No matter the focus of your high-tech career, there is always too much
to be done. This computer is broken, the network is down, several pieces
of software are already out of date. When there is so much pressing
business, though, you can easily lose sight of exactly what needs to
be done. You spend your time racing from crisis to crisis and never
get a sense of the big wave that is about to crash over you.
The Master List
It may sound odd to ask you to develop a “master list” of
every known problem or issue when you feel like the world is crumbling
around you, but that is exactly what I am asking you to do. You need
to take 10 minutes, an hour, a day, even a complete weekend to get
a grip on everything that is clamoring for your time.
Without a comprehensive list of everything, you have no good idea what
problems need the most attention. Like medical triage, you need to
take the most urgent cases first, without neglecting those problems
that need care eventually. You can’t triage effectively unless
you have a clear idea of all problems and their individual needs. Your
attempt to solve a large, long-term problem will always be thwarted
if you don’t put out (or, at least, slow down) the smaller fires,
This is especially true if you are responsible for leading a team of
workers. There is no way to effectively manage a team if you don’t
know what needs to be done. Without a master list, your team will be
pulling in 100 different directions because, just like you, they have
no concept of the big picture. It is your job to create the big picture
and then match your people to the effort where they can have the most
effect. Sure your hardware guy can troubleshoot some software problems,
but your software expert could probably do it in a fraction of the
time. The master list allows you to not just throw a person at a problem,
but actually throw the right person at the right problem.
Write it down
So, what goes into a good master list? Simple. Everything. Everyone
on you team, from intern to Director/VP should take a set amount of
time and dump all their concerns into their word processor. I think
this is best done separately, allowing each person to focus on his
or her major concerns, before getting the team together. Hopefully,
in this way, they won’t censor themselves as much and truthfully
relate what needs to be done. Creating these lists electronically,
even as a simple document, will speed the next step – consolidation
Gather up all the individual lists and start scanning them for “Critical” items.
These are problems that could directly affect productivity, financial
stability or the very stability of your job. These items should jump
out at you. Don’t be surprised, though, if you come across a
few problems you have never noticed. Your staff can often keep the
worst problems to themselves, hoping to figure out a solution before
they have to come to you.
As you go through the list, start establishing some priorities. These
don’t have to be perfect, they are only to give you a starting
point. Move the text around in the document and float the critical
problems to the top and the less critical ones toward the bottom. As
you perform this triage problems will start to sort themselves out
very quickly. When you have done one or two passes through the list,
it’s time to get everyone together.
Focus, Focus, Focus
Get everyone involved a copy of the master list, not matter how long
it may be. Get it to them a few days ahead of any meeting you might
schedule, and give them the task of adjusting or annotating any of
your priorities. Should #130 be above # 50? Should the accounting
project be given lower priority? This process will take some time,
you establish the top 10 problems, you are ready for the next step.
Take these top 10, or top 5, pick one and get to work. Don’t
worry about the others until you feel that you have some handle on
this “most important” problem. It may sound impossible
to focus on one issue so relentlessly when people are clamoring for
your time, but I guarantee you that the progress you make will be worth
it. Once you feel like that issue is working towards some sort of solution,
then you can move to #2 and so on.
Solve the big ones to solve the small ones
As you work through this process, you will start to see a trend.
As you start to handle some of the larger issues facing you and/or
your department, the smaller
issues will start to take care of themselves. Too often, the small issues are
merely symptoms of the larger ones. Focusing on one major problem solves more
than that problem, it clears up the symptoms that that problem was causing.
In the never-ending race of day-to-day crisis management you can easily
lose sight of the big picture. Taking the time to survey exactly
what you need to
do will let you be more productive and focus on the issues that really should
be holding you attention. Don’t let distractions and crisis limit your
effectiveness and the direction of your high-tech career.
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