The Parable of the Spindle


In 1962 psychologist Elias H. Porter wrote an essay titled “The Parable of the Spindle.” It pointed out that in many restaurants, cooks and chefs were considered higher status employees than waiters. Whether this was right or wrong was not the point. The point was that waiters were “giving orders” to the cooks and this was causing considerable tension. Problems also occurred because waiters often had to stand in line waiting for the cooks’ attention and cooks couldn’t always remember the incoming orders during busy periods. Someone came up with the idea of using a simple spindle, like you still see in many restaurant kitchens.

The spindle solved several problems. The waiters no longer had to stand in line or give the cooks verbal orders. Written orders were attached to the spindle and submitted in an orderly fashion. Cooks no longer had to remember the orders, and it was easier for them to decide what to do next by glancing at all the pending orders. For example, a cook might see that several orders called for the same item. The spindle rotated and the orders were presented sequentially; however, the cook was ultimately in charge of how to prepare the orders. Everyone felt more comfortable and the new process helped get things done in a more organized and less stressful manner.

If this simple tool works to manage the fast-paced, ever-changing, stressful process faced by cooks and waiters, it will also work for you and your projects.

A spreadsheet or word-processing program can be used to create an electronic spindle for projects you work on or manage. Although sophisticated project management software is available, a spreadsheet or word-processing table document is a simple solution that’s easy to learn.

Create an electronic project plan with the following columns:

Category – Categorize each activity based on what makes sense for your particular project. For example, Training, Administrative, Research, Human Resources.

Action – Specify what is to be done.

Responsible – Specify who is responsible for each activity.

Date – Specify when the action will be complete, or when you will next check on progress.

Status – Specify the current status of the action. In process, complete, etc.

Comments – Create a column for notes or general comments that might be needed.

Then, sort the table by date and you are ready to get started on your project. This is also a great way to monitor the progress of projects you manage. You simply glance at the table each day and see what is scheduled for completion and what is still pending. You can revise the document and re-sort it if unexpected items need to be added to the project plan. It’s a great way to stay on top of anything that is important to you.

Chris Crouch, author of “Getting More Done” and other books on improving productivity, can be contacted at