Although I’m a computer guy, initially I studied civil/transportation engineering. One of my first jobs was in a transport consulting company as a junior engineer. We were sending teams of people (mostly students) to collect parking data (note where parking is allowed or forbidden, where cars park anyway, how many they are, what is the parking duration, etc.).
When these on-site surveys were over, one of my tasks was to process this data somehow. I don’t remember the details, but I needed to do something for each city block—possibly draw each side red or blue on the map depending on whether parking was allowed, or maybe calculating some statistics for the block or the side. It was tedious repetitive work.
At the end of the second day of this task, I took some time to see what I had done. I had finished maybe 50 city blocks. The area of study had 2,000 blocks. Thus 38 more working days were needed to complete it. There was no reason to assume I’d get much faster. I wrote a half-page report with a Gantt chart and a prediction I’d finish by 17 March, and faxed it to my boss—she was in another company branch. She called me immediately.
“Antonis, we can’t delay so much. You have to work overtime! I will personally approve your overtime.” But I didn’t want to work overtime, so I made a counter proposal.
“Among the students who participated in the surveys, there were a few who were quite capable. We’ll hire one or two and get them to help me. There’s even an unoccupied desk in my room currently.”
Everyone benefited from this solution. The job finished faster than any amount of overtime could have done it. The cost to the company was greatly reduced—the student’s hourly rate was maybe a quarter of the junior engineer’s overtime hourly rate. The student got a job he wanted. I got the free time I wanted.
The reason I remember this story 25 years later is that it struck me how unusual what I did is. I took maybe half an hour to observe myself, measure my performance, and extrapolate. This isn’t rocket science, yet few people do it. Especially when the workload is high—which is exactly when it’s needed most—people have the tendency to resist self-observation as a luxury to keep for better times.
The result? Increased costs, missed deadlines, unsatisfied customers, frustrated employees. All that while a better solution may be staring you in the face, as it was in this case—the unoccupied desk was screaming.