The Case of Beer Time Management Rule
I was leaving a client's at 6:30 one evening and stopped to chat with one of the folks still at work. She was completing a monthly reporting task that is analytic in nature but somewhat subjective in how you chose to report the data. It is one of those administrative tasks that needs to be done but the time taken to complete it can easily expand to longer than a couple of hours without a corresponding increase in either accuracy or value. Her frustration at completing this task reminded me of a time management rule that has held me in good stead for over 30 years, The Case of Beer Rule.
My undergrad degree is in engineering from University of Waterloo. Waterloo is a co-op school, which means a four year engineering degree is interspersed with four month work terms after each four month school semester. The school year goes year-round which also means that a couple of semesters are during the May to August period. It was during a third year summer term that we had an engineering lab scheduled from 2 to 5 pm on a Friday afternoon. The lab report was due first thing Monday morning. Labs are the pain of many engineering programs because enviably the time consumed far outweighs the marks that the lab is worth.
For first few weeks, we would do the lab and then as a group, we would spend most of the weekend writing the report. By the third or fourth week, the weather was getting nicer, mid-terms were upon us and the last thing that we either wanted to or could afford to do was to spend an entire weekend writing a lab report. One hot Friday evening after finishing the lab, we stopped to grab something to eat and then started writing our report. We also started on a case of beer. A few hours later, as we approached the end of the case of beer, we also decided that with our diminished writing capabilities, our lab report was done. We handed in our lab report Monday morning, and got it back a few days later. Our mark was not discernibly lower than the lab reports that had taken all weekend to write. It was then that the "When the case of beer is done, so is the lab" rule was born.
Over the past thirty years, this rule has metaphorically helped me to separate work that needs to be done very well and from work that only has to be "Good Enough". I am finding this rule is also helping the start-ups that I mentor.
Experienced start-up CEO's will tell you that there is more work than a start-up company is resourced to do. Choosing what not to do, what to do "good enough" and what to excel at, often makes the difference between start-ups who succeed and those who fail. Communicating this to a rookie start-up CEO is easy; helping them build the skills to make these choices is more difficult.
When I consider work that I am being asked to do versus believe that I need to do, I automatically revert to the lessons learnt from the Case of Beer rule. What will be the impact of the work? What are the incremental benefits of doing the work very well versus "Good Enough for Now"? What is the 80/20 rule for this work? What are the consequences of not doing the work at all or not doing it now? If you are struggling with too much work and too little time, try (metaphorically) the Case of Beer rule. It may work for you.