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prioritization

Claiming To Be Too busy

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I know a lot of busy people.  I also know a lot of people who want me to think they’re busy.  I hear excuses from them, like they didn’t get a chance to get to something, that task is on their list or they’re just drowning in work.

If I ask them about an email that I sent but didn’t get a response, they respond that they didn’t see that email in their inbox.  Can you resend it?

You didn’t look at it the first time.  What makes you think you’ll look at a second one?

I do realize that the world we live in is full of interruptions and multi-tasking I know that people are inundated with information overload at a rate that increases on a daily basis.

It is hard to get everything done?

But when someone tells me that they’re too busy, I privately question it.  You’re busy, I’m busy, we’re all busy.  Were you too busy to do that task or did you simply not make it a priority?

It leads me to ask two questions:

First, did I inform them that this was an important task to me, rather than showing that person how it is important to him or her?  As a manager, I have a certain global scope of what is important, I know that task A is more critical to the project than task B.  But maybe it isn’t so obvious to everyone.

If I want someone to prioritize a task, I need to make sure they understand why it is a priority for the project and for the company, If they understand that, it may give them the proper motivation to prioritize it.

I also wonder what other priorities they might have been focused on.  I’ve managed projects where the team members are assigned tasks but they are never able to meet their deadlines.  They tell me they’re too busy to get their assignments done.

But when I happen to go to their desk, they’re often on Twitter or laughing at some video someone sent them. Other times, I can’t even find them because they’re chatting at someone else’s desk.

Everyone is entitled to a break.  I chat with people and check out videos myself.  But when extraneous activities intrude on the priorities that need to be done by a certain time, it becomes a problem.

I deal with the issue in the following three-step approach:

  • First, I tell them why the assignment is a priority.  If there are dependencies and other people are waiting for that task to be completed, they need to know that.
  • Second, I try to get their buy-in on estimating how long it will take to complete the task.  If they don’t want to commit to an estimate, we’ll agree on some milestones to check status.
  • Third, in these milestones, if they tell me that they’ve been too busy, I ask them what higher priority items they were working on. I push for specifics. What responsibilities preoccupied you from this task?  Sometimes, legitimate things like production problems and other types of emergencies come up.  But most of the time, there isn’t a valid reason.  Once they learn how I push for specifics they become less likely to play the busy card in the future.

Most of us are busy.  But sometimes the busiest people are really disorganized, procrastinators, or just focused on the wrong priorities.

Related post: Making Time to Mentor

My mother used to say, “If you want something done, you should give it to the busiest person”.  That probably should be changed to the most organized person because they are actually the busiest people. They just don’t complain about being so busy.

For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

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