Critical Path Thinking
It always pays to understand what is or is not on your critical path and to set priorities accordingly. And during the busy holiday season, using a critical path approach to manage your personal and professional life is extremely helpful. Consider the following to-do list:
- Send holiday cards
- Purchase cards
- Update address list
- Write blog entry
- Prepare for Friday evening dinner party
- FedEx gifts to clients/family/friends in other locations
- Prepare to teach Wednesday evening class
- Finish holiday gift shopping
- Prepare to teach Thursday evening class
- Wrap all gifts
The above list is in random order. It would not make sense to perform the items listed as they appear. For example, I cannot send out holiday cards until after I purchase them, sign them and select the recipients.
And what about sending gifts to clients/family/friends in other locations? Well I have to purchase (or order) the gifts first. I can probably get the gifts delivered on time if they ship no later than 12/17/11 (I don’t want to overnight everything). So I can finish buying the gifts and then ship them on 12/17/07. AFTER the gifts are wrapped.
Class will be held on Wednesday and on Thursday, so I need to make it a priority to be prepared on both of those days. This means cleaning the house and buying food and drink for Friday evening can wait until Friday morning, but obviously if I wait until Saturday our guests will have come and gone.
It is all about sequencing. This is the ability to look at tasks that may or may not be related and set a clear action plan. The clear action plan involves picking the priority tasks and completing them in time to reach a specific goal or milestone.
This may seem obvious to you, but it is not obvious to everyone.
I once worked with a really intelligent woman who could not properly sequence tasks to save her own life. At first I thought she was incompetent; then I thought she was being rebellious. Ultimately I learned that she was brilliant at writing code, but really could not sequence her work. In fact if I gave her more than about four items to do, she would start getting confused, work on them out of order and take much longer than necessary for all of the work. Together we learned to assign her work in a way that did not make her feel like she was being treated like a child, allowed her to complete the proper work in the proper order and allowed me to stop worrying about her ability to work to plan.
Not everyone can sequence. Remember this when you give assignments to team members. Some team members will perform tasks in the order in which you discuss them. When you need something completed by a specific date and time, make sure you let your team member know the priority. And if you learn that someone has a difficult time with sequencing, please find a way to help them. You bring critical path thinking to the team as your skill, they bring another skill and together you can form a successful partnership.
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