Management thinkers like to talk about large topics with grand import. Strategy, relationships – even science. And we soak this stuff up, hoping that a preemptive grasp of such as these will help us and our organizations get a jump on the competition. But sometimes it seems like the old story of the two guys running from a bear. When one of them, stopping to put on running shoes, is told he can’t outrun a bear, he answers, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you.”
Some consultants make quite a good living teaching time-management techniques to everyone across that spectrum. Specialized agenda programs – whether paper or electric – help us categorize, prioritize, and organize all our tasks so we don’t lose track of any of them. We know exactly what our deadlines are, our progress, and the requirements for advancing the cause. What could be better?
You know perfectly well that if you permitted it, everyone would simply dump all of their work on you. Your juniors ask for guidance and help, so you take an active role in the tasks you had assigned them. Your peers ask for advice and support, so you become a silent partner in their careers. Your bosses are so busy they ask you to take on this or that extra duty, so you wind up doing their scut work while they focus on the high-vis glamor jobs (or so it seems, because you are all really in the same boat.).
We’ve spent some time over the past few days talking about how to deal with the multitude of tasks that present themselves to us every day. We considered the too-often overlooked first step in prioritizing: the decision as to whether or not to take the task on in the first place. The argument is that you should not so much prioritize your tasks as triage them: This one needs work right away, that one can wait – the other one is a goner; leave it in the hallway. Don’t waste time on it that can be spent meaningfully on those that have a future. But which ones have a future?
Okay, so we’ve spent some time talking about tasks, and what criteria to use for prioritizing – or jettisoning – them. But what about assigning them? If you receive more tasks than you can possibly execute, you are intimately familiar with the inescapable result: some don’t get done, or most get done poorly. But has it occurred to you that your staff has the same problem? Have you considered the probability that you are the source of that problem?
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