One thing I continue to notice is the rush that everyone seems to be in all the time. “If we don’t act now, we’ll miss this opportunity!” they say. Or “I need this by the end of the day”. Pressure to complete tasks quickly can come from managers that you want to impress, co-workers that you feel in competition with, clients who you want to help and feel useful for, or even perhaps yourself. We feel pressured, stressed and stay back late to finish the work as quickly as possible. We sacrifice the quality of our work, or other areas of our life outside work, in the hope that we’ll make a good impression and be seen to be a team player.
But thinking about it, how many times has the work you just rushed to complete then sat on someones desk for the next few days? Or the deadline was suddenly changed? You start to wonder why you put in all the effort to get the work done quickly. Of course, you’re glad it’s out of the way. But at what expense? What detail was skipped over, or quality was lost, because you rushed the task? What personal commitments did you sacrifice?
To ensure you don’t unnecessarily rush to finish a task that could have been given some more time, it’s important to understand the drivers behind the deadline. When you feel yourself under pressure, ask some questions to get a true understanding of the reasons behind it. Some questions you will need to ask others, whilst some you will need to answer yourself. Below is a list of some example questions:
- What is driving this deadline?
- What will be lost if I delayed finishing this task by a day?
- What detail can be removed to allow me to finish the task sooner?
- Can I list assumptions for the information that I do not yet have?
- What other tasks will need to be delayed in order for me to finish this?
The answers to these questions will allow you and others involved to discuss and understand the true priority of the task. And when we have a number of tasks to complete, it’s important to understand the true priority for each of them. This allows us to align our efforts appropriately and keeps everything in perspective. We don’t waste effort, lose quality and detail or delay more important tasks just because someone is screaming louder for you to complete their task first.
This isn’t an excuse to delay work or procrastinate. I’m not saying tight deadlines don’t exist. They do. All I’m saying is that it’s worth asking the drivers behind the rush, to determine the real deadline, so you can accurately prioritise your work. Don’t just propagate the panic. Keep cool and prioritise based on reality.