“We need this yesterday!”
Virtually every professional in the workplace today has heard this very statement, or a similar one with the same implications. Of course, when this happens, it can also invoke “colorful” responses in the mind. My personal favorite response was to say – “If you need this yesterday, go back in a time capsule and give it to me yesterday”! Subsequently, that statement got me more than one annoyed look from various Managers over the years, but on the plus side it made the workplace more entertaining both for myself and various spectators.
Now, is this phrase problematic? Yes, of course! Whenever someone comes to you and expects you to drop everything you’re currently doing and complete something else entirely on the fly (with little preparation or planning in most cases), it is disruptive and also has the immense potential to cause additional issues. Not to mention it delays the completion of other objectives by pushing everything back.
Unfortunately, the reality is that even though all those pitfalls are well known, these types of “urgent” situations are all too common in the workplace, and will remain so, regardless of the industry a person is currently working within. However, that doesn’t mean that these types of occurrences cannot be mitigated. It just requires the right approach.
That said, it is a given that the ability to complete tasks and objectives on time is one of the top qualities that all businesses seek to have in their respective employees. Therefore, in order to meet both your everyday challenges and the surprises thrown at you, it is necessary to be extremely efficient in your daily work.
Now, while efficiency is generally a topic unto itself, it is actually made up of several components. Depending on the situation, one particular aspect may be dominant over the others, but ultimately all of these different aspects must come together as a whole in order to ensure that deadlines, projects and even daily tasks are executed and implemented effectively.
Let’s take a look at those components now.
Being Efficient – The Different Aspects
Of course, one of the most important aspects of efficiency is timely communication. Quite bluntly, if people don’t know what is happening, almost nothing will get done. (Just imagine what would happen if someone forgot to place the lunch order, or forgot to order more coffee for the office! Sacrilege!)
However, communication can be a daunting task at times for a professional, particularly when their role interfaces with multiple teams and/or clients. In these cases, the act of simply maintaining open and consistent lines of communication can exhaust even the most experienced professional. So, to prevent a personal meltdown, it is imperative that contact lists and associated documentation be strictly maintained and updated as often as required. Also, every professional must make certain that they are kept in-the-know about pending changes in personnel, especially when it concerns their direct contacts.
Always remember to choose the form of communication that is appropriate to the content and context of the information. Be aware of the stakeholders (and their potential interpretations of said content) for each message. Stay focused on the required topics, and check the content for spelling AND grammar. This attention to detail will be invaluable and will be respected by the recipients of your correspondence.
Being flexible (and thus adaptable) are two of the most important characteristics of successful business people. If a person can resolve issues and keep the business flowing even during difficult times, they will gain the respect and admiration of their respective organizations across the board. They will also begin to gain the reputation of being an innovator who knows how bend and/or enhance the rules in creative and effective ways without disrupting the overall project or business environment.
There is also the potential that these changes and/or enhancements may become so effective that they could even become the new process or method itself! When this occurs, accept your accolades with professional sincerity and enjoy them. After all, it’s not every day that someone can bring significant improvements to an organization.
So when faced with an urgent or problematic situation, don’t bemoan it and go into negative thinking. Treat it as an opportunity to flex your creative muscle and amaze the onlookers with your prowess. (Also, be sure you keep documentation of your success for your performance reviews!)
- Clarifying the Priorities
When multiple, urgent projects are occurring simultaneously, it is of the utmost importance that a professional stay focused on which one(s) are the top priority. This is particularly true, (and hence even more difficult) in those cases where a professional reports to more than one Manager/Leader or more than one client/customer. So if this applies to you, and you suddenly find yourself caught between multiple urgent projects from different leaders, (not to mention the “emergencies” that they also bring to you), you must be certain that you don’t get caught in either the crossfire, or the subsequent fallout if one task/project gets pushed aside in favor of another.
How can this be mitigated? Well, in order to determine the sequence of priorities in these cases, again it is imperative that you immediately communicate across the board with all the leaders in question. In that communication, outline the different “urgent” projects/requests with their respective timeframes that you need to get them completed versus Management’s expectations of completion. Then ask the leaders/stakeholders involved to confer and clarify the order in which things should be done. (You also have the option of giving them a “gentle” reminder that the longer they take to confirm with you, the more their “urgent” projects will be delayed. Just keep it professional!).
This way, they decide which things should be done first (and often fight or argue amongst themselves as well, which can be vastly amusing at times). Also, since those in Management/Leadership generally have short memories, once you receive the confirmation(s) of priorities from them, be certain to retain copies of all correspondence & responses just in case you need to remind someone of why things were ultimately done in a certain order.
Utilizing this kind of approach will save you a lot of headaches and stress by being able to avoid having to guess which items should be done first.
It is a given that practical experience also plays a major role within the world of efficiency. How so? Well, most (but not all) of the issues that arise in business are the same as those that came before, so knowledge can be leveraged in most cases. However, many of them can, and will have slightly different twists each time they appear. It is these differences that will ultimately test your ingenuity and skillset.
As the saying goes – practice makes perfect. So, if there is ever an opportunity presented to practice/enhance your skills and grow within different business circles & situations, take it. Remember that every experience, training seminar, mentoring session, etc. will increase the level of awareness & capability within your skillset. It is also important to remember that occasionally you will find things that you don’t like or that may not be applicable to your circumstances at the time. However, these occurrences are still extremely important as those situations may very well arise at some point in your future, and knowing what doesn’t work allows you to better focus on the things that are effective, saving time in the long run.
Finally, don’t be afraid to branch out into new and/or unfamiliar areas. An increased understanding of how all the pieces (and people) of a group/project/organization come together and interact will help your efficiency to flow like water. This will also assist you in quickly identifying breakdowns in the system, which will in turn minimize negative effects to the projects, the organization, and your own self.