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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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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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