Friday, November 7, 2008

Keeping the Company Busy

A new experience that I have had while building this little company now known as Milyli is that there is always something to be done. In the five months or so since my partners and I started this venture, there has never been a time where I did not have a list of things to get done. Dealing with a long list of tasks is not hard. All you need to do is break tasks down, prioritize them and start knocking them down.

If a task seems like it is too large to prioritize because it will take too long, you should probably break it down first. These tasks are the types of ongoing chores that never seem to end: design and write the code for the summer release, be a part of your user community to build customer awareness and credibility. If these tasks have deadlines far out in the future, they can be broken down into more discrete units and prioritized with everything else. Design the whizbang feature on Friday, code the bell feature by Tuesday, write that new blog post between 9 and 10 tomorrow. If you are unable to prioritize large tasks, they probably just haven't been broken down and planned out enough.

Prioritizing is usually fairly easy. There are the things that need to be done at a certain time: go to the bank, go to the client meeting, deliver and deploy the project. These are items you put on your calendar, set a reminder and go do them at the correct time. Sure there will be times when you need to be two places at once, but that's what great partners and employees are for. If you don't trust them to do their jobs, you probably shouldn't have gone into business with them or hired them.

You also have the sort of tasks you need to do in order to successfully complete those time sensitive tasks: get your business documentation together for your banker, put together an agenda for you client meeting and answer any outstanding questions from the last meeting, package up all the components you need to deploy and make sure your scripts are in working order. It's important to browse your calendar for a few weeks out to make sure you allocate time to get these things done.

You don't need to tell me that this is an over simplification. There are all sorts of conflicts and hard decisions that need to be made. But I find the trick has been to get all the information you can or need and then make a decision. After that, spend the time getting the work done instead of prolonging the deliberations. Get informed, make a decision, and act. Hm, maybe it really is simple.

One of the nice things about keeping busy is that there is a real sense of accomplishment. Some tasks get marked as done in a physical system and some only get scratched off a mental list, but all of them are valuable. Another benefit is that, because work is getting done, less of it piles up. Sure there is always something that needs to get done; your to-do list will never be empty. But if you manage your time well, you will finish everything by the time you need to and also have time for all the other things you like to do besides work.

And that is where the real change for me is. I have both more sense of accomplishment and a better work life balance than I did at my last job. I think the problem there was that the developers were either not kept busy or they were overloaded. We could either have been implementing more features or we could have been tackling better, more intricate features and we would have been kept busy. Peaks and troughs of the lack in quality or quantity of designs and the overloading could have been mostly evened out by making sure all the work that came before development was correctly prioritized and appropriate deadlines were enforced.

I guess that's a task I will need to tackle. Figure out how to keep employees at my company busy without overloading them. I don't exactly know how to do that just yet. I figure that when it becomes an issue and when others are entrusted to do the work that I am doing now, I will make the time to break that task down, set up some defined goals and keep myself busy making sure others are as fulfilled at the company as I am.

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