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This is primarily going to be anecdotal — i.e. based on people I’ve worked with, my friends have worked with, etc. If you want some science on people having problems balancing and understanding time (especially at work), you can read this or this.
Let’s walk through a standard work process, OK?
- You get assigned a task or project.
- If you’re good and thorough, you ask what the goals are, how the project will be evaluated, the essential why of what’s happening.
- There are stakeholders, and you identify them — meetings happen, stand-ups, etc.
- So far, so good.
- At some point in the arc, someone probably sets a fire or swoops in with an e-mail that’s totally out of context. This is all fairly common.
- Usually on the fire side or the e-mail side, you get into one of those ridiculous Reply-All e-mail tree deals where everyone is just talking for the sake of talking:
Alright, so now it’s Chinese Fire Drill time. Everyone’s rushing around screeching about ROI and KPIs and bandwidth and how busy they are, and half the people are like “Get it out the door!” (as if it’s a bird trapped in their office) while the other half is like “It has to be perfect,” and view perfection as line-editing some tweets associated with it. Welcome to Corporate Culture, Writ Large, 2016 edition.
How can you be more productive with your time at work?
In that hypothetical six-seven step process I outlined above, it actually began with solid planning and people knowing what’s what and who’s involved. If you’ve ever had a job of any sort, you know that’s somewhat rare (again, some companies are good at communicating — but most aren’t). You’re usually thrown into a project with little context, no idea who the stakeholders are, no idea what the deliverables are, no idea how you of all f’n people got looped into it, and a whole host of other things. You do what human beings do: you figure it out.
Let me give you an example. At the last job I had, I had someone from another office (Seattle) call my desk (Fort Worth) and start asking me about some deliverables for a VP. I had no idea what this woman was discussing. You can probably figure out how this went down: someone had assigned me to something and not said a thing, etc. There were like four people counting on me for something and I had no idea anyone was. Again: communication is often not ideal.
There’s gotta be a better way than all this piecemeal, one-off, ‘can-you-just-spare-a-second-to-help-me-with-this’ bullshit that most offices chase around like a dog in heat, right?
The definitive time equation for work
Here we go. It’s nothing revolutionary, but hold on:
- Spend time on the front end of a new project defining the who, what, why, where, and how
- Clearly articulate that to everyone involved
- You will now save time throughout the project
Basically, do these things:
- Define roles
- Provide clarity
- Offer some context
- Sit back and guide — but don’t micromanage
- Rinse and repeat
If you follow this model, you’ll basically have (by my estimation):
- Less fires
- Less people screeching about how much is on their plate
- Less hair-on-fire managers
- Less reply-alls
- More clarity
- More people working towards actual goals instead of invented goals
- More people focusing on tasks and understanding why they’re doing them
- More generalized ‘engagement’ and work quality
That’s four positive ‘more’ and four positive ‘less,’ so your net-net is +8. Who wouldn’t take that at work?
While you’re at it:
Happy almost-Friday, y’all.
My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.
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