This is Kaira, a high-performing Corporate Communications manager and who has a reputation of being diligent and hardworking.
Today, like most days is packed to the rafters for her, including some tasks that have spilled over from yesterday. Today however, she appears largely in control of her schedule, and has carefully scheduled time for the important tasks she must complete. One task which has been pending for a while is liaising with a certain vendor on printing of company advertisement billboards. This task today, is an urgent one, and would require at least six hours of dedicated time to complete.
As per her schedule, she’s also supposed to deliver on a particularly important task for her boss that’s also due by the end of day today, when “ping” an email from Vishnu, a senior colleague, pops up. Vishnu wants her to do a quick review of a Powerpoint slide deck for an important client meeting that’s coming up. Presentation review requests are common for Kaira.
She’s something of a wizard at Powerpoint, and she generally makes quick work of such review requests. Kaira is confident she can fit this into her schedule too. It’s for an important client after all.
Kaira goes for it. She’s reworks her schedule to include Vishnu’s task. She parks the task she was on for her boss, and dives into the presentation. As it turns out, there are quite a few changes to be made. Kaira notices that some of the company statistics are outdated, so she corrects them. She needs clarity on a few things, so she gets on a quick call with Vishnu to sort it out. She notices that the presentation’s colour scheme could be better, and helpfully, takes care of that without Vishnu even asking for it. Kaira finishes the presentation in an hour and mails it back to Vishnu. Vishnu then reviews Kaira’s additions to the presentation and mails her back asking her to send across some supporting data for the changes she made. Kaira, who had gotten back to her parked important assignment switches tasks again. She collates all the requested data, for which she has to dig up company circulars and reports, double checks it and mails it all back to Vishnu. Vishnu is very grateful and sends across a nice ‘thank you’ email, copying her boss. Kaira feels obligated to respond to it, and she does so very articulately.
Kaira sighs contentedly for an instant, checks the task off her to-do list and returns to that important task she parked. And soon, the temporary contentment that she had felt is replaced by a sense of frustration. It’s has now been three hours since she started her main task, and now other tasks are running overdue. Kaira picks up the pace and gets cracking on the task for her boss. She finishes it off in record time and mails it to her boss. She takes a break and returns to pick up the task of revising the company’s brand guideline document.
‘Rrrrrrinngg!’ goes her desk phone. It’s the boss, and he has questions on the task Kaira did for him. She is summoned to his cabin, and Kaira spends an hour explaining what and how she did. The boss requests for some changes.
Kaira returns to her desk, sorts the changes out for her boss, and mails it back to him. Kaira realizes there’s not enough time to do the brand guideline revision today. Everything else will have to spill over to tomorrow, again. She starts working on the document feverishly, but as she progresses through the task, she realizes she will not be able to finish the document and send it to the vendor by the end of day. This means the advertisement billboards will be delayed by a day. Kaira has no choice but to communicate this to her boss, and the vendor. Both aren’t too happy about the delay, as it means revenue loss and payment delays for them respectively.
Kaira works late and finishes the document, but it’s too late. There’s no way to prevent the printing delay. She reprimands herself mentally for taking too long on tasks. She makes a mental note to start taking shorter breaks too. She consults her schedule and it looks like tomorrow is going to be no different than today for her.
The Myth of Prioritisation as the key to doing everything
What caused Kaira to lose control of her time and schedule?
Kaira was managing urgencies from the word go. In the face of that, she believed she could get absolutely everything that crossed her path done, just by reprioritizing her schedule, and picking up the pace of her work. Make no mistake, efficiency a.k.a getting more done in less time has its place in managing time, but it is certainly not a magic wand that will sort all emergencies out for you. There is an upper limit to how fast you can work. Remember, Kaira was a whiz at Powerpoint, she probably took lesser time at Vishnu’s task that anyone else would, and she still blamed herself for not being fast enough at the end.
Truth is, there is more to do than can ever be done. If you’re always dealing with emergencies, no amount of efficiency and reprioritizing will allow one to do absolutely everything. You won’t be able to juggle emergencies for too long. Eventually, you are guaranteed to drop the ball at some point.
The trick is to managing tasks before they end up becoming urgencies – i.e. to outrun the urgent. And to outrun the urgent requires you to look at conventional time management slightly differently and also to look at everything you do through the lens of 5 distinct questions, which is the focus of the next lessons.
To conclude this lesson, remember,…
There is no way you can successfully manage every single urgency and emergency that you’ll face. And, no, prioritization is not the answer. Tasks are unlimited, and your time, energy and mental bandwidth are limited. Eventually, you will drop the ball. Often something critical.
The key is to learn to outrun the urgent. In the next lesson, we’re going to learn how to do exactly that.