‘If you want something done – ask a busy person’ attributed to Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
I’m sure you will have heard this statement at some time in your working life. It seems counter-intuitive. A busy person should not have the time to do more, after all they’re busy! You would think that if you asked a busy person to do something, they would probably say ‘No’, because they wouldn’t have time.
In fact, the truth is that busy people are usually productive people.
- They are focused on the task at hand, they get more done because they organise their work tasks by priority and make time for tasks based on assessing effort and time required.
- Anyone can become busy, being busy does not automatically make you a productive person.
- Busy people are not all productive and organised. Some busy people spend all their work time in panic-mode, racing around from early morning until late at night putting out fires or managing crises or just dithering all day.
- Productive people are not all busy people either. Working smarter not harder, is the mantra of productive people who make time for the social stuff in their work life.
So how do you become the positive ‘busy person’ Ben Franklin is referring to?
My experience is that tasks and projects whether they are business-as-usual or special assignments, should be given with a clear expectation of delivery in terms of what, how and when.
This means as a superior, providing exactly what you want from your subordinate(s), how this is to be achieved (budget) and when you want it, at the time the task is given.
The due date allows people to assess their workload right up front and determine if your expectation can be achieved. This may then lead to a re-prioritisation discussion but ultimately, both parties will have a clear understanding of the expected task in terms of the triple constraints of Scope, Spend and Schedule.
When delegations are given with a clear and understood scope, with a realistically resourced and costed methodology and with an accepted delivery schedule and due date – there is no room for failure.
It also follows, that when you are provided with clarity of scope, spend and schedule as the person executing the task, you have no excuse for not delivering.
So, as they say in the military, ‘Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way!’
‘What gets measured gets done’ attributed to Peter Drucker (1909-2005), is often quoted in business and it is true here also.
If you have a measure of what is required in the task in terms of the scope, spend and schedule you can get the task done.
If you don’t have a full understanding of the scope of the task – you will never achieve it, no matter how much time and resources you expend.
If you don’t have a clear agreement on resource usage for a task – you will either over or under deliver on the task, no matter how accurate the scope is understood.
Finally, if you don’t have an agreed due date and delivery schedule for the task – you will never be able to deliver on time, no matter the accuracy of scope or budget.
Applying this simple principle to your daily work-life means more tough conversations when you accept a task and more detail in your expectations when you delegate one. The result, however, is a massive increase in productivity of yourself and your people.
‘In order to succeed you need a plan and not quite enough time to execute it!’
This is one of my quotes. My research has shown that people work better when they have a deadline to work toward and furthermore that people do better work when they are under a manageable amount of pressure.
According to Psychology Today, research shows that people make both quicker and better decisions when they “really need to pee “.
When people are under a manageable amount of pressure, they control their impulses better and maintain focus on the task at hand.
The modern manager is interrupted every 8 minutes and when you work in a modern busy open-plan office environment, you know why. It is too easy to be distracted. That’s where the manageable amount of pressure comes in – it causes you to focus your energies and efforts on the task that you don’t have quite enough time to complete.
And finally, I believe the effort people expend in the last part of any given task provides a diminishing return. This means that we do the bulk of the work, the heavy lifting of the task first and the finer details and cosmetics at the very end. By shortening the deadline just a bit, you get the work done – but don’t pay extra for the packaging. It’s even worse if you come across perfectionists working on your tasks, they will never complete them at all.