On Productivity | Avoid “If I am there then I have to attend” tasks.



I usually do not write much about my work. But I thought this one deserves a mention. After a very long time, I decided to work from home today. Hold on! Actually for the very first time, I worked from home. I thought it will be a good to share how it felt.

A good start would be to first understand what made me decide to work from home for the very first time. On any given day, my work involves coordinating and interactive with a lot of people. I do not sit at my office reception, but you have to trust me that it does involve a lot of touch points. While things wouldn’t stop moving if I am not there, there are things which need my attention to progress. There are basically a few categories in which I can classify the work I do:

  • Foreground tasks: These are obvious tasks which I need to take up. It could be writing a proposal (yes, on the last day of submission),  interacting with customers, project meetings, taking interviews and what not. The idea is that these are visible tasks and require my presence absolutely. If I skip any of these, it would have an immediate impact.
  • Background tasks: These are not-so-obvious (but not unimportant!) tasks. It could be updating some tracker. Coming up with a sales plan. Feature planning for a product release. Updating some section of the company’s website. Writing a JD for a new opening etc. etc. The idea is that if these get pushed, there’s no immediate impact. They usually keep happening in the background and either have a relaxed or no deadline.  But if forgotten or ignored, they can back-fire in a significant way and make you uncomfortable.
  • If I am there then I have to attend tasks: These are very special tasks which deserve a mention. Of late, I’ve realized that I have to do certain stuff if I am there in the office. These are usually random discussions and meetings which are bound to happen as a part of everyday work. These are completely unplanned and can take up significant time. While I wouldn’t mention examples, these tasks are usually the ones which could happen without me but if I am around, I am expected to participate. Not that I do not add value, but I could skip some of these without too much of an impact. People will manage among them somehow. Recently, I noticed that about 30-40% of such tasks can move on without me with almost no significant impact.

I have been looking for ways to improve productivity for some time now. I am trying to organize and manage work accordingly. I had to put in a focused effort on writing one of the proposals (a foreground work) so I decided to take the plunge and work from home. Here are my observations:

  • Foreground tasks:  I had to work on a critical proposal and spend quality time which is a foreground task according to our classification. I was able to spend quality time. I thought I was quite productive as well.
  • Background tasks: Although I had not planned, I was surprised that I was not only able to complete my foreground task, I was able to wrap up a couple of background tasks as well with a great deal of efficiency.
  • If I am there then I have to attend tasks: You would think I could completely stay away from these tasks. Not exactly. But then, I spent significantly less time on these in comparison to what I spend on any given day.

I was super productive.. I was able to accomplish much more than I had planned. I have the energy and enthusiasm to write this post.  And I am feeling great.

Now that I think of all this, here’s what I think I’ve learnt:

  • It is important to manage your accessibility. If you are too accessible and get-go with any random work which comes up, the productivity is bound to suffer. Even a one minute digression can cost 15-20 minutes. It takes a minute to get out of context, but it takes several minutes to get it back.
  • You can’t multi-task in a literal sense. You need to slice the time effectively.
  • Those background tasks are very important. They should not be ignored. These are the ones which will take you to the next level.
  • Try to stay away from If I am there then I have to attend as much as possible. Choose the ones which actually need you.

It is good to look things from a different vantage point once in a while. I am surprised how I could analyze my own work schedule by just changing the work conditions a little.




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Amit Srivastava

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Ankit - May 21, 2011

Once you get used to working from home, it’s tough to work in a office. There’s always too much going on around you!

Amit Srivastava - May 21, 2011

@Ankit: True. Extremes are bad. Only a balance would help I guess.


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