Sunday, May 15, 2011

Task "Triage"

Lately its been so busy that I've had to move into "task triage" mode where it's no longer an issue of IF something is going to be left undone.  Rather it's WHAT is going to be left undone.  I first learned this lesson as a product manager, which is one of those jobs where it's absolutely impossible to do everything that needs to be done.  Most product managers learn a couple of lessons quickly:
  • How to say "no"
  • How to prioritize the critical from the "nice-to-haves"
  • That sometimes good enough is the best you can manage
Saying "no" has the obvious benefit of cutting down the "to do" list.  But it took me awhile to get over the guilt of turning down requests, especially where they represented future opportunities.  Ultimately sleep deprivation taught me that the consequences of saying yes all the time were more painful than saying no in most cases.

Good enough comes from recognizing that in many cases, especially in project management and business development, getting something out there, even if it wasn't perfect was better than getting nothing out there because it wasn't perfect.  This is tough on perfectionists (of which I am not).  This trait is probably why I'm a pretty good general manager, business development person, and troubleshooter, and was at best a mediocre engineer, would starve as a designer, and is a good thing for society that I'm not a surgeon.

With respect to prioritizing tasks, the best framework I ever learned was from Stephen Covey's Seven Habits.  Specifically:
  1. Important and urgent tasks:  Do them.  But first ask, am I the only person who can do these (by virtue of my position or special skills) or can they be done by someone else (even if I can do them better)?  If the former:  do them.  If the latter:  train and delegate!
  2. Important but not urgent tasks:  Schedule time for them or they don't happen.  Interestingly, these are usually the tasks that allow me to get rid of the next set which are...
  3. Urgent but unimportant tasks:  See step 2 above.  These are usually candidates for delegation or outsourcing.
  4. Unimportant and not urgent tasks:  I.e. time wasters.  Will playing Angry Birds for the 12th time really change my life?
Of course deciding what is important depends on knowing what your goals are.

But even with this framework, there are times when the task load ramps to the point where clearing through category 1 tasks takes all my time.  So be it; such is life.

Hows that for rationalizing why my blogging has been erratic lately?

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