17 Oct “Ruh-roh” Moments and Time Management
17 October 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
One of the serious problems with consulting is that no one is around to help you manage your workload at a “reasonable” level. It’s all too easy to realize way too late that you have taken on too much. This happened to me earlier this year – I looked at what I had taken on and muttered to myself Scooby-Doo’s famous line: “Ruh-roh.”
There were complicating factors, of course. Working from home (living at work?) makes it all too easy to slip in and out of work mode at all hours. This means that part of my brain was always working on something. I didn’t have the luxury of leaving it at the office. And I started working more and more.
Also, when people call me, they are calling because they need help. I want to help. I’m in the helping business. “I don’t have time to help you,” doesn’t seem like a reasonable response. All the little things I was promising seemed like reasonable things to promise. But soon the process of keeping track of all the little things – and worrying about them – became a bigger and bigger part of each day.
PLUS – I LOVE this work! I want to help.
Meanwhile, just not getting stuff done really isn’t acceptable either. Deadlines slip. Quality slips. Short-cuts creep in. Mistakes happen more frequently.
And the requests keep coming in. It’s good – and not good.
Perhaps a variation of this theme has happened to you. What did YOU do? What tools did YOU find?
Here’s what I did:
The systems you have in place right now were created, or possibly just evolved, to support the current status quo. If you want to change the status quo, you will need to change the systems that support it.
The “system” that I had was an increasingly complicated “To-Do List” system. It was broken down by client and deadline, but basically, I could keep track of what I was supposed to be doing and by when.
Marc Zao-Sanders wrote in a 2018 Harvard Business Review article that there are (at least) four problems with to-to lists:
- They overwhelm us with too many choices;
- They encourage us to tackle simpler tasks first – those that are more easily accomplished;
- They fail to help us prioritize important-but-not-urgent tasks, like setting time aside for learning; and
- They rarely take the time we actually have available in to account.
My to-do lists were well-organized, but they were overwhelming.
Then I started mapping out the to-do list items onto a calendar. I have since learned that this practice has a name – time-boxing – and I recommend the practice to anyone facing similar problems.. A quick Google search will bring up a load of useful information, including the above-referenced HBR article, and even software programs that do it for you.
Time boxing essentially means that you calendar appointments with yourself to get specific tasks done. At those appointed times, you put blinders on, and crank through the stuff you need to do, safe in the knowledge (or at least in the wishful belief) that you have allocated time for everything else.
I use Google’s calendar app, and I have multiple email accounts so I can overlay my time boxed tasks onto my appointments calendar or not as I may need to. It becomes much easier to tell when I am “full” in any given week.
Honestly, it still doesn’t work 100%. I’m not good enough at it, yet.
- I still tend to underestimate how long tasks will take.
- Doubly so for the tasks I’m not as enthused about. I tend to forget about managing my own emotional response to working on some tasks. I drag my feet and/or finish feeling drained. Maybe something that COULD be done in 30 minutes ends up “costing” me three hours.
- I still don’t “budget” enough time for transitions. One of the problems with remote work is that I tend to schedule things back-to-back-to-back, with insufficient transition (walking around) time. I need to bake in time to process – to organize my own thinking.
- I still allow myself to get interrupted by email and phone (instead of time-boxing responses into specific times of the day).
- AND – and this is critical – part of me is still striving to be more productive and efficient. Like somehow I can figure out how to do all this stuff instead of confronting the fact that it’s too much. That thinking will lead to an even larger “ruh-roh” moment later.
I’m still not there. But I’m learning.
Cheers, and have a great week!
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
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