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How do you know when you're incapable of doing the job?

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  • How do you know when you're incapable of doing the job?

    I started a thread the other day which basically asked what to do if a large portion of the stack you sit down to process is comprised of stuff that you need to spend more like 8-20 minutes per piece just to to pick out the actionable items?

    There were a number of good responses.

    As I have been thinking about this and reviewing some of those items in my stack, I guess a better question is, what if it routinely takes you longer than 10 minutes simply to figure out your next action because you don't want to make a mistake when you act on them? And, what if this is the case on 80% of your items? Should I be looking for another line of work?


  • #2
    I think the answer to that question would come from answering another question. In your line of work Is it typical for it to take that long to determine the next action or do you find that everyone else seems to make the next action decisions in 10 seconds?



    • #3
      That depends on the nature of the task and the costs of a mistake. If you're an emergency room doctor and need 10 minutes to decide how to stop arterial bleeding, your patients will end up dead. If you're a plastic surgeon, on the other hand, you probably want to spend a lot of time thinking about exactly how to reshape someone's face.

      There's also a difference between deciding what the next action should be and actually performing that action. Your next action might be as simple as "call John Smith about his account." But if John Smith is your firm's best client, and you need to have a delicate conversation about some accounting tricks that aren't quite kosher, you'll probably need to think about what you're going to say. That thinking is *not* part of GTD processing of your inbox, it's part of the actual work you're trying to Get Done. If you routinely need that much time to process an inbox item, it might be that you're combining the planning/processing step with the doing step.

      One example that occurs to me would be if your inbox is full of loan application forms. From a GTD point of view, the Next Action might be "decide whether to approve loan for XYZ Corp." But it does seem a little silly to go through a stack of ten forms, write essentially the same sentence ten times, and then start again at the beginning. It may not be strictly GTD, but what I would do in this case is simply put all the application forms in a stack, process the rest of the inbox, then switch out of GTD processing mode and into credit evaluation mode to go through the applications.

      Without knowing more about your job, it's impossible to say whether you are taking "too much" time. Are you taking more time than other people with comparable experience? Are you taking more time than your management thinks you should?

      The problem might also be with the office culture rather than with you. Why are you afraid of taking the wrong action? How do the professional consequences compare with the real world consequences? If these decisions are so difficult, do you have adequate support and advice in making them?



      • #4
        You can think of the "ten second test" as a "ten second limit." If it takes you longer than ten seconds to figure out what to do with an item, treat the item as a Next Action. File it for later review. Move on to something else.


        • #5
          If it's taking so long to decide on a next action, you might try considering whether your "next actions" really are THE next action. I find the biggest source of resistance for me to get going on a next action is when there is, really, an intermediate step that I haven't identified. David Allen gives some examples of this (that is, if you think the next action is to phone a person, but you first have to look up the phone number, you haven't identified the next action, and so there will be some resistance to picking up the phone. The resisitance will be even stronger if what you really need to do is review your notes from your previous conversation before calling.)

          This may sound trivial, but it can make a big difference.