How to meet deadline: short guide
December 18, 2019

Productivity

Live to work or work to live. Part 5. Planning: how to meet deadlines

By Alexander Sergeev

Check our previous post to find information about Live to work or work to live. Part 4. Workday: how to organize it in a rapidly changing world.

When hearing the word “planning” people instinctively shiver. Nevertheless, deadlines are to be met. To fulfill obligations, not to be late for a meeting, call back exactly when promised – it is quite natural rules for any modern person. There is no need to explain why we should brush our teeth and take a shower daily. The same applies to the accuracy in time.

There is also good news. Our brain unconsciously adds “rigid and detailed” to the word “planning”, but it is not so. There are many different types of planning, including very flexible ones. It is important to choose the method that best suits your personal characteristics and specifics of your work.

“Kairos” is the basis of flexible scheduling

Many tasks are not so easy to plan for a well-defined point in time. How to handle them?

The ancient Greeks had two words for time. “Chronos” – linear, astronomical, measurable time, used in our diaries and organizers. And “kairos” – a convenient moment, comfortable circumstances for the commission of any business.

It can be almost impossible to adhere some problems to strict time. The opportunity to meet them is associated with the presence of the desired “kairos”, context, favorable circumstances.

Think of your workday – how many tasks you attached to rigid “chronos” and how much – to a flexible “kairos”?

Normal rigid planning in a diary or electronic calendar doesn’t fit the management of “kairos” tasks. We can’t adhere a “kairos” task to a strict time or put a reminder in the diary. It is important to precisely identify the “kairos” tasks, which are relevant to your work, and learn to use them effectively.

Planning “kairos” tasks in the diary

You can establish a system of context planning in any ordinary diary. To do this, do the following:

  • Identify the relevant contexts (usually 5-7 is enough).
  • Create diary sections or categories corresponding to these contexts in Outlook.
  • When approaching any context (“kairos”) just look at the relevant section of the organizer to refresh your memory. It will soon become a good habit.

Another way to control “kairos” tasks in the diary is to write them on stickers and attach to those days in which you assume the emergence of “kairos”. If the “kairos” is postponed, the task can be easily transferred to another day. Thus, the trail of crossed out due to lack of “kairos” tasks in your diary will disappear.

In Outlook and Lotus Notes the context scheduling can be conveniently performed with the help of task categories. Each task has one or more “kairos” categories; and what is valuable, one task can be viewed simultaneously in multiple categories. This opportunity is one of the main advantages of e-planning in contradistinction to the paper one.

Context planning boards

Planning of the medium-term objectives can be organized not only in the diary but on a large sheet of paper or a white magnetic board. Such planning is especially useful in teamwork. Most often this occurs when structuring such “kairos” as people and / or projects.

The board contains columns – managers and lines – projects. At the intersection of column and line place stickers with the objectives to the relevant project manager. Different colors of stickers designate the priority of the tasks. When planning the project the senior manager scans the line and sees all the tasks in the project. Thus, the tasks are planned simultaneously on the “kairos” “People” and “Projects”.

Another example of a “kairos” planning board is for companies receiving and sending many documents.

Employees divide the board by major institutions and agree – everyone who goes somewhere with a matter requiring personal presence, attaches a sticker and indicates this. Those who have errands (“To leave a folder in the 5th cabinet”, “To check in the 20th cabinet, if the license is ready” etc.) attach their stickers. Anyone who goes to some institution before leaving bypasses colleagues and collects these errands.

It’s important to note that the planning board is not necessarily a tool for organizing teamwork. An ordinary section of the wall in front of the desk, where you can attach stickers or is also a “planning board”. And it can be structured in a way convenient for your contexts.

A “Day – Week” planning technology

We already know how to flexibly plan “kairos” problems. But many problems have more or less rigid deadlines. In order to keep all these problems under control, you need only three main sections in your planning system:

  1. DAY: tasks for today.
  2. WEEK: medium-term objectives.
  3. YEAR: long-term goals.

You don’t have to make a rigid plan for the period, you should only stick to the strict rules of transferring the tasks between these sections. Do as follows:

  • In the evening, when planning the next day, look through the “week” section. Transfer the most relevant tasks to the “day” section.
  • Once a week, when planning the next week, look through the “year” section. Transfer the most relevant tasks to the “week” section.

This system allows you to:

  • On the one hand, not to drive yourself into the framework of rigid planning, not to attempt to prescribe the future in detail.
  • On the other hand, to keep everything under control.

Scheduling tasks with a complex structure

A “Day – Week” approach is quite enough to remember the problem. Now we move to the more ” advanced level: How to deal with the problem when it’s not enough to transfer it from the “YEAR” section? What if the task has rather complex internal structure with lots of subtasks?

Imagine: While planning the upcoming week, you are looking through the “YEAR” section and see the problem posed by the head six months ago. For example “To hold a seminar for the dealers at the beginning of the season”.

First of all, you should transfer this task to the “WEEK” section, which can be seen every day. Secondly – this major task should be split into subtasks.

When dealing with such challenges, the following vicious circle occurs:

Step 1: the work is not systematized, the information is not recorded. All hands’ job begins in the last two or three days before the event, the issues are resolved in fire mode, some tasks are failed to be performed.

Step 2: trying to plan work on a major task with the help of rigid planning methods. Naturally, the deadlines are not met. You return to the first step.

To break this vicious cool, you should work on a task to plan flexibly. This can be done using a two-dimensional review graph. In the left column, the tasks are divided into several key areas – subtasks, each of which is focused on specific cases. The second column is for performers. Even if you have no subordinates, in this column you can note the external suppliers, colleagues, etc. The second dimension of this graph is time.

This graph is quite simple, but it gives a clear overview of the binding tasks to the terms and relationships between the tasks. Looking at this graph only once a day, you will guarantee yourself handling work on the major challenges and an opportunity to meet the deadlines.

Control of the routine tasks

If you have many regular routine tasks, it’s recommended to use the familiar two-dimensional review to control them. The table of regular routine tasks might look like this: the left column of the table contains the examples of frequently encountered regular problems. The next, from left to right – columns with calendar weeks. If you’ve performed the task, mark it with “+” in the appropriate column, if you failed to perform it, Mark it with “-“.

Note: this table is not rigid planning. It doesn’t matter when you perform a task. It is important that this should be done about once a week.

If you failed to do something this week, there is nothing wrong with that. Just put “-“. If these signs begin to accumulate, it immediately gives you a signal: the regular problem have not been performed long enough, it’s high time to do it.

Keep a weekly schedule of “routine” tasks in the “WEEK” section of your diary. Then you will see it at least once a day and related targets will not be without your attention.

Determination of the time budget for a task

The real skill of medium-term planning is to pinpoint a weekly time budget for a major problem which guarantees that the deadlines will be met.

Let’s recall the simple approach. The algorithm is as follows:

  • Determine the total amount of work.
  • Identify your productivity.
  • Through productivity associate the deadlines and the time budget.

For example: “I need to prepare documentation for 20 commodity items in 10 days. The work with one item takes about an hour. So, you have to work for 2 hours a day”.

Thus, instead of an abstract “by mid-September”, you have a very specific “to work for 2 hours a day” or “8 hours per week”. It motivates much more and makes it possible to accurately control, whether you meet the deadline or not.

The fifth step of creating personal TM system

Organize context planning and medium-term planning based on a “Day – Week” approach and ensure confidence in yourself that you will always meet the deadlines.

Summary of recommendations:

  • Time is patchy – catch “kairos”.
  • Add the “context” sections to the diary.
  • Use the boards, divided by “kairos” for an overview of all tasks of the employees.
  • Use a “Day – Week” approach not to forget about the medium-term objectives.
  • Use the review graph for planning the major tasks and dealing with regular routine tasks.
  • Use the algorithm of time budgeting to predict the deadlines of the major problems.

Read the next Live to work or work to live. Part 6. Priorities: how to weed out the superfluous and find time for important.

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