You may be familiar with “Just In Time” inventory or manufacturing. This is the business strategy that aims at reducing the amount of time product is in storage or on a shelf. This is done by working towards hyper-efficiency across all aspects of a business. Parts, material, and labor are right where they are at precisely the time they need to be.
On at least one occasion, I’ve heard this concept used in the context of knowledge workers – and we’re all pretty much knowledge workers these days.
Instead of manufacturing, we apply the same idea to information. Our management systems allow us to delay accumulating more information until the precise moment it is needed, and we can be reasonably sure that it will be there when we need to retrieve it.
Calendars, task trackers, productivity apps, and management systems allows us to move through a day more efficiently. When we come to a point where we need to make a decision, we can retrieve the infromation we need, usually pretty quickly.
If we are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, we can focus our attention on the things that matter right now and delay work on future problems until we absolutely must.
Have you ever scheduled a meeting and then reviewed your notes a couple of minutes immediately prior? Then you have already put this idea into practice.
This system allows us to do more (and better), but it also depends heavily on flawless execution from a living person. The technology will rarely fail – but there still needs to be a person there to pull the lever or hit the button at just the right time.
When running effectively, ‘just in time’ systems can supercharge productivity. But without constant attention, they can fail spectacularly.
Time, attention, and energy are all finite resources.
My personal management system has slowly been creeping towards a ‘just in time’ one. I actually really like it – it does allow for more. It’s a way to squeeze just a little bit more out of a productivity system.
In fairness, it comes at the cost of a near-constant low hum of anxiety, as there is always something coming on the horizon that is unsettled.
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