Frank Partnoy helps us feel better about taking longer to do things. He offers a counterpoint to those time management books about how to do things faster. His book explores the advantages of delay for decision making and performance. We should slow down and listen.
The book examines professional athletes in "superfast" sports like tennis. A common misconception is that they simply move faster than we do. Their real secret is more flexible time management. "[W]hat distinguishes top tennis returners and baseball batters is not their ability to react quickly to visual stimulus, but rather their ability to create extra time, and then get the most out of it, before they have to react."
"The superfast athlete's approach of first observing, second processing, and third acting--at the last possible moment--also works well for our personal and business decisions. The best time managers are comfortable pausing for as long as necessary before they act, even in the face of the most pressing decisions." Partnoy describes the role that strategic delay plays in several professions. Chess masters, comedians, venture capitalists, and military strategists also use strategic pauses. Delay plays an important role in everyday actions as well. Apology and creativity also benefit from smart timing.
Research addresses the role of delay in our thinking. "Psychologists have suggested we have two systems of thinking, one intuitive and one analytical, both of which can lead us to make serious cognitive mistakes." The intuitive system is wired to act immediately, but may not move us in the right direction. Delay can save us from this type of error. "Once we have at least half a second, we can engage in effortful, conscious thought, either to reinforce the automatic reactions of system 1 or to try to slow down or change them."
Partnoy makes more general observations about how we use time. "Much human behavior is based on `clock time,' which divides our day into quantifiable units, measured by an objective clock. In clock time, those units dictate when tasks begin and end. Some of clock time is based on nature, but much of it is fabricated. Clock time isn't the only way to organize behavior. A second approach is `event time.' In event time, we continue doing something until we finish or some event occurs." Rather than being driven along by the clock or by events around us, we should make conscious choices about the best way to manage time. "Minimizing delay and optimizing delay are two very different things."
I enjoyed this book, though some time passed between when I bought it and when I got around to reading it. I recommend that you find the right time to read it, too.