115
Chapter 5
From Bad to Good, and 
From Good to Great
It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive
to change.
Charles Darwin
Like an Air Traffic Controller
Think about the way you started your morning today. If youre
like most people, the first thing you probably did was check
e-mail. And if you are like most people, what started out as a
well-intentioned—and brief—triage of your mail turned into
a giant time suck in which 90 minutes disappeared with your
head up your, um … , inbox before you realized it.
Or perhaps you came to work and hammered through
the budget revisions the chief financial officer (CFO) had
requested. You were on a tight deadline, and you knew you
didnt have time to waste.
116 ◾  A Factory of One
Or maybe you had an early meeting with a colleague who
was having difculties with a project that youre leading.
Or maybe you returned a call from the nurse supervi-
sor who needed information about a new procedure you are
doing in the hospital.
Or … , well, the list of things that demand your atten-
tion is pretty much infinite. When you walk into your office,
youre like an air trafc controller, with multiple demands on
your attention at any given moment. That means that there are
many different ways you can structure your daily work; what,
when, and how you work can—and usually will—vary from
day to day.
But why is there so much variability in how you start your
day? For that matter, why is there so much variability in how
you manage the whole of your day? Is that the best way to
work? When you arrive at your desk in the morning, or when
you return to it after a meeting, you have a load of new infor-
mation that you have to receive, store, process, and distrib-
ute—but do you have a well-defined method? Or do you just
hack away at it, reading a few e-mails, checking a couple of
voice mails, and thumbing through some of the papers litter-
ing your desk until your next meeting? Do you have a standard
way of dealing with incoming work and customer requests?
Or do you just take care of your boss first or the person who
is screaming the loudest? Is this haphazard way of processing
information and work the best way to handle your job?
Is it possible that theres a right wayor at least a bet-
ter way—to do your job? Yes, yes, I know: Because youre a
software engineer, a surgeon, or the executive director of a
nonprofit, your job is inherently more variable than that of
someone doing the same repetitive task every day, like the
guy who receives parts at the loading dock of a factory. And
it’s true: Your work is more unpredictable and the types of
goods” that arrive in your inbox or are dropped on your desk

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