A Better Way To Work TimeBack Management

About Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is the founder and president of TimeBack Management. Prior to founding his own firm, Mr. Markovitz held management positions at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger. Learn More...

Leveling; smoothing out the flow; e.g., doing two performance evaluations a day for 3 weeks, rather than ten a day for three days -- and then needing to take a vacation because you're so burned out.
Overburdening people, process, or equipment; e.g., people working 100 hour weeks for months on end -- come to think of it, like most lawyers and accountants.
Uneveness or variability; e.g., leaving work at the normal time on Thursday, but having to stay at the office till midnight on Friday because the boss finally got around to giving you that project...at 4:30pm.
Waste; activities that your customer doesn't value and doesn't want to pay for; e.g., billing your customer for the really expensive 10am FedEx delivery because you didn't finish the document on time.

TIMEBACK BLOG Syndicate content

The Priority Trap

Posted May 8, 2007 @ 8:30 AM

People are consumed by setting priorities. They make to-do lists and carefully note whether it's an "A," "B," or "C" priority.

Here's a question: have you ever gotten to the "C" priority items? Probably not. At least not while it was a "C" priority. Of course, once it became an "A" priority, you got to it, but not before then. The "C" priority dental checkup you didn't schedule? I'm guessing you got to it once you needed a root canal. The "C" priority 60,000 mile auto service? You definitely handled it once your car broke down on the highway. The "C" priority phone call to that customer you don't really like? You probably had to actually visit him once he cancelled his next order.

You've got an infinite amount of work to do and only a finite amount of time in which to do it. So when stuff comes into your system, you shouldn't waste time carefully calibrating its precise priority level. You need to make a simple decision: Are you going to do it or not?

If it's important enough to do, figure out when you're going to handle it. Maybe it's not critical, so you won't do it for three weeks. That's fine. But make a commitment to do it. And live up to that commitment.

But if it's not important enough to make the short list, then give yourself license to dump it. Maybe it's something you would do if you had more time, or more energy, or if your mother would notice -- but since you don't have that time, and since you don't have to tell your mother everything, be realistic and drop it.

Once you make the decision to dump some of those items that have been festering in your inbox or rotting on your desk for six weeks, you'll feel better. You'll gain a powerful sense of control. And you won't have those incomplete to-dos glaring reproachfully at you, reminding you of your indecisiveness.

It's not a perfect world. You can't do everything. Even if you give it a "C" priority.

Keeping lists

I understand the concept of just deciding you will not do something (and not waste time and energy on things you won't ever do). However, I like the idea of keeping a list of items that are pretty low on the priority list for several reasons.

Sometimes they can be incorporated in another project without much effort (they are not worth doing on their own but while doing something else it can make sense. With a visible list everyone can know what has been thought of and given low priority - they might be sparked by an idea either to give reasons why that should be a higher priority or as in brainstorming to propose another idea... You can look at the list when thinking about a redesign and incorporate whatever might make sense.

When staff have little blocks of time items can be assigned for them to work on (ofter serving double duty - getting the job done and serving to provide a task that provides some employee development...) - these tasks often may not be picked because of priority but a combination of priority, educational lessons and available time, skills...

Over the years working in IT (which may lend itself particularly well to tasks that don't make sense as stand alone items but make sense to remember whenever certain parts of the code are going to be improved), and coaching staff I have found keeping a list of all the ideas useful.

You do have to be able to separate the tasks that really require proactive effort and those that might be nice to get to but realistically are fairly low on the priority list. I must admit I have not seen others find keeping a more detailed list useful but I do.

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