The Gum Ball Effect – Escalation

In the previous blog I explained the gumball affect. This is when we have an unlimited amount of work to do, a limited amount of time, the fantasy that we will get it all done, and the energy to try. We came to the recognition that people who engage in this sort of gumball work process usually end up busting for a holiday on which they are too tired mentally burned out to enjoy themselves or making mistakes.

The essence of the gumball affected is that we have the belief that if we get more done in less time than it’s an opportunity to get more done in the same time. It’s very similar to a cat chasing its tail. Or mouse in one of those wheels. If we treat ourselves robotically as if we are a production machine with sausage meat coming in at one end (tasks) and sausages coming out the other (completions) then we will be treated as robots by those around us. Nobody treats us better then we treat ourselves. So the proposition is that we try to get our work done in the time allotted to it and then celebrate rather than allow another gumball to drop into place. That means planning.

But there’s more to the gumball effective than this. When I was a kid the gumball machine also included little toys. With my first coin I was really hopeful to get a gumball so that I had something to put in my mouth preferably sugar filled. But then I started hoping for one of those little toys. They were tiny plastic toys. I would put my money into the machine, give the machine a little shake, and then turn and hope for the best. Sometimes I was successful and I got one of those small plastic toys and it lasted about as long as it took to turn the handle before I discarded or broke it. What’s this got to do with work?

The gumballs are the tasks we have mounting up behind us and after a while, even though they are diverse and interesting tasks, they become just another thing to do to get out of the way before we get home. So we start hoping for little plastic toys, promotions, trips, events, conferences, pay rises. Those little plastic toys become our obsession because we have enough gumballs.

For me this conversation is very simple. My office is in my home and therefore after completing an hour of tasks I give myself treats that are probably not available in an office. I might go for a walk on the beach, swim, bike ride, a paddle, or just go outside and enjoy nature. For me these rewards are not breaks in the day but more importantly opportunities to prepare myself for the work ahead. I want to approach each hour refreshed and engaged. So for me, getting my work done in an hour doesn’t mean I add another hour’s work, I reward myself.

But by far the greatest reward for a good hours work, is gratitude. For some reason we think we will be treated better than we treat ourselves. For some reason we think that we can be thankful at the end of the day for what we’ve achieved in the day. But being thankful is an hourly task. We need a few minutes every hour to look back over the hour and appreciate what we’ve achieved. If we look back over one hour and can appreciate what we’ve achieved there will be an accumulative affect and eventually we will have in our hand a day that we appreciate. By appreciating the past we build resilience for the future.

If you resent something that is going on at work you sabotage the future. So by being thankful for what you achieved in the last hour, which takes no more than a minute or so, you create a habit of building resilience and strength toward the future. Sometimes we are so busy worrying about the future we forget to thank the past and therefore approached the future with a high probability that we will have to repeat anything we do.

Whenever a client says to me that they are looking forward to the holidays I know that they are involved in the gumball effect. For some reason our humanity started to think that we will end up just before our holiday time with no tasks left in the gumball machine. We have this idea that we can turn that handle fast enough to empty the machine. And then go on holiday. But it doesn’t work like that and people get very stressed trying to empty the gumball machine which is infinitely fillable.

By working from one hour to the next and taking a few minutes of reward time to be thankful for the past hour we are recuperating as we go and maintaining a high level of engagement and quality control in our interpersonal relationships. This extends to our domestic relationships where we can be thankful for what has just happened over the past hour rather than critical for what hasn’t happened yet. It’s all too easy to slip into the negative habit of the gumball effect.

By planning your day, week, month in hourly task objectives you can create space that allows you to recuperate in between tasks. At least five minutes an hour could be spent proactively engaging in recuperative clarity. Simply do this by going back over the past hour and appreciating what you’ve done.

And remember, if you don’t appreciate what you’ve done, go and ask others to do so.