I had purchased Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency (by Tom DeMarco) with the vague notion that it was book on the topic of improving one's individual effectiveness, using Getting Things Done (GTD) principles.
It turns out instead to be a great little book about understanding how to manage knowledge workers. DeMarco's expertise is in understanding how to manage software developers (he has a well-regarded book specifically on that topic, Peopleware).
This book targets most specifically the myth of 100% efficiency, the Taylorism notion that individual workers can be viewed as machines that can be configured to perform optimally. The other myth it tackles is the idea of goal-first planning, where you decide your outcome first, and then attempt to force reality to conform to your schedule, however impossible.
The book also introduced me to the First Law of Bad Management, a phrase I immediately treasured:
The First Law of Bad Management
If something isn't working, do more of it.
DeMarco proposes a core solution to move your organization from a burnout-producing factory to an effective enterprise: slack. Knowledge workers need some free time to be creative. Google's "20% time" is a great example of a recognition of this need at the highest levels of an organization.
You can't make employees think faster. If you try to "increase productivity" by loading them down with task after task, you actually make things worse. There are a number of reasons for this, but a main one is the high cost of context switching. It's a popular notion that we are all becoming great multi-taskers, but it's simply false.
Humans are not capable of maintaining multiple task states simultaneously (indeed, neither are computers, although their speed makes it appear so). Every time a person has to switch from one complex mental task to another, they have to spend time, perhaps considerable time, to "unload" the mental state of one task and "reload" the state for the new task. The more task switching, the less time available for actual work.
When you look at the multi-project, interrupt-driven workplace we have created, you can see we've engineered ourselves into a recipe for frustration and limited achievement.
DeMarco's book is a quick read, at 220 paperback pages split across 33 short chapters. Highly recommended for anyone engaged in knowledge work, or managing knowledge workers.
Knowledge workers of the world unite: Give us some slack!
# Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0767907698
# ISBN-13: 978-0767907699