As an extension to an article we published a couple of weeks ago on Actions and Systems, we’re going to look at a particular subset of that time management paradox – how to get projects off-the-ground, and how to make sure they’re finished (preferably on time). Now given enough time, most of us can complete almost any project. But because this is a blog on Efficiency and Productivity, we’re looking to get things done faster, and in shorter amounts of time.
The analogy of base hits and home runs comes from baseball. While my experience with the sport both as a player and a spectator is limited to a couple of games during PE class in high school, the analogy is a useful one: a base hit is an exertion of effort designed to create enough time for you to run to the next base. A home run is an all-out effort to create more than enough time that you can run through all bases, and achieve a home run. If we turn this into Efficiency Speak™ this would be: base hits are systematic and consistent actions taken towards a predetermined goal, while home runs are momentum-based sprints of exertion designed to catapult a project into stability and regularity. Let’s look at both.
The idea of base hits is the same as the idea of doing things systematically. You do little things everyday, and because these actions consume little time or effort, you are able to tackle many different projects within the same day. The usage of base hits is great for projects that can’t be done in 1-2 weeks, or for where it is known that the project will take time. It’s also more useful where momentum isn’t necessary or is no longer a concern. If you work as part of a larger project team or find that you have steady daily responsibilities, base hits is your optimal strategy for getting things done.
The other side of the paradox are home runs, which are essentially going all-out with action until what you’re working on has reached either completion or some sort of stability. The most frequent example that I see is with startups or with people beginning entrepreneurial ventures – it’s not uncommon to hear about people working 16-hour days until their business is cashflow positive. As a strategy, the home run is excellent for getting things going because it relies on the principles of momentum and solar flaring. Essentially you are dropping everything else (albeit, temporarily) to focus on that one thing that’s crucial in the moment. Whether it’s getting a new business profitable or starting a new project for school or work, the home run is the strategy of choice.
Application and Scenarios
The question becomes: which strategy do you use and when?
Well, it really depends on what you do. If you have a large number of consistent and regular responsibilities with your work, well, you’re already using the base hits strategy. And that should be the strategy you use for new projects unless you can somehow shift those responsibilities to someone else. It’s also a matter of rhythm – as we mentioned in the article on Actions and Systems, the effectiveness of each strategy can vary from person-to-person.
One highly effective way of using these strategies (that seems to mimic natural growth/cycles), is having a period of home runs, followed by a period of base hits, followed by a period of home runs, then base hits, ad infinitum or until completion. This is what businesses look like – they build, build, build and build relentlessly until they hit a certain milestone (home run), then they go back and correct errors and quirks in their operations (base hits), then they kickstart growth again with another period of all-out action. This is a great strategy for projects, for building a business and for acquiring skills. Of course there are physical limitations to the amount of time and energy you have, and that is what will ultimately temper which strategy to follow and when to switch over. Here are a couple of different examples:
- Learning a Language. The best way to go about this would be to start with a home run, be it flying to a country where the language is spoken and living there, or taking some intense language classes whether online or in-person. Once you’ve achieved some degree of fluency, then you would follow up with regular practice over time to maintain fluency.
- Exercise. This is where trying to do a home run could end up in injury. You want to take an approach with consistency, and recognize that the limitations here are not based on effort, but on physical capacity and the human body’s ability to recover (it takes time).
- Work/School Projects. Home runs first. Hopefully the first home run will be enough to complete the project, but if not, then a short period of base hits will usually push the project to completion.
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