Saturday, August 21, 2010

Triage at work

One of my issues with my current job is that I don't always get to set my priorities. Sometimes, this is because someone else thinks I should be working on one thing while I'd rather be working on another, and other times this is because random "urgent" things come up and all of my tasks get shuffled around. You can imagine how much I like both of these scenarios, especially when someone has decided that there's some sort of accounting emergency. Uh, no, emergency and accounting should never be used in the same sentence. In an emergency, if you wait five or 10 minutes to do something, the situation or outcome is significantly worse. In the world of accounting, if you wait five or 10 minutes to do something, the situation or outcome is rarely any different than if you had done whatever it was earlier.

(On a related note, a few months ago, the powers that be at my company declared a cocoon at work to be a "war" room, which sent my department into a state of girlish giggles every time they mentioned it, except of course the one boy, who smirked). (And for those who don't know, a cocoon is where we go to turn into butterflies, and the process apparently requires a separate room equipped with television projectors, dry erase boards, and lots of desks so everyone on the project can work together until the project is complete and we all sprout wings and fly away. Or something like that).

So, back to my priority issue. I consider myself pretty efficient with my time. I am not a natural multi-tasker, but two of the solutions I've found to this problem are extensive list-making and becoming very good at estimating how much time something will take me. It always surprises me how bad people are at estimating how much time something takes them.

For instance, there are very few things in my job that can be done in less than an hour. That's because revenue accountants are senior accounts; we're supposed to be very smart. And you don't give the very smart people the easy stuff to do. So it's always amusing to me when my boss asks me if I can complete something in an hour.

Another thing I do to help with both time-management and multi-tasking is to perform sort of a mental triage of my responsibilities. In true triage, in the medical world, you group people into three categories: those who are likely to live regardless of the care they get, those who are likely to die, and those for whom getting care now will make a world of difference.

At work, I sort of group things differently. If I do have a few tasks that can be completed relatively quickly, or relatively easily, like scanning documents to our auditors, I like to get them done first. For one thing, I won't have to remember to do it later, when I'm worn out from thinking about something more complicated, like how our average rate plan could decrease while our average deferred revenue increased, and for another thing, at least this way, if all else fails, I will have gotten something accomplished this day.

Then I work on the time-consuming and/or mentally taxing items. And lastly, I'll work on the stuff that no matter what I'll do, I won't likely find a solution.

Every now and then my boss will re-prioritize the stuff that I'm not likely to find a solution to, which is the worst, because it is a colossal waste of my time, but more often she'll re-prioritize the stuff that requires some thinking, which means if I'm already in the middle of thinking about one thing, I have to completely shift gears.

But, I'm working on developing some solutions to this problem. One has been to tell her what I'm working on, and how long I think it will take me to finish it, and suggesting I start the new thing after that. Another has been to put my outlook messenger on "do not disturb" which automatically disallows incoming IMs, so if she really wants me to do something, she has to get up and come to my desk to tell me. Finally, a decidedly passive-aggressive technique is to tell her I'll work on her new priority and then finish whatever I'm doing first without discussing it with her. Sometimes, I know I'm almost done with something and it just isn't worth the time to argue about it.

I can't possibly be the only one who finds themselves in this position at work, so please let me know if you have any additional suggestions!

1 comment:

  1. To extend your triage metaphor - in EMT school they taught us this long complicated method for triaging patients. Then they taught us the real method: point to a corner of the scene and tell everyone to move. Anyone who can walk without help you label "green" and ignore. People who need help to move are your "yellow" patients - you treat them because your intervention actually makes a difference. People who can't move are dying or dead, and you can't help them anyway. So the next time your boss changes your priorities, try telling her to go stand in the corner. ;)