Something I’ve been thinking about for a minute. It’s busy at work (which is a great thing!) but not all tasks are created equally. Sometimes what seems hyper-urgent isn’t super strategic. And with limited hours in the day, I’ve noticed that if I jump to every distraction that comes up, I run out of time to do the big strategic thing that I was supposed to be doing.
Current job calls those distractions ankle-biters. And they tend to get me if I’m not careful. E.g. it’s easier to tweak reports than it is to write an article (for me, at least) so sometimes I do the easy thing over the valuable thing. E.g. #2 — it’s more fulfilling to answer teammates’ product questions in Slack than it is to muscle through a gantt chart for my 2H 2019 commitments, so sometimes I do the thing that makes me feel better over the thing that’s harder to complete.
I’m trying to come up with a rubric for prioritizing competing priorities, so I can ignore the ankle biters and stick to the big valuable things. Something like this:
High value tasks tend to be:
Something that would un-block other people or projects.
Something that delivers significant scope of work.
Something that improves a whole workflow.
How do you guys pick the best task out of a whole bushel of urgent tasks?
I also suffer from this, I guess a lot of us here do. I find it particularly tricky in my current situation where
- I’m supposed to be planning things which will keep the team going without getting blocked
- I find I get that sort of work done best in the first half of the day
- there are people in a timezone to the east of me from whom work shows up especially in the mornings (questions, conversations, meetings, pull requests, …)
I don’t think I’m very successful at this, but here’s some things I’ve tried:
- Allow a fixed period of time in the morning, then use the “snooze” feature to mute slack. Currently I don’t actually do this after a fixed time, but I try to mute it “ASAP”. If you think you need to you can remind people they can poke through the slack mute if they’re blocked.
- Prioritize ankle biters by your first criterion: is somebody, or some work, blocked?
- Because meetings also eat my morning hours: Watch for incoming meetings and try to get whoever planned them to write something down up front. Not because I want to have an immutable agenda, but because transfer of information by reading it out in a meeting is a really bad way to achieve that: reading text works better for that, meetings work better for conversations. Currently everybody thinks that reading things out in meetings is Just What You Do.
- Something I heard on the “Focused” podcast – this is not just a mental picture really for what you describe: it does tell you what to do about it too: imagine your day/sprint/whatever is a jar. You have some big tasks that are important: they’re rocks. You have small tasks that might be urgent but less important: they’re sand. Put the rocks in first. Otherwise, it’ll fill up a bit with sand, and then the rocks just won’t fit.
I’ve also noticed that I think I “train” people to expect quick responses in slack, and I think that’s itself a bad habit of mine in this kind of situation.