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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?

 

 

More by this author

Timo Kiander

Productivity Author and Founder of Productive Superdad

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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