Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

One by One

January 9, 2004

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Over the years I am sure you have experienced the “never-ending project”—a project, program, or issue that never seems to get finished or resolved. These problems linger from year to year and no one ever seems to find a solution. Worse still, the longer they linger the worse they get. People get angrier, recriminations become nastier and the problem becomes even more intractable. If you want to keep your high-tech career on track, you need to face these never-ending issues head on. It won’t be easy, but it can prevent these issues from haunting you and your career from year to year.


Last week I encouraged you to spend some time developing a list of all your major issues for the coming year. If you did this, I am sure you found plenty of never-ending projects mixed in among the more mundane problems. Perhaps your backup system is at full capacity and needs more space or the printer servers throughout the company need replacing. Whatever the issue, you can’t ignore it. Sure, there are simpler problems to solve. They look more attractive because they are easier to solve. You can spend a few minutes and get the satisfaction of marking something off your “to-do” list. Still, these larger issues will loom in the background, hounding your steps and getting more problematical at the worst possible moment. I have seen this happen in every company for which I have worked. The larger issues languish until some crisis forces you to deal with them.

The first step with any large problem is to find the next, direct action that needs to be taken on the project. What is the very next step? If you need a new backup system, then you probably need to research the available options? Perhaps you need to go back even farther, though. Maybe you need to re-evaluate what data you are storing. Are you backing up gigabytes of software when you really only need the data? Has the structure of your data made it impossible to backup only what is needed? So, perhaps the next step is actually more a review of what you are doing, instead of doing more of the same.

(For further information on this concept, pick up a copy of David Allen’s, Getting Things Done. This book con assist you in developing the ideas mentioned here into a complete organizational system.)

I know of no project that can’t benefit from a little more thinking. Sometimes we get so biased towards action that we “do” something before we really know what needs to be done. Take some time to think about the next action on your project before jumping in. I think you will find that what you thought was needed is not what was needed at all.

Each and every one

Once you have found the next action for the first project on your list, you need to do the same for every other project. Each and every one should have a concrete step that you can address. In this way, you can make more progress on each and every project merely by accomplishing the next action for one. You aren’t trying to complete the entire project in one move. You are nibbling away at the problem one step at a time. Even more, you are addressing these problems concurrently with one another. No project is taking all your time and all your energy. You will find that projects that have been stalled for months, or even years, will suddenly start to move forward again. It is truly the small steps that lead you to big progress. Even better, if you use this method to begin new projects, it can help to prevent them from turning into the never-ending projects of the future.

Don’t let difficult projects bog down your job and your career. Taking each project one step at a time is the best way to ensure continued progress no matter how many projects you have or how difficult they might seem. It is in your own best interest to develop a method for dealing with your projects instead of letting your projects dictate your work life.


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