Early spring.  The sun is shining and the ground is thawed.  On the way to work I saw Punkinhead and his crew out working on the boulevard so I pulled over to say hi.  “Beautiful day!” 

“Sure is!” he smiled.  “Hey, whadya do’in for lunch?  Why don’t you come back around noon and we’ll go get some chow.” 

“See you then,” I said and off to work I went. 

I finished my morning appointments a little early and pulled up alongside Punkinhead and his crew about 10 minutes before lunch.  “Sorry, I can’t leave ‘til noon!”

“That’s alright, I’ll wait.”  

I pulled my truck off the road and watched as the crew in front of Punkinhead dug a hole.  They moved about 20 feet down the boulevard and dug another.  Meanwhile Punkinhead and his crew followed behind by about two holes.  They were working hard to fill in the holes the first crew had dug.

Noon rolled around and Punkinhead jumped in my truck.  “Let’s go.”  We drove for a little while and my curiosity got the best of me.  “I hate to ask Punkinhead, but what are you guys doing today?”  Punkinhead replied, “Obviously, we are planting trees along the boulevard!”  He didn’t say it, but the DUH! was implied.

I questioned again, “Well I see one crew digging holes and I see your crew filling them in, but I never saw a single tree put in a hole.”  Punkinhead looked at me like I was the dumbest man on earth.  “Of course not.  George the tree planter has the day off!”

If this isn’t your first Punkinhead story, then you are already thinking about how this applies to the technology in your company.  How many things in our companies do we do just because that is what we do?  Are we following old rules because that is what made us successful?  Or are we following old rules because that is the best way to accomplish our tasks today?

I am currently taking an online course from Wharton Business School through the web site www.coursera.com(the site offers college level courses from colleges all around the world for free).  In the class, we are designing experiments to improve the real-world actions we take to improve performance in all parts of our life.  The category of experiments that most intrigued me was “Time shifting and re-placing”.  Time shifting means doing things during non-standard hours and re-placing means doing things in a non-standard place.

This is one of those things that has slowly happened to most of us without us even thinking about it.  Last Saturday, at 9:30 pm, four of us from my company were having an impromptu meeting regarding an emergency call.  OK, so it wasn’t a meeting, it was 4 texts.  But that is my point.  Technology has made us much more available while simultaneously making it much more convenient and efficient to be available.

So instead of just letting it happen, what if we purposefully restructured time and place to improve our overall performance?  Anyone who has to grocery shop on the weekends knows it involves long lines and lots of people.  Wouldn’t your life be improved by spending less time in lines?  Why not shop say on a Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 pm?  The time saved could be used on something more productive.  Of course, not all jobs can be time shifted in this way, but I bet a lot more of them could be if we took advantage of technology and forgot about the bounds placed on us by the 9 to 5 forty hour work week. 

Time management people talk about setting aside time focused on a specific task without distractions.  Completing these focused tasks can often be easier and more productive if we do them in a non-standard place.  Would you be more relaxed and able to produce better results if you did your work in the library, at a park, at a cabin, on a boat, or somewhere else?  Are you not choosing to be the most productive you can because that is not how people have done it before?

New technologies have shifted how, when and where we can do things.  By strategically evaluating how we use these technologies we can positively transform our lives.  Don’t be a Punkinhead!  Don’t forget to plant the new ideas and methods that can improve performance in all parts of your life.

– as previously published in The Business News