Tech Manager’s Task List

He’s making a list, checking it twice… wait… it is only July, not December.

I spend a lot of time making lists and prioritizing my work. When I come to the office in the morning, I ponder what I need to get done. I review anything that I did not get to the day before and think about what might be done today.

It is so easy to fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent. I am not sure where I first heard that term. Probably a Stephan Covey book. There is a small book by that title, but I do not recall reading it. Anyway… the tyranny comes when other peoples’ urgent needs define your workload. Sounds kind of like a Tech Manager’s job description, doesn’t it? You have to keep things running and get things done for others, right? There have been many days when I drive to work, planning out my day in my head, defining my tasks, and then arrive at work to a project panic that takes me away from anything close to what I had planned. We are overtaken by events outside our control. A plotter breaks. A project derails. Files get corrupted. Deliverables need to be delivered. At the end of the day I wonder if I got anything done from my list. 

Your Time Is Not Your Own

We live to serve. If you are not service oriented and you have the job function of CAD/BIM/Tech Manager, you might be in the wrong line of work. You are supposed to make it easy to be interrupted. You should not put people off and make it hard for them to approach you. You want them to bring you their troubles. It keeps you employed. (Actually, fixing their problems keeps you employed.)

But you should strive to get out from under the thumb of every little annoyance that someone brings you.  I want to briefly discuss some strategies to avoid falling into the trap of the urgent. Let’s quickly run through some ideas that might help.

Avoiding Interruptions via Training

Interruptions happen. They happen all the time. They are the norm. Some of them can be avoided or reduced via education. Teaching others how to self-correct is important and must be done. When you fix something, tell others how you did it. Empower them for the next time. Then when it comes up again, and it will, they can fix it themselves or tell others what the fix is.

Fix it Before it Breaks

Sometimes we can avoid being trapped by circumstance by fixing things before they break. If there is something that you know is reaching end of life or headed for disaster, jump in and fix it before it goes awry. That thing that is gnawing at you, but you have not gotten back to fix yet, will break at the worst possible time. Be proactive and get it repaired or replaced before it fails.

Do it Right the First Time

Those items that I have left incomplete always come back to bite me. Temp fixes become permanent by your delays. If I am unable to complete a job 100 percent, I always seem to have to complete the job when it impacts other timelines. There are times when you have to make a quick temp fix so that projects can hit a deadline.  If I ignore going back to something that I knew was just temporary, then my time will be gobbled up when it fails again. Try to avoid do-overs.

Making the Most of Your Time and Task List

I could try to rattle off a list of priorities for a Tech Manager—such as learning new tools, planning deployment, training, standards, productivity, and so much more.  But that is not the point of this article. You will define the big ticket items that you need to keep in focus. Then you will define the tasks needed to make that happen. All through this effort, you will have to pick and choose what goes first and then second and so on. Your list will look different than mine. No one has the same lists or the same priorities for the day-to-day things that have to get done.

When you finally get some time for your goals, what do you do? You can move toward defining your own priorities and working your task list when you have “free” time.

First – Make a List

B. J. Novak, one of the breakout stars from “The Office” TV series, says that “we go around with lists in our heads all day long.” So he developed the LI.ST app (li dot st) and garnered investors to get it off the ground. Google Tasks, todoist, Wunderlist, and many more apps are out there to help us get organized. It is not the tool that makes a great list—it is you.  I use Word, Excel, or just paper to make mine. The first step is to do a brain dump and get everything that needs to be done out of your head and on the list. Make it as long as it needs to be. Write down all the items you can think of. Even add those things that you wish you had time to get to. List that are too long discourage progress, but don’t worry about making it to too big. We will slice it up into manageable chunks as needed.

Second – Sort the List

Now that you have a list, which might be really long, sort it by some categories that make sense to you. It might be collecting all of the hardware needs together. Or you could separate the things that need to be purchased from those that have no cost and can be done for free. You may have six or seven or more categories. That is good, just sort them all. If you do not have a lot of items on the list consider refining it down into smaller tasks. Sometimes big ticket items cannot be done in one sitting and might be better broken apart.

You may want to sort by level of effort or maybe high-energy and low-energy items. Divide the list into three categories. Big things, medium things, and little things. Don’t worry yet if you have too many things in one of these categories, we will review them again. And remember—not everything is a big item.

Third – Group the List

Look for common items that can be grouped into mini-projects. Are there three hardware items that should be purchased together? Does the software category have tasks that can be grouped into areas such as training, standards, or customization?  Group these together so that the ones that need to be done together can be addressed at the same time.  After they are grouped, reorder each group by first, second, third in the order that they need to be done. There is no need to focus on something that has a prerequisite item that you have not put at the front.

List Created

What you should have now is a list, sorted and grouped and ready to prioritize.  The process of creating, sorting, and grouping your list will help streamline your efforts. It will help you capture the time you may find in the day and focus you on the most important items. Now check off “Create List” from your To Do list. See, you already got something done! Next time we will look at prioritizing and how you can make your list, your efforts, and your time even more impactful.

EMail - The Great Interrupter

Common advice is to avoid reading email – it takes up too much time. They say you should put it off and check it once in the morning and then at lunch and then before you go home for the day. Yeah, right!  Tech Managers are service oriented and I do not believe they have the luxury of delaying email reading, texts, or IMs or whatever method someone chooses to get in touch with them. I read emails all day long. I tend to avoid even opening the constant stream of offers and cold-call emails with vendor requests for meetings. 

As I read email, I prioritize the level of need and address it balanced with everything else on my plate. Just because someone walked into your office, or grabbed you in the hall, or dropped an email in your inbox does not move their item to the top of your list. Learn to prioritize every task and also learn how to gently let people know that you will get to it—maybe after one or two other pressing items that take priority. Define an agreed-upon date for completion and then go back to what you were focused on.

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