Slack, is like a bad word in the new economy where everything is fast and wound so tight, multi-task and multiple project teams, matrix reporting, multi-region and what not. If you look back at your last 24 hours (that could be a just a working day or two in these days of overly long work hours, rather than the normal 3 work days type like me), what have you really accomplish between the time spent uploading the work-in-progress task to work on for half an hour slice and then download to let another task be uploaded onto your brain to work on the next slice, while the audio conference meeting is on-going and you chip in when its your turn to download a bit of what have you done for that particular task in between the regularly arranged audio conference meetings?
If you have done lot, good for you, but do you feel burn-out? Why do you feel very tired and very small tasks do get completed and closed off but another bunch landed on your incoming email and onto your longish to-do list? Because lots of time and energy has been spent to onload-work abit-offload cycles that you can only do the small task.
I find that I can work on 1 major a 1 or 2 moderately sized projects, but not 2 major +anything, I am just jumping between two fast running trains that aren’t going to the same destinations and spending lots of time and effort to catch onto each major project and then work a little bit while on the mindshare time for that project at hand. Most of the time, when you hear the word firefighting, it can mean you are so busy that you only have time to notice when a major problem pops up on a major project, rather than when you or your team members have sufficient time to smolder the potential major problem when it was just a minor issue.
So when you hear someone brags about always being in a fire fighter role, it could mean that he is so busy or the project is managed on a light touch (not because it was going so well) because he is involved in too many things at the same time.
There is this word, slack, which is a title of a great book by Tom Demarco who also wrote a wonderful book called “Peopleware” which is about how to identify, build and nurture a great project team to great project success.
A lot of companies has cut what they called slack. The layer of staff that they deemed not so productive. The fact is, slack is what gives a company the flexibility, the capacity, to do those things that matter in their past, and in their future.
Google, the fast paced Internet company has this famous 20% time thing. While BusinessInsider (http://www.businessinsider.sg/google-20-percent-time-policy-2015-4/#.VxhHBkeqZ_k) reports that “only about 10% of Googlers are using it”, last time Google checked, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as the idea of it exists, according to Google HR boss Laszlo Bock in his new book, “Work Rules!”
As companies used to have R&D labs, these are cut out of many great companies as they focus on the next-big-thing. In my opinion, it is a grave mistake to sacrifice their future by focusing on the present, albeit the counter-argument is that they have to survive the present to have a future. My take is that they have rested too long on their laurels and a quick fix is just forgetting what is their core competitive edge which is their R&D depth and breadth. Many examples abound today of the great IT giants of the 1990s and 2000s are going down that path too.
Coming back on a personal work level, is that thinking time is working time and taking on interesting projects or even better creating that interesting project (like those Googlers that created the many interesting projects) and keeping your focus and giving yourself some slack to do some thinking and re-arranging your work arrangement, unwind a little to give your mind some space, so that you can do it better and do it right.