Forget that Emergency! Fill Out This Form in Triplicate

Imagine this scenario: You’re in an emergency room in a hospital, gushing blood and being treated by the staff. All of a sudden, the person in charge of scheduling compliance training comes around and demands everyone stop what they’re doing and verify that they’ve signed up for the latest patient privacy compliance training seminars.

Some things in the workplace are high priority items. Routine “emergencies” are often poorly planned high priority items. Parts of the process are medium-high priority–they need to be followed as habit, but usually a single miss won’t bring the entire business to its knees.

Paying your taxes on time and filling out compliance paperwork and public filings is generally of a critical priority. If you fail to do so in a timely manner, the government or your investors will take your business down. Aside from a scenario like this, where having your business burn down or having the government take it down is a toss-up, immediate business calamity takes top priority over any business “process”.

Don’t stomp your foot because your highly important process isn’t being followed when the building is burning down. You may be the last to be rescued.

Length of Interruption is not Proportional to Amount of Disruption

This topic has been covered here before: Just because something requires very little time on its own does not mean it disrupts less. Any activity that takes “only a small amount of time” is likely to be accompanied by many other ones that carry the same justification for their existence.

Justifying that something should be done because it takes an insignificant amount of time is the same as saying that a 0.02% increase in your property tax should not concern you. The individual amount may be insignificant, but after years of property tax increases, you may end up with 1 or 2% extra in taxes.  More importantly, every additional request will carry the extra guilt trip of having accepted increases before and may embolden further, possibly larger requests.

Cognitive disruption

Deep thought tasks require deep concentration–see Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.  You can’t do deep analysis or intense tasks if you have 30 minutes between meetings.

Meetings are only one such offender.  Logging your time by work code and customer, and filling out three pages of forms upon beginning or ending a task are other such offenders.  Let’s say that you were reading an unabridged copy (1488 pages) of Les Misérables (Signet Classics), and every 10th page, read a page of A Tale of Two Cities (free Kindle Edition). You’re going to get the details of the characters confused because the settings are so similar.

This example may seem extreme, but in reality, is this not what all of this extra tasks are doing? You record time about a project. You send an email about a project. You open some form and fill out information about the project. At some point you may actually do work on the project. At this point, you’re going to have to start a spreadsheet to keep track of your tasks and what necessary steps you’ve done as part of completing a task. Fortunately, you can at least create some sort of calculated field to turn the task green, yellow, or red, based on whether the task is complete, partially complete, or not started. That should save you the mental energy of determining whether a task is actually complete–so at least you have that going for you.