It’s been about a year since we sat down over a lovely gin and tonic to talk about time management. And I’m pleased to report that both metaphor and method are standing up to the rigours of the corporate wilderness.  (A big thanks to the many of you who tweeted, retweeted and came out to play on Slideshare!)  But I have some concerns about the pollution problem; and I’m not talking about Barbie dolls and body parts washing up on beaches. I’m talking about hamsters.

If you’re too lazy to click the link above to see what the heck this is about, the idea is that your week is a like a gin and tonic. The glass is the hours you spend at work, ice is your strategic priority activities, gin is the stuff you are actually paid to do, tonic is the time you spend on meetings, email and other necessary, productive stuff and lemon is unpleasant but necessary time spent filling in forms and going to mandatory meetings.

We all know that things get into drinks. Fruit flies drown themselves, leaves drop in, bits and pieces are to be found floating without explanation. Things also get into weeks. These are the annoying but unpreventable impositions on your time such as slow elevators, colleagues who need to discuss dental work and having to eat supermarket slab cake because it’s someone’s birthday. As with your G&T, best to just pick them out with a fingernail or swallow them and consider it all bonus protein.

The question I’ve had more than any other about the G&T model is how to classify the busywork. Is it tonic because it takes up so much time? Is it lemon because it’s unpleasant? I say neither: it’s pollution because busy and productive are not the same thing. And this is why today’s Crime Against Gin is hamsters.

If you have had to tolerate the presence of rodent hostages in your home you will know that hamsters do about two things well – they shred toilet rolls and they run on wheels. I don’t know why hamsters take cardboard and turn it into mounds of fluff. I would think it’s some atavistic nesting instinct that plastic tubes and names like Mr. Squishy have failed to knock out of their chromosomes. Regardless, they do what so many of us do and that’s produce mountains of paper that serves no more noble a purpose than to be scooped out once and week and tossed away. The lemon in our drink recognizes that there are simply things that need to be done to satisfy our Corporate Overlords. It’s wrong to sacrifice QA Analysts so we quiet the voices with reports, dashboards, updates, action registers, forecasts, critical paths and other twaddle that we and they both know will sit unread for weeks before being shredded like so much hamster stuff.

But we need to be careful. The lemon is a very, very small part of the overall drink and unless you plan on opening an extremely popular lemonade stand, you’ll want to keep that ingredient and the meaningless time-wasting unpleasantness it represents, to a minimum. Assuming a 40-hour week, I would say that if you spend more than two hours working on next week’s shredding, you are turning into a hamster.  The obvious exception would be that futile report creation is your job, but that would make it gin or possibly tonic, and you’re allowed more of that. Assuming you’re just a terrified marketer, however, you need to cast off the toilet tubes and start finding other stuff to do.

When hamsters need something to do, they pursue escape velocity on a little plastic wheel. If you’ve never had a hamster about, take it from me these little buggers can run for hours. Usually between 2am and dawn.

While toilet tube chewing is futile, hamster wheel running is downright dangerous. In my book, human hamster wheels include reading any correspondence on which you are copied or blind copied or writing correspondence in which there are people who must be copied or blind copied (unless you’re doing it maliciously, in which case it’s fun). Other hamster things include attending any meeting with “cross-functional” in its name that doesn’t include a slab cake, putting together the same slides over and over again for someone else to present, filling in forms to gain access to resources to which you are entitled, looking for a file folder, wondering who even thinks it’s a good idea to order dark purple sticky notes, attending meetings in which you have only a five-minute speaking role, performance self-evaluations, “anonymous” 360-degree peer evaluations, begging the Productivity Prevention Department (IT) to fix the printer, hiding in the toilets to avoid the lady with the slice of slab cake on a napkin that she saved just for you (if you had the presence of mind to take your BlackBerry in there with you, then this could be considered productive time, depending on how persistent the Slab Cake Lady is).

I suspect there is a lot of hamster wheel running that is pretending to be tonic water. Tonic, remember, is not a catch-all for the crappy parts of your job; it represents the day-to-day tasks required to move ahead with the gin and the ice. It’s necessary meetings, reading relevant materials, doing research, presenting your ideas, picking someone’s brain, shamelessly plagiarizing Tom Peters, taking out restraining orders on your coworkers and other interesting and necessary tasks.

So if you’re feeling exhausted and unproductive at the end of each week, may I suggest you take a good look at how you’re spending your time and make sure you aren’t the hamster doing the backstroke across your lovely drink.