Need To Do High Quality Work Quickly?

Do you ever have those days where you work frenetically, but go home feeling “I got nothing done today?” So many of the clients I work with are overwhelmed.  They get to the end of one task: there are tens more waiting. So they start with the smaller things (because that shortens the list), and they work frenetically but go home feeling that they have achieved little.

All of us have three types of task:

1)  Core deliverables – the tasks that you get paid to do – they’re on your job description. Somebody is waiting for them, there’s a deadline and their quality is noticed.

2)  The sunk costs – all the stuff that you need to do, but it’s not in your job description. Making arrangements, travelling, complying with financial, health and safety, HR and other organisational systems and processes. These tasks must be done but there’s no reward for doing them well. It’s generally only noticed when they are not done well enough or on time.

3)  The Capacity-Building tasks – These are the tasks that help us to deliver high quality, quickly. As the name suggests, they are all about building capacity so that when work needs to be turned around quickly and well, you can ‘pull the rabbit out of the hat’. On the downside, typically there’s no deadline and the only person waiting for them is you. There are four types of capacity building tasks:

a.  Planning – which is not just about tasks and time, it’s also about attitude, beliefs, determination, focus and motivation. Also about reflecting on what could be better.

b.  Creating great infrastructure – which can be as simple as putting someone’s contact details into your phone or as complex as a SAP programme. It’s about developing templates, processes, systems, checklists, SLAs, technology and physical workspace that allows you access and produce great work quickly.

c.  Building great relationships – including staying close to your boss, developing your team, networking within your industry or profession.

d.  Learning and Development – reading, research, seminars, on-line… staying up to date with developments in your field,

The tendency is to push the capacity-building tasks back because they are not deadline-driven. But we build capacity when we take on one or two of these on at a time – working with a report so that we can delegate a time-consuming task, building a great data-base so that we can quickly target the right people, taking the team away on a strategy day, reading about where our industry is going, and so on.

All of the leaders I work with want to spend more time on these tasks – but the operational ‘stuff’ doesn’t go away. These are not ‘tick them off the list’ tasks – they are more like the ‘law of the farmyard’ tasks which Stephen Covey talks about – tasks that cannot be crammed in just before a deadline – they need to be nurtured before they are harvested. I’ve found that two approaches work – either dedicating the first hour of each day or dedicating a half-day a week.  By dedicating, I mean blocking off the time in your calendar and being off-line. Maybe even working from a quiet place.

The other thing that works is a to-do list which helps you to categorise your tasks into deliverables, sunk cost and capacity-building (a useful exercise in itself). I’ve designed planning sheets for this exercise, just drop me an email and I’ll send them to you.

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