March 13, 2007
The "LIFO To Do List": A Geometricity-Based* Theory of Response Time
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
I can't remember if I have ever posted on this subject, but getting a raft of different small "to do" requests - read a colleague's draft of a letter, write a recommendation letter, do an evaluation of a student's law review comment - over the last few days reminded me of a counter-intuitive "customer satisfaction" methodology I adopted a long time ago. (I cannot remember any more if I learned it from somebody else or it is merely a reflection of my somewhat abbreviated attention span.)
Imagine being out of the office for a couple days and having a stack of those pink phone message slips stacked up (like in the old days), or listening to your voice mail and jotting the return calls you need to make in the order you listen to the calls. Most people, I'm guessing, would organize the return calls, as they would most tasks, on a FIFO - first in, first out - basis. (That's assuming you don't use another personal organizing method, which a former colleague at AlliedSignal, Ken Pickar, named the "Scream-O-Meter." You only get to any task when somebody starts screaming at you about it above a certain decibel level. This is how I approach most household chores.)
I always organized these tasks, particularly returning phone calls or e-mails, on a LIFO basis - last in, first out. My theory was that there was something really impressive and outstanding about an almost immediate response, but there was a geometric, not arithmetic, dilution for every hour and every day that you delayed (with perhaps some limit - was three weeks any better, really, than three months or three years?). So while nobody would notice if your response varied by a matter of hours or days once several hours or days passed, the geometric response time function would hugely value those occasions when you could respond quickly.
The trick, of course, is weaning oneself of the habit of responding on a FIFO basis. The use of LIFO response, combined with the geometricity of human reactions to response time, means that at least half the time you are going to blow somebody out of the water in amazement at how quickly you respond to their needs.
* The pictured book has nothing to do as far as I can tell with this theory, but the title seemed apropos. If you are interested in it, you can click on the picture and get to the website of Elsevier Publishing. If you read the description of the book's content and understand it, then the better question is what the hell are you doing reading this blog?
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