Why You Need “Slack-Time” in Your Life and Work

There’s a fair likelihood that the majority of the issues in your life and at work are caused by a lack of slack, which is the freedom of action required to make changes.

Tom DeMarco, author of Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency, the majority of people and businesses do not understand the benefits of slack. Even though the book is now close to 20 years old, DeMarco’s ideas are still relevant.

Here’s how slack functions and why you require more.

The Enemy of Effectiveness

“When you work efficiently, there is little waste. And when you’re doing the right thing, you’re effective.

Many businesses are consumed by efficiency. They want to make sure that every resource is used to the utmost extent and that everyone is working nonstop throughout the day. They employ knowledgeable advisors to detect even the tiniest odour of trash.

Many of us as individuals are similarly fixated on the illusion of total effectiveness. We pride ourselves on avoiding pauses and scheduling every minute of our day, and we punish ourselves for even the smallest amount of diversion. We adore individuals who never seem to give in to sleep, illness, or fatigue because we consider them unpleasant flaws. However, this perspective ignores the distinction between efficacy and efficiency.

Absolute effectiveness is a fallacy. Any time we reduce slack, we increase the amount of work. DeMarco claims that unless we allow for some buffering at each employee’s desk, it is practically impossible to keep everyone in the organization completely active. That implies that there is an inbox with a backlog of work.

Due to how negatively we can view work, many of us have developed the expectation that there would never be any downtime. Slack frequently comes across as laziness or a lack of initiative in a world of obsessive efficiency. However, without slack time, we are aware that we won’t be able to do additional jobs right immediately, and if someone demands that we should, we must stop what we are currently working on. Something always takes longer than expected.

The increased activity may be pointless: “It’s possible to enhance an organization’s efficiency without improving it. Driving out slack results in that. Additionally, it is possible to drastically increase and significantly decrease an organization’s efficiency. You must reintroduce sufficient slack to the organization to enable it to breathe, reinvent itself, and implement the essential changes,” DeMarco argues.

Defining Slack

Slack, according to DeMarco, is “the level of freedom necessary to make a change.” Efficiency’s natural opponent is slack, and slack’s natural enemy is efficiency. He states that “slack” is an operational capacity that has been sacrificed for our long-term well-being.

DeMarco advises us to picture one of those puzzle games with eight numbered tiles in a box and one free area so you can move them one at a time to help illustrate the idea. To arrange the tiles in numerical order, shuffle them. Slack is the equivalent of that space. The game is technically more efficient if you delete it, but “something else is lost.” Tiles cannot be moved in any other way if there is no available space. The layout is ideal as it is, but there is little that can be done to change it if time proves otherwise.

Having some leeway enables us to adapt to altering conditions, experiment, and try things that might not work.

Resources in excess make up the slack. It could be a matter of time, money, personnel, or even expectations. Slack is essential because it keeps us from becoming stuck in our current situation and being unable to react or change. After all, we lack the necessary resources.

Lack of slack is demanding. Scarcity drains our mental and physical resources, which may be used to better complete the task at hand. Failures and unforeseen repercussions are amplified by it.

When there are too many slack resources are wasted and people get bored. But generally, a lack of slack rather than an abundance of it is an issue. If you schedule a project with too much leeway in case it goes more smoothly than anticipated, you won’t likely waste the extra time lounging around. Maybe you’ll get over a previous endeavour that required more work than you planned. You might fiddle with some unfinished projects. Perhaps you can reflect on why this one worked well and draw conclusions for the future. Slack time can be your reward for a job well done! You merit some room to breathe.

Slack also enables us to deal with life’s unavoidable surprises and shocks. If every hour in our schedules must be used, we won’t be able to take some time off to recuperate from a mild cold, temporarily focus on learning a new skill or tolerate a few hours of technical issues.

In general, you require more leeway than you anticipate. Your predictions of how long something will take or how difficult it will be unless you have a lot of experience, will nearly always be on the low end. The majority of us treat best-case scenarios as though they are the most probable and would invariably occur, although this is rarely the case.

You must also pay close attention to how quickly you deplete your slack so that you have enough time to replace it. For instance, you might want to check your schedule once a week to ensure there is still room each day and that meetings haven’t taken up all of your downtimes. Consider the types of slack that are more crucial to you, then keep an eye on them frequently. Take action if you notice that your slack is running short.

But the majority of the time, it’s crucial to be cautious with your slack. It’s best to presume that you always have a tendency to use it up or that someone else will try to take it from you. Establish firm boundaries, and keep a watch out for projects, plans or goals that could balloon.

Slack and Adapt

People and organizations used to occasionally be able to get by without much slack, at least temporarily. Even while slack is now more important for survival than ever, we’re more eager than ever to do away with it in the name of efficiency. Constant change and reinvention are necessary for survival, but they “need a commodity that is absent in our time as it has never been before. Slack is that commodity — the change’s catalyst component.

“Slack is the period when innovation happens,” continues DeMarco. “It is a moment when you are not entirely occupied with running your company's daily operations. When you are 0% busy, that is when you are slack. Slack is required at all levels for the organization to function well and develop. It catalyzes transformation. Creative slack management is where good businesses shine. And terrible ones only become fixated on getting rid of it.

We can only take a step back and consider the wider picture of what we’re doing when we are completely unoccupied. We can plan thanks to slack. to question whether we are moving in the right direction. to consider potential issues. to reflect on the data. to assess whether we are making the proper trade-offs. to take actions that are not scalable or that might not immediately seem to be profitable.”

Slack and Productivity

Ironically, we do a lot more over time when we have slack. When we don’t endeavour to be productive always, we are more productive.

The quantity of work that each employee in a company has is never constant, according to DeMarco: “Daily changes are made to things. As a result, the workload becomes more uneven, with some workers taking on more work (building up their buffers) and others becoming less burdened since the worker in front of them in the work chain is taking longer to produce their specific type of work to send along. The lack of wiggle room is unsustainable. We inevitably run out of resources, and those resources have to come from somewhere.”

Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to fill the time available.”

Work expands when slack is attempted to be eliminated. We always fill our leisure time, therefore it never exists.

We consider whether we’re acting appropriately when we’re at ease with occasionally having no obligations. This is in contrast to picking up the first task we come across to avoid appearing inattentive. The belief that “continuous busyness promotes efficiency” puts pressure on people to appear active at all times and to maintain a backlog of work. The only way to stay active when our buffer is getting less is to work more slowly.

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Ray Williams

Author/Retired Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others