Have you ever felt overwhelmed and stressed out in your life or work? Periods when you were fully occupied with various tasks but you still lacked (1) productivity (or getting more things done); (2) efficiency (or getting more value and less waste); (3) effectiveness (or getting better results); (4) work-life balance (or getting more free time); and/or (5) health (both physical and mental)? Periods when everything around you moved too fast and time always slipped away? If yes – then you should know quite well what it feels like living in a fast-motion world. When this happens occasionally and has a short timespan – it should be OK. But if it is continuous (or even endless) – then there is a serious risk of exhaustion and burn out if things don’t get slower. Moving from fast-motion (fast-mo) to slow-motion (slow-mo) and still getting the most out of it is what time management is all about.
There are many time management techniques which could help you manage your workload in a better way. Among the most popular ones are Get Things Done (GTD), Franklin Covey Method, Do It Tomorrow (DIT) and the Middle Way Method as well as some more narrowly focused “hacks” as the Swiss Cheese Method, Don’t Break the Chain, Inbox Zero, (10+2)*5 Hack, 10-Minute Hack and The Rule of 3. The FLY technique is built on top of these by (1) extracting the types of tasks that might be encountered and the possible actions that could be taken towards them; and then (2) synthesizing this information into a common algorithm. Furthermore it embraces some important time management principles as “Less is More” (or “Little and Often”), “Last Responsible Moment” (or The Mañana Principle), “One Thing at a Time”, “Keep it Simple Stupid”, “Handle Things Once” (or “Blocks Out Time” / Timeboxing), “Limit Work In Progress” / “Know Your Limits” (or Closed Lists), “First Things First” and the Pareto Principle (or the “80-20 Rule”).
The FLY Technique is named after the flies insects. Scientists have found that flies live in slow-mo and perceive time at a rate that is around 7 times faster than humans! And this is exactly what the FLY technique aims to do – to slow things down (just like the flies) so time does not fly away…
The FLY Scale
When a new task comes in you might either EXECUTE it right away (aka. get it done immediately) or not. The EXECUTE-ion would definitely make time go faster (as it requires your physical or/and mental engagement) and would bring you closer to the fast-mo world. And this should be OK – unless you are always EXECUTE-ing in which case you might get overwhelmed quite quickly (especially if the workload is much greater than what you can process). Luckily there are a number of alternative actions. You could TRASH (or REJECT/DECLINE) the task or TRANSFER it. While the first is self-explaining the latter means that both task execution and task responsibility are handed over to somebody else. As these actions do not require any additional effort (except for notifying all interested parties) we could call them slow-mo actions. Another slow-mo action (although not as much) is SCHEDULE & DEFER (or POSTPONE). It includes determining the most suitable time in the future to refer back to the task (e.g. last responsible moment) and then postponing any further actions up until then. In the middle of the slow-mo and fast-mo continuum lies down the DELEGATE & FOLLOW UP action. It is similar to TRANSFER but differs in that the responsibility of the task remains with you (and thus additional efforts would be needed to follow up on the outcome). There are two other “meta”-actions that you could also carry out. The first is to CLARIFY the task – needed when either task execution and/or task outcome are unclear. The second is SIMPLIFY (or BREAK-DOWN/ROUTINIZE/UNBIND) if the task is too complex to be done at once, is repetitive or is dependent on 3-rd parties. Both CLARIFY and SIMPLIFY are fast-mo actions (although less than EXECUTE) as they might require significant involvement. Given below is the FLY scale which visualizes the above actions and plots them on the slow-mo and fast-mo continuum.
Extremes (either too slow-mo or fast-mo) are never preferable. If you feel at some point that you are too overloaded – then the fastest way to slow things down is to carry out actions from the left side of the FLY scale (TRASH, TRANSFER and SCHEDULE & DEFER). And vice versa – if times passes very slowly and you would like to speed things up – just start with the right-most actions (CLARIFY, SIMPLIFY and EXECUTE). In general your ultimate goal should be to have an even distribution of tasks on the FLY scale (although the recommended distribution might heavily depend on your current load and the nature of the tasks in your to-do list).
The FLY Score
The nature of a given task could be described through the presence of five distinct characteristics: (1) internal importance – or whether the execution and/or the outcome of the task is essential for you (e.g. reflects your personal values/beliefs, serves your personal goals/objectives, etc.); (2) external importance – or whether the execution and/or the outcome of the task is essential for somebody else (e.g. your family, friends, peers at work or supervisors, etc.); (3) closeness – or whether the task is current in terms of deadline; (4) simplicity – or whether the task is trivial, short, does not depend on 3-rd parties and is non-recurring; and (5) clearness – or whether the execution and/or the outcome of the task is clearly defined and specified. Whenever you have a long to-do list and you need to do some kind of prioritization – the presence of these characteristics could help you determine the importance of each task (or its priority). However this might not be sufficient. For example an internally important task might be preferable than an externally important one – at least in terms of efficiency (and other things being equal). For that reason the characteristics have to be weighted. Given below are the recommended weights – weights which would give priority to internally and externally important tasks that are current, simple and clear (in that order). However weights could be adjusted to reflect your own preferences. Furthermore you could use ranged weights to further tune the priorities within a particular characteristic (e.g. specifying that one task is more internally important than the other).
Determining the priority of a given task is then done through the so called FLY score. The latter is calculated by identifying which of the five characteristics are present and then summing up their corresponding weights. For the above recommended weights – the minimum FLY score (or the lowest possible priority) is 0 while the maximum (or the highest possible priority) is 19 for single and 34 for ranged weights.
The FLY Technique
The FLY Technique is a simple algorithm for processing tasks. It starts with listing all your to-do tasks in one place, prioritizing them through the FLY score and then limiting the initial list to just few (thus getting a closed order list of tasks). Once this is done the processing of the tasks begins – from top to bottom, subsequently, one task at a time and preferably through a timeboxed approach with regular breaks and no interruptions (e.g. the Pomodoro Technique, 90-minute work blocks, 52-17 method, etc.). The algorithm is presented below.
The algorithm is pretty straightforward – depending on the presence of specific characteristics it recommends you an action towards a task. For example if there is no internal and external importance – why should you bother with the task all? It would be much more efficient to just TRASH it and continue processing the tasks that are essential. Similarly when the task is externally important but still has no internal importance – why shouldn’t you TRANSFER it to somebody else if you have the chance to. By just following these two simple rules you could guarantee to yourself that you are always working on tasks that really matter to you. However even then you might get overloaded. And here comes simplicity and closeness. If a task is not current but is complex – probably you should DELEGATE it to somebody else and then just start following it up (thus minimizing your engagement but still ensuring progress). What if the task is not current but is simple? Probably you should re-SCHEDULE and DEFER it? This might be counter-intuitive at first glance but what if the task outcome becomes irrelevant or even undesirable with time? The same is valid for the previous scenario as well – if you could not delegate a complex and non-current task, you might consider postponing it as well (e.g. for the last responsible moment). So up until now you haven’t done any real work (except for chatting with some people and/or adding few notifications to your calendar). However with the next actions this would change. If you couldn’t trash, transfer, delegate or defer a task – your next step is to check whether the task execution and/or outcome are clearly defined and if not – CLARIFY them. This meta-action is quite important as it could significantly reduce the waste (and thus increase efficiency) by minimizing rework, redundancy and blockages. Then comes the toughest task – the one which is both current and complex. In this case you could try to SIMPLIFY it. The simplification might include: (1) breaking-down a complex task into smaller ones and then moving these new tasks to your initial to-do list (so they go through prioritization); (2) routinizing (or automating) a repetitive task; and/or (3) unbinding a dependent task (or if not possible – deferring it and start following-up on its dependencies). Similarly to clarify, simplify is quite an important meta-action that in addition to boosting up productivity, efficiency and effectiveness could help you overcome procrastination. And finally comes the EXECUTE-ion – if none of the above actions is applicable or the task is internally important, current, simple and clear.
The FLY Decision Matrix
The greatest advantage of the FLY technique is that it challenges you to first consider trashing, transferring, delegating, deferring, clarifying and simplifying a task (in exactly that order) before executing it. However the decision-making process might become cumbersome at some point. To speed things up you could use the so called FLY decision matrix.
The FLY decision matrix could be used apart from the FLY technique as well – whenever you would like to quickly decide on the most suitable action for a given task. This makes it a great tool for busy decision makers.