Thursday, April 4, 2019

Nobody's Perfect: What I learned making Turkish Bride Soup.

Productivity advisors often give the impression that we follow our own advice perfectly.  The implication is that you, dear readers, are expected to do so as well.

Neither is true. Nobody’s perfect.

Although this message is usually unintended, the consequences for readers can be real.

A reader who does not use the advice perfectly may feel like a failure. She may become discouraged about continuing to work on the desired change.  Or worse, he may believe that because the advice is not working for him, the situation is hopeless.

Needless to say, this is not an ideal state of affairs.

So from now on,  I promise to be more be realistic about the advice I give.

That includes:
  • Acknowledging the learning curve needed for new tools and processes.
  • How to get back on track when you get behind. 
  • Options for tweaking strategies make them your own.
  • Identifying \situations in which the advice might not work.

I'll also occasionally share my own “time management mistakes,” and show you how I analyzed them to minimize re-occurrences. As there is an unlimited supply of these mistakes, content ideas will not be a problem!

The first “mistake post.”

Let's start with an incident that occurred recently while I was making Turkish Bride Soup.

Dateline: Iowa, a dreary late afternoon in early March 

Iowa's winter has been the worst in a decade. Single digit temps, too much snow, and two stints of minus 40  wind chill courtesy of the polar vortex. Many of you live in places with the same distinction.

The day was perfect for soup, the weather was miserable, and I had just returned the night before from a long trip. Neither a complicated dish or a trip to the grocery store was appealing.  I found a trusted recipe, Turkish Bride Soup, and after finding all the ingredients in my pantry, was ready to go.

But, I was in a time crunch. I had ninety minutes to both make dinner and have an hour-long call with a coaching client. 

In other words, I was double-booked.

You can guess my solution: I would make the soup while taking the call! 

As I finishing pulling ingredients off the shelf, the phone rang. I switched to speakerphone, and the call began...

(If you are wondering, I did mention that I would be making soup while we talked!)

What ensued is more proof that multi-tasking does not work.

Turkish Bride Soup is delicious and easy to make, and by using a pressure cooker, can be ready in less than an hour. The method is simple. Saute onion in butter, add red lentils, bulgar, and paprika, then stock, tomato paste and cayenne pepper,  and cook under pressure for 30 minutes.  Release the pressure, add dried mint and eat.

Here is how it went.  

I kept my primary attention on the call,  as I am sure you are relieved to hear, and put the soup-making on autopilot.

And actually, it seemed to be going well until... 

... I sealed the cooker lid, and double-checked the recipe to confirm the cooking time.

I discovered I had added eight times the amount of cayenne pepper called for.

Panic - of the cook who might have ruined the main dish - set in.

My immediate response was to go into "recipe disaster mitigation planning" mode:

  • I could make another batch without cayenne, and mix the two batches together.  This might work, but would take more time and would result in a freezer full of the leftovers. 
  • I could off-set the heat with a side of dairy; I had no sour cream, but I could offer yogurt.
  • I could thaw a different kind of soup from my freezer supply.

Then things got worse:  I started worrying about not serving a perfect dinner. Worrying ruined my mood and my clarity of thought, and did not help one little bit.

A happy ending.

When the soup was finally done, I had a very tiny taste: bland.  

No noticeable cayenne at all;  a second taste was confirmatory.

Saved!  In fact, I had to add quite a bit more cayenne to make it right.

What can we learned from this little story?

I identified at least three lessons based on the actual mistake and its aftermath.  But there is also a fourth lesson based on what went right.

Lesson 4. You can be more efficient and effective by creating a system of supporting skills, structures, processes, and habits. 

For example, my "cooking productivity system," allowed me to solve the initial problem of how to make dinner on time.

The elements of my own system that helped with the soup situation included: 
  • A recipe collection organized in Evernote.  This app synchronizes across all my devices, so my recipes are always available. I use tags as part of my search strategy. Searching on three of these tags, "soups," "best recipes," and "pantry meals," made finding the right recipe easy. The time I have spent learning to use Evernote allows me to easily add, organize, and access information. This means I can spend my time working with information instead of looking for it. 
  • A stocked pantry.  I use a grocery shopping app, Out of Milk, on my phone. This makes it easy to add items to my list as soon as the last one is used.  As a result, I had all the ingredients I needed for the soup at hand.  Maintaining your system saves time.
  • Pressure cooking was an option.   That meant I could make the soup in less than half the usual time.  ( If you want to know more, go to Laura Pazzaglia's website Hip Pressure Cooking. The site covers "all things" pressure cooking, including stove top and electric types.) Figuring out how to make a work process more efficient pays off.
The "mistake" lessons

Lesson 1. Really, folks, multi-tasking does not work.

To be clear, the kind of multi-tasking that does not work is attempting to simultaneously do two tasks that require cognitive attention.

My call that day had significant "cognitive load;" I needed to listen and make thoughtful suggestions. 

Although the soup recipe was easy,  measuring and adding ingredients in the correct order did require attention.  Which I failed to give.

If you want to know more read Devora Zack's book singletasking, in which she summarizes the research and provides detailed examples and implementation tips.

Lesson 2. Even though I knew it was not a good idea to multi-task, I did it anyway.   

I did not follow my own "expert" advice.  Instead, I let my feeling of "time pressure" overcome my better judgment.  I am betting some of you have done the same.

Nobody's perfect.

Lesson 3. We can improve by thinking through "time management mistakes"  after they happen.

For example, I can be more thoughtful about the plans I make when I'm feeling time pressured.

In the matter of the soup, I could have made a plan that minimized the risk or avoided it altogether.

  • I could have minimized the risk by reducing the cognitive load of the soup making. If I had measured the ingredients and arranged them in the order to be added before the call. I would then have had relatively "mindless" steps to perform.
  • I could have avoided the risk by recognizing that the soup only takes an hour to make. I could have made it after the call.  Plus, the soup was for a casual weekday night supper. No one would notice that dinner was a bit later than I had planned.

Bonus meta-lesson: Worrying never helps.

Let's go back to my frantic attempt to make a back-up plan had I ended up with unacceptably spicy soup.

While it was helpful to think of ways to "repair" the soup, it was unhelpful to let worry take over. 

Worrying never helps.

Takeaways for your consideration:

Nobody's perfect! 
  • Watch out for your own multi-tasking moments, and work to minimize them. 
  • More generally, pay attention to your own "time management mistakes," and spend some time debriefing each.  
  • Notice when you are worrying. Take a breath, and focus instead on making a backup plan.
  • Start thinking about your own productivity system. What works well, and what could be improved? These observations can be the basis of deciding what productivity system changes you should make. 
And of course, you can make some Turkish Bride Soup