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  • Overcommittment

    In the post on too many projects/mini-projects Katherine wrote:

    Originally posted by kewms
    I see lots of posts here along the lines of "GTD doesn't work because my lists are too long." But is that a problem with GTD, or a problem with the number of commitments you've taken on? Changing something from a project to an NA doesn't make the work go away, after all. If your lists are too long, or your review is unmanageable, you might consider that a sign that you are trying to do too much.

    Katherine
    I couldn't agree more with what you are saying here, not surprising because I've always found your posts to be very useful. However, I continue to struggle with this challenge. To heck with project counts and next action counts, my current tasks and somedayed project task folder (I use the add-in for outlook) has 60+ MB of information... My intire inbox is limited to 80 MB on our corporate exchange server so it's starting to push the limit on my capacity.

    The challenge is that sometimes you can't say no. I understand David's standard no response goes something like: "I'm sorry but I really don't have the bandwidth right now to give that the time and attention that it deserves". Sometimes that works, and sometimes you're boss' response is "Find the bandwidth or find another job." (or worse). I've moved around enough to know that finding another job isn't really a better option. The demands are just as great everywhere.

    I understand that "the better you get, the better you better get!" This is just part of the growth cycle. I'm handling 10 times more 10 times better than I was before I understood GTD principles. I'm also daily improving in my capacity to handle more.

    I guess my question is, "where is the break point?" How do you reconcile my signals that I've taken on too much with a boss who is overwhelmed and desperately needs my help because he's taken on too much and comes to me as one of his few go-to people? Of course my boss takes on too much because he's the go-to guy for his boss whose taken on too much from his boss etc. I'm just as bad. The majority of my tasks are waiting fors that I've delegated onto my direct reports...

    I also realize this is probably a 40,000 foot+ problem which can't be handled on the runway. It seems to me to be a problem with a solution that has so far evaded me.

    Any insights appreciated.

  • #2
    Originally posted by jpm
    I guess my question is, "where is the break point?" How do you reconcile my signals that I've taken on too much with a boss who is overwhelmed and desperately needs my help because he's taken on too much and comes to me as one of his few go-to people? Of course my boss takes on too much because he's the go-to guy for his boss whose taken on too much from his boss etc. I'm just as bad. The majority of my tasks are waiting fors that I've delegated onto my direct reports...

    I also realize this is probably a 40,000 foot+ problem which can't be handled on the runway. It seems to me to be a problem with a solution that has so far evaded me.

    Any insights appreciated.
    You've asked some very tough questions here...

    Obviously, only you can know what your personal "breaking point" is, and unfortunately all to often we only know what that point is upon reaching it (and the consequences can be quite dire). There's a training axiom in cycling that I think is rather apropo, and it goes something like, "know your limits but don't test them too often".

    I've found that the only effective way to deal with this is to set the expectation up-front. But before you can do that, you have to make a decision regarding what your priorities truly are. The truth is, you can always say "no". However, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences. If saying no means that some of the pressure will be relieved, but you'll fall out of line for a promotion, you have to weigh the value of your sanity against the value of a promotion. Or worse yet, saying "no" may mean losing your job. At some point I have to imagine that losing your job may be better than losing your health.

    Quite frankly, I look at my boss and say to myself, "There's no way that I want his position. He works too many hours, never sees his family, gives all of the guts and gets none of the glory." So where does that leave me?

    I came to the conclusion that I don't want that for myself, and as a result have to be satisfied with what I have career-wise. But that's my personal choice.

    Hope this helps,

    Jim
    Last edited by jkgrossi; 02-14-2006, 02:04 PM. Reason: additional comments

    Comment


    • #3
      Well, setting priorities is one of the reasons why your boss gets paid more than you do. So let him do his job: "Boss, I'd love to help you out with this. Here (display appropriate visual aid) are all the other things that I'm doing, and frankly I haven't got any more hours to spread around. Which of these other things should I defer in order to attack this?"

      As long as you silently shoulder everything that's delegated to you, your boss may not even realize that you're overloaded.

      (I'm reminded of the time my boss told me that as long as everyone was going home at 5:30 and no one was putting in for overtime, she had trouble believing that we needed to hire more people. She had a point... I promptly told my staff to quit taking work home and quit volunteering for unpaid OT. Even the best boss can't read minds.)

      Katherine

      Comment


      • #4
        Jim,
        Thanks for the thoughts. I really appreciate and agree with your insights. I also want to pitch this in a positive light. I was reading through my post and there was a hint of negativity that shouldn't really be there. I'm in a great place right now. I truly believe I could be in a much better place. This is something that I've struggled with and I've also seen others struggle with it as well.

        Originally posted by jkgrossi
        You've asked some very tough questions here...

        Obviously, only you can know what your personal "breaking point" is
        I certainly understand your point. I wasn't very clear. Probably because I don't have the clarity about this that I need in order to resolve it.

        By Break Point, I meant, how do you find the equilibrium point. The Nash Equilibrium if you will, that provides the best deal for everyone. How do I push the limits without breaking, without even reaching the point of risk of catastrophic failure and do so in a way that's consistent and aligned with my desires and goals at all levels 50,000, 40,000, 30,000, 20,000, 10,000 and runway? How do I find the point just under redline that gets me where I want to go as quickly, effeciently, and easily as possible?

        How do I do that and still maintain consistent alignment with my goals in all areas of my life?

        I've found that the only effective way to deal with this is to set the expectation up-front.
        This is another area where I've had difficulty. I've done every thing I can to set expectations up-front. However, in some of my work, despite written detailed contractual agreements expectations are still out of alignement between the parties.

        How do you manage expectations in an environment where there is no trust due to past discrepencies in expectations?

        The truth is, you can always say "no". However, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences.
        This is definitely true, and the reality is I could probably say no more often and I probably should. Often the consequences would be much less dire than I (we) imagine. My group won the global sales impact award for our business this year, so I don't really think my job is in jeapordy... Whether I'll see any more money this year is a very different story...

        That's probably the part I've struggled with the most. I have a couple of choices:

        1. I could probably slack off considerably and do my job easily and with little effort. My career would basically stop at a stand-still and I'd be bored to tears and looking for alternative pursuits for fulfillment. I'd also feel like I was acting out of integrity because I know I could do a better job than I was doing.

        2. I could continue to work as hard as I can to do as much as I can and really deliver results for my company. In my experience however, the reward for good work is more work. This also feels out of integrity because I feel like I'm letting the company I work for take advantage of me. Sometimes I just want to yell "Show me the money!"

        So where's the third option? How do you get a company that rewards sloth and punishes industry to change it's ways? Where do you find a company that's not like that? Sure they all say they aren't but I've been inside enough companies as a consultant to know the truth... "Stop working so hard, you're making the rest of us look bad" is a national mantra...

        Quite frankly, I look at my boss and say to myself, "There's no way that I want his position. He works too many hours, never sees his family, gives all of the guts and gets none of the glory."
        I look at my past bosses and say to myself, "I could do his job in less time, with less effort and get better results." I look at my current boss a little differently... I can still learn a few things from him, but I know I could still do his job. At some level something tells me I could climb this corporate ladder but when I got to the top, I'd probably find it's leaning against the wrong wall.

        Hey, I realize these are very hard questions. Thanks for the insight, and thanks for letting me think outloud...

        jpm

        Comment


        • #5
          Do you really know your boss' job?

          Originally posted by jpm
          I look at my current boss a little differently... I can still learn a few things from him, but I know I could still do his job.
          Do you really know your boss' job? Or do you know his job's interface point with your job only?

          Comment


          • #6
            Attitude and productivity - boss' perspective.

            Originally posted by jpm
            The challenge is that sometimes you can't say no.
            ...
            I'm handling 10 times more 10 times better than I was before I understood GTD principles. I'm also daily improving in my capacity to handle more.
            Your boss measures your productivity using some metric. Probably he compares your attitude and productivity with your colleagues' attitude and productivity.

            How often do you say to your boss "Let's renegotiate my agreements because I will not have enough time, resources etc."?

            How often your very smart colleague says "Hey boss! Pick me to do it! It's a piece of cake! I'll do it before lunch!" - and before lunch it's done!

            Some people are not as productive as they may think. Some are perfectionists and have trouble to get anything done on time (even to get anything started!).

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks for the responses.

              Katherine,
              I've had these conversations. The responses range from "I know you're team is overloaded and I'm trying to get you more resources", to "I don't care how much unpaid OT they have to work, this is part of the job, get them to do it anyway." GTD has been extremely helpful as we sit down regularly (usually once a week in our one-on-one) and go over my list of projects.
              At this point my boss is convinced we need more resources and is working hard to procure them, but its a very tight environment in our company, and its not clear to me that we'll get what we need despite his best efforts.

              TesTeq,
              I understand where you're coming from. However, yes, I think I really do know my bosses job. He consults myself and another manager in our department routinely on how to handle external matters. We're a highly matrixed organization, and I often work with members of other teams in my department on projects outside the scope of my teams responsibilities. He does have a better political standing in the company by virtue of his seniority and the fact that he's in the corporate office and I'm in a regional office.

              As for productivity and attitude, my group did more than double the workload we were expected to do last year and we're already ahead of last year by 200%. However, I've had to pull resources from one part of my area of responsibility to another in order to meet the demand.

              My point is if you keep telling your boss it's a peice of cake, pretty soon your desk is buried in flour.... And if you get near that point and push back, well then the perception of your productivity can be much different than the reality...

              Thanks for your thoughts.

              jpm

              Comment


              • #8
                If the boss agrees that your team is overloaded, then it's even more reasonable to ask him for help setting priorities. Again, you're asking him to do his job.

                I'm don't know whether you're actually doing this, but keep in mind that asking non-exempt employees to work unpaid OT is actually illegal. See recent cases involving Walmart.

                My own answer to the breaking point question was to go to work for myself. I work just as hard, but the connection between effort and rewards is a lot clearer.

                Katherine

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by kewms
                  If the boss agrees that your team is overloaded, then it's even more reasonable to ask him for help setting priorities. Again, you're asking him to do his job.
                  Katherine, I've been faced with the same situation and basically did what you suggested. The results have been quite positive. I've actually had a conversation recently where I told my boss that he can't have it both ways. Either he doesn't complain about things slipping through the cracks, or he allocates resources appropriately (given that he knows we're overloaded).

                  I've found that the old axiom "the squeaky wheel gets the oil" holds true more often than not.

                  Jim

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    When I am handed a new task or project that will take up too much time to manage my current workload, I politely and respectfully inform my supervisor that I will have to put something on hold or drop something in order to complete that project. I then get to it. I find that my supervisor respects me because I already have my priorities straightened out and I have enough respect for his to realign mine. Often, he will work with me to find what can be put off to make room for the new and more urgent task.

                    It does work in my organization, but I'm not sure it will work in others. It depends on the person and the organization. My mother in law has a job that requires a lot of unpaid overtime. I think they even cut her paid time down to less than 40 hours a week, yet she still has to work a lot of unpaid hours to get all of the work required of her done. I don't know how much of that is her personal work ethic, how much is the company either trying to force free labor out of her, or just not understanding all of the work involved that they are placing upon her.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      There's not much you can do in situations like these except to elicit some kind of priority decision from your boss: "Between project X, Y and Z, which do you need done first?" Then, at least you and your boss will be on the same page when he or she asks about the status of each project. It's harder to be accused of neglecting a lower-priority project if you can point to the higher-priority project you have been working on.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Huge differences in productivity between stars and other programmers.

                        Originally posted by jpm
                        TesTeq,
                        I understand where you're coming from. However, yes, I think I really do know my bosses job. He consults myself and another manager in our department routinely on how to handle external matters. We're a highly matrixed organization, and I often work with members of other teams in my department on projects outside the scope of my teams responsibilities. He does have a better political standing in the company by virtue of his seniority and the fact that he's in the corporate office and I'm in a regional office.

                        As for productivity and attitude, my group did more than double the workload we were expected to do last year and we're already ahead of last year by 200%. However, I've had to pull resources from one part of my area of responsibility to another in order to meet the demand.

                        My point is if you keep telling your boss it's a peice of cake, pretty soon your desk is buried in flour....
                        First - congratulations on your achievements!

                        As a software development manager I see huge differences in productivity between stars and other programmers. The star can solve the serious problem "before lunch" but you have to motivate him to do it (it is often a really boring "piece of cake" for him). Average programmer can solve the same problem within three to five days of googling and experimenting. Procrastinators first want to renegotiate the other assignments because during first week they have to read one or more manuals to be prepared to solve the problem. During next week they are ready to discuss the schedule of the problem solving project and then to start the actual work.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Thanks all for the advice

                          I really appreciate the advice from everyone. I'm still digesting it and taking it to heart. A couple thoughts..

                          Katherine,
                          Yes, I'm intimately familiar with Wal-Mart. Did my two years of time on-site there and know how they treat people. All my staff are senior salaried/exempt employees. I've also worked for myself before, and I agree that the link between effort and reward is much clearer in that context. Something I'm strongly considering getting back to.

                          TesTeq,
                          Agree with you completely on stars vs. average performers. Still trying to figure out how to balance the line between giving them enough to stay motivated and not so much that they feel buried and start looking elsewhere.

                          Thanks again.

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