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20 Apr

Make the thresholds low

Date: 2011-04-20 13:28 Comments: 0 st

Does the fact that you frequently do duties which you have performed before, only in a different month, for a different project or for a different customer, sound familiar?

It may involve extracting statistics, doing a monthly report, initiating a delivery to a new client or something like this. Perhaps you read a structural tip I published a while back in which I advised you to create a simple checklist of all steps in the tasks you perform every now and then, so that you do not have to make the effort of recalling what it is you usually do when you are ... (whatever it may be about).

Is it also familiar that you have so much to do that you are not up to or capable of assembling neat, complete, well-structured checklists or process descriptions? It is common to feel hesitant about introducing a tool which would greatly facilitate you work for the sole reason that it feels like too much work to get started with the tool itself, in spite of knowing that it would be good for us.

Do not feel dejected - the world is designed in such a way that you do not need to do a complete documentation of each routine. It will suffice to a little, especially to begin with.

One thing we can learn from the folk musician

I have a good friend who not only is my fellow violin-fiddler, but also a highly skilled folk musician. If you are familiar with the Swedish folk music repertoire, you will know that there is an incredible amount of songs and that you rarely play by sheet music. This means that you will have to remember how all the pieces are played once you get together to play.

Rather than carrying a few boxes of sheet music with her, she carries a much thinner bundle of sheet music in which she has written out how every song (that she knows) start, for example, the first four bars. If she begins to play the first bars aided by the score, she remembers the rest of the song, and off she goes.

This sounds familiar. If only I can get started, the rest often comes by itself. The beauty of this is that we can use this experience when it comes to describing our routines.

Do this

  1. Chose one of the routines, tasks or things you do in a similar way on a somewhat recurring basis.
  2. When you are about to do it next time, open an empty document in your favorite word-processor.
  3. If it feels too much to describe the entire routine, begin with the first steps, for instance, the first three steps. Write “First…”, “Then…”, and “And after that…” as you go through the process and come to think of how you usually do it.
  4. Leave the documentation after those first three steps and save the checklist in the one and only place where you keep these (so that you will be able to find it easily) under a clear and descriptive name.
  5. The next time you are about to perform the routine, take out the checklist with the three first steps and follow it.
  6. Notice if you continue with the task automatically once you have gotten started or if you would need to describe the rest of the steps as well for the checklist to be truly helpful. Adjust it if you need to.
  7. If you feel that it fulfills its purpose, begin documenting another routine, and another one, et c.

Here is the point of it all

If you make the thresholds to getting started low with this method, you will have more time for other things since the time it takes you to adjust to a new task decreases, since you get started faster, since you spend less time recalling the procedure. Besides, it is nice to not procrastinate what you tend to push ahead of you due to not quite remembering how to do it.

The risk of only documenting the beginning of the tasks is that you might not remember how to proceed when you have taken the first three steps you have written down. And this will leave you stranded where you stopped documenting.

If you feel you can take that risk, enjoy not having to do complete checklists and that you still profit greatly from the work you have done previously.

It works for my fiddler-friend – perhaps it will work for you as well.

How do you do it?

What is you way of not having to think too hard about what to do when you are about to perform a routine task? Leave a comment to let me and other readers know.

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