If there were a gold medal for finishing their work the fastest, my kids would certainly be the Michael Phelps of said activities. No “T” goes crossed, no “I’s” get dotted. Correct math answers just appear with no work. All toys get shoved under the couch cushions. No task is too important to not cut corners. The race is on to play more video games.
Admittedly, most adults are not much better. Look to the left. Look to the right. Even if you’re working from home, when’s the last time the dog washed the windows? Nearly everyone is in a hurry to complete their work as fast as biologically possible. Surely everyone has some personal incentive to do it. It could be anything from conserving energy to having something fun to do later. In any event, that hastiness comes with a tradeoff. It often means doubling or tripling the time that was saved. Whoops.
Having a list of tasks is helpful, no doubt. We all are bound to the same clock, so understanding what to focus on, and at one time, can be a Godsend some days. That little buzz in your pocket or wrist can nip a time-wasting conversation right in the bud before it swerves into Sportscenter territory. For those of us who yell “squirrel” a few times a day, that list may be the only thing that keeps things on track.
What’s the Natural Reaction to Not Completing Tasks? Create More Tasks.
As our quest to complete more every day grows, as does the to-do list. As many systems rely on some degree of automation, the checklist grows automatically with each new assignment. Then another set of alerts then gets created to triage the amount of activity that’s being generated. Then personal calendars add another layer of to-dos on top of a busy schedule. Pretty soon all the beeps and buzzes just fade into the background. This is best demonstrated by alarm fatigue in hospitals. All the automated alarms to alert nurses to patient conditions to start to fade into the background causing the opposite effect of patient care. As the checkboxes keep growing, the meaning of the activity starts to blur into a different incentive. Yet, the list goes on.
Inevitably, these tasks, duties, functions, or alerts defy gravity and move upstream. A responsible party has to start taking care of missing and incomplete work. Back to the analogy of my beloved offspring, it means that mom and dad will eventually pick up the living room. For some parents that extends to completing homework. At work it means the production has to make up for sales, and sales has to make up for marketing, and accounting has to make up for production, and it all snowballs into an eventual avalanche.
The Solution is Twofold.
First, decision-makers need to be exponentially more mindful when it comes to task creation. The very act of creating more tasks, with all of the beeps, and blurps, and banners, isn’t going to make unproductive people suddenly more productive. It’s not going to add any more hours to the day, nor is it going to manage the cyclical ups and downs of opportunity flow. More than likely, your customers could care less about it. If anything, it may create more work where none previously existed.
Instead, worth with the capacity of the workforce. Tailor the processes and workflows to what can consistently be achieved. Know that baseline activities can routinely be completed before additional responsibilities are added. Reduce the digital nudges to the point where they grab attention as opposed to being part of the background noise. Ensure redundant scheduled activities are turned off before new ones are turned on. Strengthen a team that works with you, not against you.
Second, measures for success cannot be exclusively measured in quantity. Making 80 additional random phone calls a day is not a strategy, but simply a back-alley dice roll. Leaving left message notes in the CRM nine times in ten minutes adds no value other than it makes the alerts go away for the user. Heaving a pound of spaghetti against the wall is a waste of food. Users need to know that the act of racing to check a box is not the only incentive.
If we’re using a quantitative metric for success, it must have a sibling metric for quality. For example, for every sent email tracked, there should be a contextual metric of response rate right next to it. For every phone call tracked, there should be an average/median call time right next to it. For every appointment set, there should be an appointment set ratio right next to it. If activities are being scheduled, then they should only be scheduled as a means to produce a tangible result.
As planners, we cannot put ourselves in the position of not being so rapt in details that we lose sight of the big picture. Every scheduled task should be refined to a bare minimum to reach an equilibrium of team achievability and customer desire. As we say at DealerKnows, every communication should add value or generate engagement through questions. Period. If it’s more than that, it’s activity for the sake of activity. If your living room is always messy, it’s time for fewer toys.