Friday, February 22, 2008

He's feeling swamped

An editor of a web-based news operation told me he sometimes feels he isn't finishing anything.
He faces daily challenges from competitors on the web, and he also has to plan for long-term upgrades in his product. He has many projects on his plate, not enough people to do them all and not enough time. New projects appear regularly.
What should he do? He is organized but not compulsively organized. He has run large, complex publishing enterprises before. What's different now is that he is not always in control of what shows up on his plate, and his own long-term goals often have to go on the back burner.

Start with a list
Here's what I suggested. Start with a list of projects outstanding, when they were assigned, what's been accomplished, which tasks need to be completed on each project, who can do them and an estimated time commitment needed for each task. In short, show yourself and your team and your boss where you are. Measure the problem so that it can be understood better. Then it isn't one big crushing weight but a series of discrete issues that can be dealt with separately.

Put it on paper -- maybe facing pages of a notebook for each of the dozen or two dozen projects -- or put it on a spreadsheet, but put it all down somewhere where it can be reviewed quickly. You need to understand the size and scope of the challenge.

Review your progress
If you're reviewing progress weekly, you and your staff can then have some sense of accomplishment, that you're moving forward.
The weekly review also allows you and your team to re-set priorities when appropriate. Your people will understand better what they're doing and why they're doing it.

If you lay out the specifics for the boss, it gives him or her a chance to make some informed decisions about priorities. And you won't come off as someone who can't get things done or is a whiner. Bosses can be unrealistic at times, or so some of my people have told me.

David Allen's book on what he calls "stress-free productivity," "Getting Things Done" might help in managing multiple priorities.

Stephen Covey's Seven Habits has good sections on getting organized, but as he lays out so clearly, it all starts with deciding what the goals are and working from there to set priorities for your activity.

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