TM4T - The Trivia Trap

A lot of the stuff on this website is pretty boring, but the reason for this is pretty interesting. It involves what TM4T calls the triva trap, or trivia paradox.

In order to explain and discuss this, let's use an example outside teaching - this is so we won't have too many debates about what is and isn't important...

When we talk about 'trivial tasks' we are talking about something unimportant that we have to do, something we don't really want to do because we don't consider it valuable, but, well, we just have to do it. The example I'm going to use is buying a toothbrush. That's what I'm going to do today, when I really want to be working on a job application. That IS important because I really want this job, working with high-potential children with special educational needs, in a nice school with nice people. Instead, I'm toothbrush shopping.

(Note: if you are an orthodontist, or have a particular interest in dental hygiene, or if you dislike SEN students, please mentally substitute alternative examples of 'trivial' and 'important' tasks).

The key question here, which surfaces the Trivia Trap, is this: "how long should I spend on this trivial task?".  Now I would answer this question easily: "as little time as possible". If you disagree, please e-mail and let me know.  Maybe I'm not spending as much time shopping for toothbrushes as I should.

The corollary question, of course, relates to my job application: "how long should I spend on this important task?". The answer to this one is trickier. My answer would be "as long as it takes". I might continue (slightly tetchily) "it's a stupid question. What counts is the quality of the job application, the clarity of the ideas, not any stopwatch measure of how quickly I type".

Now, from a time management perspective, this causes a bit of a problem: the logical consensus appears to be that the less important a task is, the more consideration we should give to doing it quickly, easily, and painlessly. The reason why we do trivial things quickly is so we have more time to spend on what is genuinely important...

... and of course, if we accept this logic - the logic of the trivia paradox - then we must follow that logic to its logical conclusion. The more irrelevant the task, the more effort we should expend on  finding ways to do it quickly; in other words: the less important the time is, the more important the time management is.

As a consequence, a lot of the material on this website is focused on the dull minutiae of a teacher's life, and as a further consequence, quite a lot of it is boring. Sorry.