Have you ever felt overwhelmed by the amount of tasks to be performed ? Have you ever felt having lost the meaning / the big picture from which all that work stem ? I can feel that the answer is undoubtedly "Yes".
In this article, I'd like to share a practice that I'm currently putting in place together with my team, from which I expected some mandatory information for being able to steer this project, and which were hard to obtain in a timely manner. This practice is based on both Pavlina's theory on habits, and the "Getting things done" methodology from David Allen.
Like a PC
David Allen explains that "The short-term-memory part of your mind [...] functions much like RAM on a personal computer. [...] Most people walk around with their RAM bursting at the seams. They're constantly distracted, their focus disturbed by their own internal mental overload."
Indeed, I've noticed that people tend to pile things up, keep it in their mind, and tend to try to process all these stuffs little-by-little all at once, to notice progress on everything. This trend is more and more obvious when pressure intensifies, e.g. meeting committed delivery dates.
We can keep on analogy with PC by extending it to CPU. In this case, human brain works exactly as a CPU, because when switching from one task to another, it needs to remember the context of the task prior to proceeding it. A CPU does exactly the same when several threads share the same CPU: each thread is allocated a timeslot during which it's solely processed, giving the illusion of multi-tasking.
However, this "context-reload" thing decreases efficiency. And when coupled with "overloaded RAM", productivity drains, feeding up the feeling of exhausting for a meaningless purpose: one of the pillars of burn-out.
David Allen advise us to
Capture and organize 100 percent of your "stuff" in and with objective tool at hand, not in your mind.~David Allen
We have to find a way to dump our conscious brain into a tool to increase our productivity, being able to come back and pick things up later on from this dump.
Fostering new habits
As per the conclusion of the previous section, and relying on tools we had already implemented before:
- Actions lists
- Follow-up files
But despite the use of these tools, we still missed the big picture (managing series of actions) and still felt overwhelmed, postponing important actions that shall have been done timely.
I got an idea when reading a part of Pavlina's book, which spoke about habits:
Habits are your mind's approach to time management. It would be extremely inefficient for you to consciously decide how to spend every minute of every day. Your conscious mind has better things to do than solve the same problem over and over, so it delegates known problems to your subconsicous mind in order to recall and apply the memorized solutions.~Steve Pavlina
That's it ! There are good habits and bad habits... The ones which increase and the ones which drain productivity...
We had now to find a way of fostering new habits to educate our minds to avoid usual pitfall of not carrying important actions because of being overwhelmed and out of focus
Putting things together
As an Excel fan, the resulting tool is Excel based. This tool is simply a check list of management tasks and actions which are mandatory to control project execution, but this check list is time-bound. This tool meet both expectations:
- It provides people with the big picture: People understand when and for which project management processes they're requested pieces of information
- It acts as a "brain dump": People will not have the tedious task of remembering which information and for when. So, they can fully concentrate on other tasks on blank periods of this time-bound check-list
- It fosters a good habit: I feel that after several weeks of use, people will trigger actions and management tasks automatically, without having to refer to the check list again.
Next step: adoption
As I worked on it for them, I hope that my team will adopt this tool and I hope that I'll write a sequel to this article to publish some results.
See you in June !