The difference between time and bandwidth

I see it all the time in New York. People split days into sections, hours, and ultimately, minutes. One portion of the pie is dedicated to developing a presentation at work and the other slice is set off to the side for a night out with friends. This division of time is the reality of a young professional.

shutterstock_88989007 copy.jpg

What isn't altogether obvious, however, is the difference between managing time and managing bandwidth. 

 Sendhil Mullainathan best encapsulates this problem in Time magazine:  

When we schedule things, we don’t want to just show up, we want to be effective when we get there. This means we need to manage bandwidth and not just manage time. And this is where things get tricky, because bandwidth does not behave the way time does. Time can be dissected easily: an hour can be cut up in many ways. Fifteen minutes on this memo, a five-minute walk to another meeting, 30 minutes at that meeting and then 10 minutes debriefing. Oh, and maybe a quick phone call on the walk to that meeting. The busy are expert at dissection: that’s how they make it all fit.
...This is the big mistake: we focus on managing time and end up mismanaging bandwidth. Here is another example. An important strategy memo requires two hours to write. As a good time manager, you find the time for it — a one-hour block between two meetings and two half-hour blocks later. But by the time you’re really focused and have got the previous meeting off your mind, your first hour is nearly over. And the other half hours may as well not have been there. Your two hours got you maybe 30 minutes of quality work.

Unfortunately, adopting this philosophy means I'm probably better off saying no more than yes, adding less to my plate and finishing what's on there in the first place. Fortunately, over time we begin to recognize which tasks require plenty of bandwidth. Sendhil buckets tasks into three different categories: tasks that require more or less bandwidth, tasks that tax your bandwidth even when you're not working on them, and tasks that replenish your bandwidth. Divide accordingly.