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Are “Gatekeeper” Tasks Stalling Your Projects?

Are “Gatekeeper” Tasks Stalling Your Projects?

Picture this scenario: When you started your project about renewing your business website, you were full of enthusiasm. Things were looking good and you were making a good progress on every front. However, now your sky has been crowded by dark clouds. What happened was that the one crucial element of your site—the opt-in box for the site—is missing; it was supposed to be developed and installed by the web design company that has been redesigning your site.

The delay was because you forgot to mention about the opt-in functionality in the first place. Since the web design firm got the information too late, they are now unable to get the work done before your set deadline. Needless to say, you have lost your night’s sleep,and the longer the delay of your project is, the more you are going to lose customers and profits. You are disappointed and you blame yourself for the situation.

You forgot the gatekeeper

In this scenario, our character is facing a very common obstacle: he is facing a “gatekeeper” task in his project. These gatekeepers aren’t just limited to business projects, however—they can happen in your everyday life as well.

The “gatekeeper” is a task which is blocking other tasks that need to be done. In order to get other work done, you have to clear out this blocker first (for instance, you have to fix your car before you can go to the grocery store, then to the post office, and then to take your kids to football practice). Many times these gatekeepers exist because of a lack of planning and understanding of what is ahead of you. When you fail in these two elements, this may stall your progress completely.

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Additionally, a gatekeeper task can be something that has to completed by someone else before you can start your work. If the delegation process is weak and the deadlines are not clearly defined, they can turn a gatekeeper into a nasty companion until it’s taken care of.

Assuming is the mother of all mistakes

Years ago, my former boss told me and my colleagues that “assuming is prohibited”. The advice made sense and I still find it valuable. By default, a gatekeeper task is not necessarily harder than any other task, but when it’s not handled properly or early enough, it can show its ugly face and turn into a nightmare.

The problem is that you assume that you can handle the task with ease and that it requires much less effort than what it really does. You also assume that you can handle the task at the last minute, but you’re wrong.

You should know the tasks that you’re facing—whether in a business project or in your personal life—thoroughly, so you can take proactive action. Otherwise you’ll face a gatekeeper task which will drive you insane. If a task is supposed to be handled by others, it’s essential that you ensure they complete the task in time so that you can take off from there.

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Good preparation goes a long way

No matter how many times you have heard this advice, the fact is that this still holds true: take proactive action and prepare properly instead of jumping into something head first without proper planning. The planning part ensures that you understand your tasks and take appropriate action to complete them. It doesn’t matter if you think that you are wasting your time with the planning part; it could save you many hours in the long run.

If you see that a task requires someone else’s input before you can continue, make sure that this task is prioritized first and that they have a clearly-defined deadline. The same principle can be applied to a situation in which you have to take care of the gatekeeper task yourself: make sure that task is on top of your task list and that it’s taken care of first.

Finally, break the task into manageable pieces. This way it’s easier for you to see which tasks could be potentially blocking others, or if a task requires someone’s input before it can be completed.

How to manage the gatekeepers effortlessly

To tackle the gatekeeper tasks with ease, follow these simple steps:

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1. Don’t assume. First and foremost, don’t assume anything when it comes to taking care of your tasks. If you assume that you know your tasks and how much effort is required to complete them—instead of truly knowing— you are giving a task the opportunity to turn into something that stalls your progress (whether in a business project or in your personal life).

2. Be proactive. Learn what’s ahead of you and identify the tasks that could be potential gatekeepers, or the tasks that require another’s input first. When you do this, you are also mentally prepared to what is coming (the fewer surprises, the better).

3. Break up the task.  Avoid having tasks that are too big on your list— it increases the likelihood that one could turn out to be a gatekeeper task that you notice too late. Once the task is broken into smaller parts, it’s much easier to see which should be dealt with first and if any job will potentially block another.

4. Prioritize. Once you have broken the tasks into small pieces, it’s time to prioritize them. Make sure that gatekeepers get your primary attention, and that they get handled first.

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5. Set deadlines. If a task is done by someone else, make sure you set the clear deadlines so that they know when you want the work completed. If you are doing the job yourself, you can set the deadlines for yourself as well. This way those blocker tasks get done in a timely manner, without any nasty surprises.

Conclusion

As you can see, gatekeeper tasks can drive you crazy if you are not proactive and don’t plan ahead. However, with some preparation and planning, you can prevent the nasty surprises from happening.

Over to you:  How do you handle gatekeeper tasks?

 

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Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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