|Figure 1. Not Walden Pond.|
This isn't an earth-shattering idea, and in fact it reminds me of a post I wrote a few years back, "Groundhog Day: Mid-career Academic Choices."
But it's a great reminder that time is limited, and so are our choices. Harris gives some examples, with my commentary:
1. "For example, what if you spent more time creating an interactive activity for class than revising the look of your lecture slides?" Great idea, although revising the look of lecture slides is 99th on any list of 100 tasks.
2. "What if you created an answer sheet with clear explanations to distribute to class rather than writing brief notes in the margin on each individual student exam?" This is a lovely sentiment. What would happen is that students would ignore the answer sheet and come to your office or, more likely, email you because they don't see why theirs isn't like the best answer. It's nice to believe that they see what you see, but many will not, and they'll feel injured at the depersonalized nature of the feedback and say so on your evaluations.
3. "What if you checked your email three times a day instead of three times an hour?" Great suggestion for anyone who does not have time-sensitive things going on. Still, three times a day should be plenty.
Harris quotes Steve Jobs, who reduced the number of product lines so that he could focus Apple's attention on a few of them. (That's also what McDonald's did when it started out: a few products done well rather than many done not so well.)
It struck me that what Harris is talking about is the Costco plan. A very long time ago, a student of mine related to a Costco executive wrote that its philosophy was not to give consumers endless choice but to choose the best thing and stock it. That's it.
Now, obviously Costco stocks more than one kind of toothpaste, one kind of shampoo, etc., although in my house we still kid about the Soviet-style choices that are made for us: "Costco loves us. Costco knows what is best. You WILL grow to love the Costco choices. Two plus two is five."
|Figure 2. Thoreau, definitely not in Costco's mission statement.|
Applying this to your own work, as Harris suggests, makes sense.
What are the things you need to do?
What are the things you want to do?
What priorities do you have?
What are the things getting in the way of them?
Or, to put it another way in the words of that old anti-capitalist Henry David Thoreau:
[Edited to add: More Thoreau posts.]