Dropping back into work after a planned or unplanned absence or a busy period can be daunting and confusing for anyone. It's even more challenging when your role requires you to manage your own time, work, and priorities - as most leadership roles do.
The fact is, systems break! As software developers, we usually have pretty well-defined processes to follow when that happens. We have integrated the fact that our system will break into our workflow.
When we move into leadership, we often forget to bring that practice with us. We devise some todo-scheme, be it Getting Things Done or something else, and then firmly believe that our system will be online and functioning at all times ... forever.
That rarely happens.
Suddenly, we get sick - or someone on the team gets sick. We get an insane business opportunity we have to act on, or a major crisis hits. Maybe we just leave for the holiday and come back to slight chaos.
We realize our system is broken, the brilliant elaborate todo-scheme is not working, and we are suddenly lost. We are lost because we don't have a way to bring it back online - we don't have a well-defined process for what happens now.
When we work without a plan, especially as leaders, work drives us - we are not driving work. We are not seeing priorities clearly, and we end up working on the wrong thing - or all together become paralyzed or start procrastinating.
5 steps to get back on track
The trick is to have a simple process to get back on track with your workflow. Here's a simple 5 step plan that I use both for myself and the people I coach:
- Gather data: Brainwriting - write down everything on your mind now. Big or small, work-related or personal.
- Sort: Sort out the actionable items, things that you can act on from things such as general thoughts or worries
- Prioritise: From the actionable things, sort them into:
a) Things that need to be done today
b) Things that need to be done this week
c) Things that can wait
- Act: Do all the things that have to be done today (I recommend doing this because there is no room to rebuild the house while it is on fire)
a) Put the things that need to be done this week into a separate "urgent" list.
b) Put the things that can wait and that aren't actionable into a "later" list
c) Schedule two hours during the week to "repair the system"; until then, only work from the "urgent" list.
During the "fixing session," do whatever is required to get your system back to a working state. For me, this means going over my "now" initiatives and making sure they are still relevant (not done or obsolete) and have an actionable item. Go over my "next" initiatives and make sure they are "next" and haven't moved to "now" or "later." Lastly, I check that everything in the "later" list should remain.
Why it works!
The result of this process is:
- You generate momentum immediately and avoid paralysis and procrastination. You don't drop important and urgent actions in favor of planning.
- You create a time for re-planning and returning to the state where you drive the work.