If everything is important then nothing is

Patrick Lencioni’s quote is excellent. I see a lot of database managers, no, a lot of people in the industry struggle with this.

But I believe it is true. There is a lot of discussion about multitasking or task switching and how women are better at it than men. However, I believe that making a list of everything you’re doing and then attempting to figure out how to make that list more manageable will only help you get things done.

The difficulty in managing multiple tasks is usually due to the number of moving parts and interdependencies. As previously stated, I would make a list of the projects, going old school if necessary and writing it down on a piece of paper with a pen! Then you can figure out when things need to happen.

The key to all of this is managing expectations; whether you’re a consultant or an employee, you just have to be honest and tell people what you’re thinking. To be fair, I write this from a position of frequently getting myself into hot water over this. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I try to do too much, and I recently found myself in front of a client and friend, anxious and concerned about their project due to time constraints, the work that is required, and letting them down.

As obvious as it is, burning the candle at both ends cannot be sustained indefinitely. I’ve seen people working a frightening number of hours during lockdown just to keep things running while all the extra work, not business as usual, was being added. If this continues for an extended period of time, two things are likely to occur: people will become disinterested in their jobs, or they will be forced to take time off.

My suggestion would be as follows:

  1. Return to pen and paper and make a list of everything that needs to happen.
  2. Communicate this effectively to the team working on it as well as the larger stakeholder who is requesting more work. Sometimes stakeholders will come to an agreement and re-prioritize.
  3. Make a list of at least three things you’ll accomplish that day. Also, make sure that no single day has more than three tasks to complete. I don’t mean trivial tasks like making tea or doing the dishes; I mean tasks that require your full attention.

If your list cannot be broken down into three things that you can accomplish in a day, then your list-making process needs to be reviewed. Here’s an example of how to break down the list.

Problem: My database needs to be cleaned; this will take months, and I’m not sure where to begin.

This could be divided into the following areas of my database that have the greatest impact on users:

  1. Contact Types / Constituent Codes – Who are my stakeholders
  2. Action Types / Communication Types – What do I talk to them about
  3. Attributes / Profiles – Do some of these options need turning off

With those three things in place, many of your users will notice an improvement fairly quickly.

It’s the same with website or integration projects: break them down into something manageable or achievable so that something gets done, and if it can’t be done on time, explain it as soon as you know you won’t meet a deadline so stakeholders can make alternative plans.

Finally, why three? There’s a great piece here about how we are taught and given three options at a young age, read more about the power of three –

If you have a different approach to dealing with the day-to-day challenges of managing a team and multiple people wanting multiple things at the same time, I’d like to hear about it.