Monday, January 28, 2008

Where do you (want to) go today?

This morning, like almost every working day, I sat at my desk and wrote down a list of activities, then started my first pomodoro (see here for more informations). Then I got a lot of unmanageable interruptions, and all my good intentions vanished away (CIO beats planned activities list for the nth time running). That lead me to think, once again, how we manage our time and how we're too often distracted from our real objectives.

Objectives can be divided in fundamental, qualifying and desirable. Fundamental objectives often span over a long time period, so we have the tendency to have an "I'll set it aside and deal with it later" attitude. We MUST ensure that our fundamental objectives are reached; qualyfing objectives help us get there, and desirabile objectives are... desirable, but expendable.

Our daily activities fall in two different categories: urgent activities and important activities. Too often we get distracted by urgent activities, which seldom get us closer to our objectives; one common mistake is to decide to deal with all the small urgent matters, "so we'll get rid of all this unimportant stuff", and to postpone important activities. Than can happen for various reasons, but it does happen. And in the end of the day we're not closer to what is really important than we were the day before. Sounds familiar? you're in good company.

We must learn to recognize which activities are important to us, and to delegate or reject the others. That is particulary important if you have a management position: for example, if one of your collaborators comes in your office with a monkey on her back, she must get out carrying the very same monkey. That does not mean you should not help her: you should give everyone the support they need to carry on, but you must not do their job. As a manager, you "manage". And coach, and mentor, and support, and many other things. That will help your collaborators to grow, and they will also know you trust they will get the job done. Learn to prioritize activities not by their urgency but by their importance. And, most of all, keep some spare time in your daily plan to extinguish all those little fires. If you follow these simple rules, your time management will be more effective, and your productivity will improve. Unluckily, sometimes you just have to cope with the circumstances: we cannot avoid all risks, but at least we can reduce threats to our objectives.

The activities I had to perform today are of no importance to me, but they have a great importance to someone else. Someone you can't say no to. That's where the spare time comes in action... I satisfied my manager and went on with my own list. I had to "sacrifice" some of my time, but in the end the outcome required by my fundamental objectives will not be far from the expectations; that also helps you to schedule your activities in such a way to respect your deadlines.

"Deadlines? I love deadlines... most of all, I love the swooshing sound they make as they go by"

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