“I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it.” – Kanye West.
Besides the fact that this is an amazing quote, the line perfectly describes what the last month of my life has been like. My workload in the office can simply be described as “over-extended”. Bottle Rocket was extremely busy in the month of December (which is not new), and I was already being asked to do extra work to make sure we are covered. We also lost an amazing project manager during the holidays and I took over his load as well.
Needless to say, I’m ready to ship some apps this month. Every release is literally a breath of fresh air.
The proposition we talk about our discipline regularly is how could one person possibly keep track of everything. Regardless of being responsible for one project or ten, things can get lost in the mix. Emails that should have been sent, meetings that should have been scheduled sooner (or at all), or roadblocks that needed removal.
The fact remains: you can’t catch everything, all of the time. How then are we to keep our sanity?
It’s been mentioned several times in this space in the last year, but a book I read last year has helped me in this trying time at work. When a large part of our daily lives is run on habitual autopilot, it’s imperative that we have good habits. Atul Gawande wrote that regardless of our good intention, and level of intelligence, it’s almost impossible. So what did he do to create healthy standards for the World Health Organization?
The answer is possibly so simple that it’s existence will probably be dismissed: use checklists.
This technique helped Captain Sullenberger land a plane on the Hudson, Johns Hopkins Hospital prevent the death of over 1,500 lives and save $175 million, and keep New York City construction projects on time and on budget. It also kept one of the most stressful times in my work life on track and relatively chaos-free.
Many of you will read this and roll your eyes. You’ve achieved an amazing level of success in your career with your current system in place, why in the world do you need to more rigidly schedule anything else? The beauty of Gawande’s system is, adding checklists to your daily routine is meant to simplify things — not complicate. Small, simple tasks documented in order that can be answered with a simple “check” can actually boost the confidence in your daily work.
In the spirit of transparency, I wanted to share the checklists I have been using for the past month to show just how simple and effective they are:
- Test Blood Sugar
- How do you want to answer “drive home” questions tonight?
- Arrive at Office
- Email/Calendar Check
- Top Off Buffer Queue
- Prepare for Stand Ups
- Prepare for Stand Ups
- Review Backlog
- Roadblock Updates
- Determine Deliverables
- Housekeeping Reminders
- What am I saying?
- Meeting Prep Questions
- What is the purpose?
- Do I need to bring anything?
- What is the outcome?
- How much should I be speaking?
- Drive Home Questions
- What are you most proud of today?
- What are you least proud of today?
- What would you want tomorrow’s answers to be?
- Before Bed
- Brush Teeth
- Nighttime meds
- Take inventory
- Make amends
I’m allowed to not only visualize an amazing day of work but have simple checkpoints throughout the day to give me the confidence to move on to the next phase. Each day is a sprint, so to speak, and if I can answer “check” at least 29 times (or more depending on a number of meetings and stand ups I have) I know I did my job.
This, of course, doesn’t prevent external agents of chaos from working their way in. Clients will have pain points on their end I need to help with. Unexpected bugs can derail a build that needs to be sent. Personal problems can make you want to throw the entire thing out of the window. That’s when the beauty of Gawande’s methodology comes up. You simply adjust the checklist to allow for those types of things and adjust.
Think about it. If you had a checklist for client or stakeholder issues, to make you stop and take a deep breath, it can steady your focus in whatever moment that arises. That’s how Sullenberger and his crew reacted so quickly to birds being sucked into the engines. They simply found the checklist that matched the situation and reacted accordingly.
My challenge is to try it with me for a week. Take a look at the events that you know you will encounter every day and write down — in order — how you would resolve those situations. Write them down or keep them handy on your phone. Then, utilize them throughout the day and keep notes on how they performed. If they need to be adjusted, do it.
Lastly, share them with someone you regularly interact with (but outside your team). Ask them to watch you during the week to see if your countenance improves. Yet another checkpoint to validate efficacy.
Can’t wait to hear your results. Now if you will excuse me, I have another checklist to finish. It’s called: “ship blog post”.