Fortunately, this article isn’t going to start with an embarrassing confession that I’ve let the car’s tank run dry and found myself stranded at the side of the road… I’ve only ever done that once and I was barely out of nappies! (Honest)

Instead, I’m going to look at the idea that cars do need filling up.

Yeah, I know. Obvious…right?

The thing is, when we’re planning journeys we all too often do something which is barely more sophisticated than estimating how long the journey is on a map, and (assuming an average cruising speed of 50 MPH) dividing that by 50 to figure out how long the journey will take. Then we get surprised by the fact that it always take longer than that.

How much longer?

Well…generally longer than that by the length of time we needed to stop — and that is either for us (food/water/washroom break) or the car we’re driving (filling it with gas). I’m one of those impatient people who regards time spent filling up the car’s tank as wasted time — time not spent actually getting where I’m going.

It isn’t, of course. Because if we dont fill the tank, we don’t get anywhere at all.

So we learn.

We learn to add time for tasks that don’t actually do something (like get us somewhere) but which subsequently allow us to do something (like filling up the car). These are referred to as “Performance Tasks” and “Maintenance Tasks”, respectively.

“Without the latter, the former can’t happen. Without the former, there’s no point in the latter.”

There is, of course, a balance to be struck. Too much Performance Tasks and you end up performing less than your best because you keep having to stop performing and maintain. That’s the equivalent of entering a race, performing brilliantly so that you’re leading during the whole thing and then realising you’ve got to stop for 10 minutes to fill up with gas. On the other hand too many Maintenance Tasks and not enough performance and you don’t achieve anything at all.

The seduction of this latter option is dangerous though, because it is all too easy to think you’re doing something because, well…you’re doing something. It’s just not something that directly leads to an outcome. You can be desperately busy without getting anywhere. Just ask almost anyone who rushes around saying, “There aren’t enough hours in the day!”

So what to do about it?

This is an experiment worth trying; I’m doing it myself. Break down each project into tasks in the good old-fashioned way and then to decide task by task if it’s a Performance Task or a Maintenance Task. I colour-code blue on the ‘task wall’ if it’s a Maintenance Task and Performance Tasks are colur-coded pink. (Note: There’s no great significance to this choice of colour, it was just the first set of Post-It notes that came to hand!)

Then, when figuring out what to do next at any point, I simply think about how my energy levels are. Why? Because my experience is that Maintenance Tasks can be done when you’re half asleep. If I’m below par, then I grab a blue task to do; otherwise I grab pink.

Importantly, I have to decide on my energy levels before I look at the list of tasks to be done – no picking and choosing based on what sound interesting.

The key thing is that it means I force myself to do the blue coloured tasks. Around my office, for example, we’d all rather get things done than prepare things — pink rather than blue, Performance rather than Maintenance. But your mileage may vary. It might help to spend a week or two looking at what tasks you do by preference and classify them after you’ve done them so that you get a feel for your natural instincts.

And then force yourself to do the opposite.

So far the experiment is proving very useful — coloured Post-It notes and all.

(Photo credit: Gas Full Meter via Shutterstock)

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