and the highest possible bandwidth.

To Be Understood and to Understand

Here’s a task for today. I’m going to share two paragraphs from an essay called “A Cultural Approach to Communication” by James W. Carey. As you go through your day, keep tabs on how you communicate and how others seek to communicate with you. When are you, and others, using transmission? When are you, and others, using ritual?

The transmission view of communication . . . is defined by terms such as “imparting,” “sending,” “transmitting,” or “giving information to others.” It is formed from a metaphor of geography or transportation. In the nineteenth century but to a lesser extent today, the movement of goods or people and the movement of information were seen as essentially identical processes and both were described the the common noun “communication.” The center of this idea of communication is the transmission of signals or messages over distance for the purpose of control. It is a view of communication that derives from one of the most ancient of human dreams: the desire to increase the speed and effect of messages as they travel in space.

The ritual view of communication . . . is old enough . . . for dictionaries to list it under “Archaic.” In a ritual definition, communication is linked to terms such as “sharing,” “participation,” “association,” “fellowship,” and “the possession of a common faith.” This definition exploits the ancient identity and common roots of the terms “commonness,” “community,” and “communication.” A ritual view of communication is directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time; not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared belief.

I first heard about these terms (and James W. Carey) in a Tweet thread from Jay Rosen, who introduces some political implications as his thread unfolds. Here’s his first tweet:

I am trying something new today. This thread will introduce you to an academic concept that scholars of media and communication have found useful: the distinction between “transmission” and “ritual’ views of communication. Let’s see if i can bring it alive for you. Ready? 1/— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 14, 2019

Regardless of whether or not you share a belief in all the nuances of Rosen’s presentation of the terms, I think it’s an interesting exercise to catalogue the types of communication you both deploy and receive. Afterwards, you may find yourself moving from information to insight to action; you might find yourself making some deliberate changes in your own efforts and in the efforts in which you choose to participate, i.e., how you seek to be understood and how you seek to understand. It’s worth a shot, and if nothing else, new categories help us to see with new eyes, at least for a little while.

Thank you!

I appreciate the fact that so many RW readers have pre-ordered my next book. Though there are many “best seller” lists on Amazon, it’s nice to crack the top 10 in a category more than a month out from our official publication date.