Imagine a scenario where you're full of enthusiasm to start working on a task or a certain part of a project. You're really ready to kick some butt... until you realise that your hands are tied. Perhaps you can’t start working on the task because someone else’s input is needed first, or maybe a network drive which stores your project files is inaccessible because of a hardware failure.
Illustration: Tina Mailhot-Roberge
Since you're unable to continue with your work for now, the next logical question is: how are you going to prepare for these kinds of scenarios the next time, so that you won’t end up wasting your time again?
Are You Too Busy to Prepare?
There is one obvious reason why you're experiencing the frustration over what just happened: you weren’t prepared enough for a scenario like this. Exactly why you were unprepared was a result of two reasons:
First, you didn’t allocate enough time for the preparation. Since you were busy with your other stuff, you neglected the preparation -- even if you knew it was necessary.
Perhaps you even thought that preparing was unnecessary in the first place. You didn’t understand the importance of it and you didn’t bother sitting down and thinking of your plan B for your task or for your project. So there you are, and you don’t know what to do next since you don’t have any secondary plan in place.
Trusting Too Much That Things Go Well
You've now realised that the unprepared route you've taken is not a professional way to do things, and simply assuming that everything will go OK is not a solid plan. It goes without saying that you need to learn to appreciate the planning part as well. It doesn’t matter how good your task list looks; if the tasks are not executable because of unexpected dependencies, you can trash your task list this very moment.
When you learn to see the big picture and allocate enough time for planning, only then are you able to avoid the roadblocks and stop wasting your time.
Learn to Stop (In Order to Keep On Going)
From now on you should do certain things to secure the smooth execution of your tasks and projects.
First, take enough time to plan your next move. In fact, force yourself to take the time for planning. It will pay off handsomely, especially when things are not going as planned. Understand that planning time is actually working on the task already: it’s preparing for the worst-case scenario and making sure that everything goes well if something unexpected happens.
Secondly, see every part of the task. Who is involved, which systems are being used, and which parts are integral to your work? Seeing this in advance is crucial, because it gives you a better level of preparedness later on.
Thirdly, imagine every possible scenario before taking action. What happens if a system goes down? What about a situation where you need another person’s input before you can continue with your own work?
Once you've considered these scenarios in advance, you can continue with your work without minimum downtime. And believe me -- it’s more than possible that you are going to experience the unexpected, something that wasn’t written on your task list.
Keep the Ball Rolling by Preventing These 4 SPOF Scenarios
SPOF stands for Single Point of Failure, and it’s a fancy way of saying that if one part of the system collapses, it takes the whole system down. Apply this knowledge to your project or a task the same way. If your work is dependent of something or someone and the person or system lets you down, then your work gets delayed and time gets wasted. Here are the four most common scenarios that you can prevent with some planning. Be proactive on these and your work will continue as smoothly as possible.
The task cannot be continued without someone else’s input first. Often, your work can only continue when someone else has done his/her part first. To make sure that this is the case, spot these kinds of tasks in the early phases of your project and prioritise them if possible. The sooner you start with the delegation, set deadlines, and communicate clearly why the task is important to take care of, the bigger chance there is to have the necessary input completed before you are starting your part.
You have lost your work. Do you take backups regularly? Is it easy to restore things back to normal if your hard disk crashes? If you answered no to these questions, then make sure you fix the situation as quickly as possible. First, try saving your content in the cloud. For instance, I’m saving all the important documents not only to my hard drive, but also to DropBox by using its client software. If my hard drive happens to crash, the backup copy is available on the cloud. Then, buy an additional backup system for your computer. In many cases, this can be bought as a service that is offered by your Internet Service Provider. You can also subscribe to an online backup system.
You realise you can’t do the task yourself. Have you ever realised that completing a certain task will actually require expertise that you don’t own? And since you don’t have the expertise, the task can’t be done right now? Well, I've run into this issue many times before, and with a little preparation this can be avoided. In this situation everything comes down to the planning, where you actually go through the different scenarios (as mentioned before). During this phase, you also understand whether you can do the work yourself or if you have to hire an outsider to do the work for you.
Be absolutely honest with yourself about this: if you have any doubts that you can’t do the task yourself, it’s better to outsource it. Nothing is worse than doing a mediocre job yourself, when the results could be outstanding by an outsider. Be sure to gather the required expertise well before you start working on your task/project. That way you aren't wasting your time on doing the task yourself.
Your idea is lost. You have this great idea that popped into your head while you were at work, but now you can’t remember what it is. Had you stored it immediately, you’d still have an idea and it could potentially add a bigger figure to your bottom line or save hours of your work.
You owe it to yourself to write down the idea immediately as it pops into your head. You could use traditional pen and paper, use your mobile phone to store it temporarily (even if it hasn’t got internet access), or even use your smartphone for storing the idea directly on Google Docs or Evernote. Don’t convince yourself that, “I’ll remember the idea when I get back home." Most likely you’ll forget it and feel annoyed and frustrated.
As you can see, there are many things that can halt your productivity and cause you to waste your time. Don’t let this happen by creating a fail-proof system which lets you continue with your work–even if one part of the system collapses. Make sure you spend enough time by going through the different scenarios in advance. You’ll thank yourself that you did this when something unexpected happens.
Get Things Done Despite Single Point Failures [Lifehack.org]
Timo Kiander, aka Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work-at-home dads. If you want to get more productive in your own life, grab 222 of his best Tips for Becoming a Productivity Superstar.