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Offbeat – 9 March 2012

Offbeat head 2 col 150

It is also important to note that the level of productivity in a given situation can be exponentially index linked to the difference between the time allocated to the task and the time remaining to complete the task.

It’s late at night, and I am hacking at the keyboard, not something that is unusual. Tomorrow morning is about an hour away, and I am going to wake up with eyeballs that have the feel of fuzzy marbles. But there is work to be done. It reminds me of that Robert Frost line, “miles to go before I sleep.” I wonder if he had a poetry editor waiting on him for a hastily scribbled piece the next morning.
It’s last minute stuff again, and I am hoping my brain stays with me instead of wandering off somewhere silly. You know the deal, I am sure: stuff to do, like yesterday, not enough time, but you know you will manage it anyway.
If I wanted someone sitting beside me, other than my wife, I would want it to be Stephen Hawkings. The guy has written a lot about physics, and came up with a theory about the nature of time. I have read none of it, because it doesn’t have vampires in it, but I would want him to be here anyway.
“Stephen,” I would say. “Stephen, old buddy. Just look at how this time we have right here is stretching out towards the infinite. In fact, if it goes any slower, we might be able to come up with a halfway decent theory about the way time might end up going backwards.”
We could then rush off together, grab some engineers and come up with a time machine based on the potentialities, or maybe it is fields, generated by people who have to achieve the impossible in ten minutes flat. Just imagine how far back we could travel based on the frustration of the person who is waiting to go home, while his or her boss makes a change to page seventy-nine of tomorrow’s presentation. We could wire up kids paying visits to maiden aunts and use that aggravation to travel back to see the dinosaurs.
Some things never seem to end, and the slow period between the moment you begin a late night, last minute job and the time you expect it to end is one of them.
But that’s not entirely fair to the circumstances. Last minute stuff fuels human endeavour. Millions of harried office juniors will tell you that the best ideas arrive at the very last minute: never a day or three before. These ideas always arrive in that head-slapping period between when the photocopier starts chewing up and spitting out the paper like a shark that has caught a leprous seal and the moment the client arrives for the presentation.
Those ideas get stored for amazed discussion after the presentation. “You know, as the magenta ink was spitting out the paper tray, while I was trying to print it for the third time…”
The person who utters the idea probably won’t get credit. That will go to the next higher up, who is next less breathless and more credible about it. But the idea has arrived, and so humanity marches on.
It is also important to note that the level of productivity in a given situation can be exponentially index linked to the difference between the time allocated to the task and the time remaining to complete the task. What this implies is that we could assemble a group, give them a task then send them home to do nothing and call them in for an hour before deadline to get everything done.
This would do wonders for the wage bill, as well as productivity. We could line up teams of workers on an hourly basis, with a premium going for teams that had the most time off before reaching the hour before the deadline. In fact, it is quite possible that by making scientists stay at home for a month or two, we could probably come up with a cure for cancer or a solution to climate change in very short order.
Can I have my Nobel Prize now?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was probably conceived of in a few minutes flat. “Look at those nice hills with the river between them. Let’s put a couple of huts right there.”
If we could bring that spirit to the workplace and scientific endeavour, we would solve so many problems, so quickly, we would have to manufacture fresh problems to keep ourselves amused.
But the last minute has arrived, and this column is over. I leave the idea in your head now.

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