One by One
January 9, 2004
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Over the years I am sure you have experienced
the “never-ending project”—a project, program, or issue
that never seems to get finished or resolved. These problems
linger from year to year and no one ever seems to find a solution. Worse
still, the longer they linger the worse they get. People get angrier,
recriminations become nastier and the problem becomes even more intractable.
If you want to keep your high-tech career on track, you need to face these
never-ending issues head on. It won’t be easy, but it can prevent
these issues from haunting you and your career from year to year.
Last week I encouraged you to spend some time developing a list of all
your major issues for the coming year. If you did this, I am sure you
found plenty of never-ending projects mixed in among the more mundane
problems. Perhaps your backup system is at full capacity and needs more
space or the printer servers throughout the company need replacing. Whatever
the issue, you can’t ignore it. Sure, there are simpler problems
to solve. They look more attractive because they are easier to solve.
You can spend a few minutes and get the satisfaction of marking something
off your “to-do” list. Still, these larger issues will loom
in the background, hounding your steps and getting more problematical
at the worst possible moment. I have seen this happen in every company
for which I have worked. The larger issues languish until some crisis
forces you to deal with them.
The first step with any large problem is to find the next, direct action
that needs to be taken on the project. What is the very next step? If
you need a new backup system, then you probably need to research the available
options? Perhaps you need to go back even farther, though. Maybe you need
to re-evaluate what data you are storing. Are you backing up gigabytes
of software when you really only need the data? Has the structure of your
data made it impossible to backup only what is needed? So, perhaps the
next step is actually more a review of what you are doing, instead of
doing more of the same.
(For further information on this concept, pick up a copy of David Allen’s,
Things Done. This book con assist you in developing the ideas mentioned
here into a complete organizational system.)
I know of no project that can’t benefit from a little more thinking.
Sometimes we get so biased towards action that we “do” something
before we really know what needs to be done. Take some time to think about
the next action on your project before jumping in. I think you will find
that what you thought was needed is not what was needed at all.
Each and every one
Once you have found the next action for the first project on your list,
you need to do the same for every other project. Each and every one should
have a concrete step that you can address. In this way, you can make more
progress on each and every project merely by accomplishing the next action
for one. You aren’t trying to complete the entire project in one
move. You are nibbling away at the problem one step at a time. Even more,
you are addressing these problems concurrently with one another. No project
is taking all your time and all your energy. You will find that projects
that have been stalled for months, or even years, will suddenly start
to move forward again. It is truly the small steps that lead you to big
progress. Even better, if you use this method to begin new projects, it
can help to prevent them from turning into the never-ending projects of
Don’t let difficult projects bog down your job and your career.
Taking each project one step at a time is the best way to ensure continued
progress no matter how many projects you have or how difficult they might
seem. It is in your own best interest to develop a method for dealing
with your projects instead of letting your projects dictate your work