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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?