Time and attention

We are limited by the time and attention available to perform tasks. As the old saying goes, you can have X that is good, fast and cheap, but you can only choose two out of the three.

In the real world, you don’t even get the choice of fast very often. Some things just take the time they take. If they can be delivered quickly it’s because you have a lot of skilled people giving it their full attention for a short space of time. If they’re not skilled, it doesn’t matter how many people you put on the job, they will a. waste their own time and b. waste each other’s time.

In fact, I started this post last week, but I have been giving it neither time nor attention, so it’s sitting exactly where it was. I’ve been removing dandelions from the back garden now that the sun is out.

You will now claim that there is a third point to the triangle, which consists of rsources. I’d agree with that. Good tools can make an enormous amount of difference, but they do this – no, I wanted to say, either by reducing time or by focussing attention, but actually I can’t quite do that. Of course, they make the job easier, or sometimes you just can’t do the job without them, you can’t make bricks without straw (well, you can now – I assume that saying goes back to the days when the bricks would fall apart if they were only made of mud – can I be bothered to look it up? No, there’s google out there, I’m not that interested. It’s not a vital reference. I’ll just not bother, and, as it were, leave it as an exercise for the reader).

Anyway when designing interfaces, the two things that you need to think about most are time and attention. Do you have the user’s attention? More important, do you need to have the user’s attention? The user is going to be sparing with those two resources, she doesn’t want to waste them, you only have a limited amount of either, and somebody else’s crap interface that wastes your time and makes unnecessary demands on your concentration is the last thing you need.

So in appreciation of you having got down to the bottom of this post, I’ll give you a free joke.

Where does a general keep his armies?
Up his sleevies.

I never said it would be a good joke.

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