Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sensitive to Time

Yet another tale from the vast crypt of my adventures with technology:  I am presently involved in trying to train my gmail account to appropriately sort messages according to priority.  I have opted to employ a new beta, or "lab" app which allows me to open a "Priority Inbox." Those messages that the app has determined are the ones I want to see first appear at the top of my list of messages.  I started using this new feature about a month ago, to see whether or not it would save me the time and hassle of scrolling through messages I wasn't particularly interested in, in order to get to those I was probably checking my email to find in the first place.  

The original take on my "priorities" was surprisingly good--about 80% on, I'd say.  It wasn't long, though, before I discovered a few glitches.  I assume, from the original results, that Google was using information they had stored about which emails, from which senders and on which subjects I generally opened--as opposed to those I just allowed to accumulate in my inbox without bothering to delete.  But for some reason, I had to go and retrieve birthday greetings and other messages from my Facebook friends out of the slush pile, along with occasional replies from emails I had sent to others.  So I'm still working on reading the mind(s) at work behind the screen.

Yesterday, I was intrigued to see that a message labeled "Time-sensitive" from my gym, whose messages I rarely open, appeared in my A-list inbox.  So perhaps the words "time-sensitive" up the ante on a message's priority.  Which got me thinking about the meaning of the term, "time-sensitive."  

At one level, I see myself as "time-sensitive"--as in, "light sensitive," "fragrance sensitive," or "nickel sensitive."  You know, like getting a migraine, or a rash, or a mild state of rage from some irritant.  But I know that's not what the term really means.

On Yahoo! Canada Answers, the question "What does 'time sensitive' mean?" was resolved by this response:
It means that there is a given amount of time to have it in by. The requester may want you to have it done before a certain time frame.
The Free Dictionary shows this entry:
1. (Chemistry) physically changing as time passes
2. only relevant or applicable for a short period of time

I also found instructions on How To: Write Time-Sensitive or Expiring Content, which turned about to be an html code-writing lesson.  And found these intriguing sentences:
Those targets requiring immediate response because they pose (or will soon pose) a danger to friendly forces or are highly lucrative, fleeting targets of opportunity. Also called TSTs.
These appear to refer to military targets, and/or marketing targets.  No wonder Google thinks I want to know about "time-sensitive" stuff!

Although I didn't find this cursory exploration of much help, I did use the opportunity to reflect on the fact that some of the tasks on my mental, moral and/or literal to-do lists are ones that need to be taken care of by a certain time, and perhaps in a certain order, if they are to be done at all.  Clearly, for example, it makes no sense to move "Show up for Flight 1602 by 11 a.m." to the next day, even if I run out of time to get everything done on my list for the originally scheduled day.  Similarly, as I discovered last week, it behooves me to read the fine print, such as that which informed me that online registration for Trek's October 9th Breast Cancer Awareness Ride closed on October 8th, at 00:00.  So it's partly an issue of deadlines, never my strong suit.  

And then there's the notion of the critical period--according to Wikipedia,
a limited time in which an event can occur, usually to result in some kind of transformation.
From Psych 101, I remember this concept mostly in terms of baby ducklings, who would mistakenly identify as their mothers, and their species, any living being that walked past them during this crucial early phase of duckling development.  

In thinking about how to apply the idea of a critical period to the general subject of getting things done, I am exploring the thought that certain times in our lives are characterized by greater openness and availability to various kinds of learning and experience.  For example, we are hormonally predisposed to form romantic attachments, and to bear children, at some times and not others.  In my own case, the critical period for completing a dissertation may have passed long before I attempted to do so.  The jury is out on the novel.

So briefly, but not yet in ultimate conclusion, I distill from this intellectual meandering the following:
  • To every thing, there may be a season.
  • First things first.
  • All in good time, my pretty.

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