This question may seem a bit out of the ordinary to some people, since our days are increasingly filled with productivity hacks to get the most out of our working hours and achieve all the tasks assigned to us and more. We have things to accomplish, right? A clear workload and jobs laid out that are our responsibility to get done. So we work hard, following the processes, and after hours of hard labour and focused attention–voilà!–task complete! Usually this is followed by a self-congratulatory back slap, feather ruffle, and a great sense of pride and accomplishment.
At least, that’s how I felt last week after knocking over an important task that was a key step in achieving a larger goal. I had been working myself up to this particular task for about a week, as I knew it would be tough given my lack of knowledge and skills in IT, and I just wanted to get it done and move on with the important stuff. I was focused on the next step, which I perceived as being more impactful, and this job was a necessary evil in getting there. This task took me days of effort, muddling through a mountain of online tech tutorials for foreign software programs, watching demo videos and integrating sites left, right and centre. Not having a tech background, you could imagine how relieved I felt at ending this misery, and FINALLY accomplishing this task that would allow the rest of the project to flow. Needless to say, I was extremely chuffed with myself and started thinking I was a bit of a tech whiz after all.
That is, until I realized that I had followed the wrong set of instructions and ended up with an end product that was NOT what I actually needed! The heartbreak was real. Through the pain of this realization, the irony of the situation struck hard – I had followed every tutorial, every demo video, every chat bot’s supportive instructions to a T – in essence, executing the process perfectly, only to realise that it was the wrong end product! I had integrated the wrong sites and consequently, had essentially lost my business’s website somewhere out in the ether. Far from ideal! It was back to the drawing board to figure out exactly what the issue was and at what point I had taken a turn in the wrong direction (about step 2 of 50, it turns out). Another day spent buried in tech support, and finally I had what I needed; it would have been much simpler actually, if I’d have followed the right processes in the first place.
And this got me thinking, how many times had I done this in the past? How many times had I blindly followed processes and instructions to just get tasks done, without double-checking that I was following the right instructions, or heading in the right direction towards the desired goal? Were the tasks anchored to a specific outcome? My answer – many more times than I’d like to admit. Although I had followed the process perfectly, it hadn’t provided me the outcome that I desired. Redoing the task following the right procedures did. As I found out firsthand, it’s easy to get caught up in the process, feeling productive at ticking tasks off the list and immediately moving on to the next ones without looking up for an orientation check.
This could be applied in many different industries and situations. Quite often in our professional sphere we are very task-focused and don’t pause often enough to ensure that the work we are producing is truly productive, in the sense that it is the right process that will allow us to achieve the outcome we desire, the first time around. This is real efficiency, not blindly flying through 10 tasks on our lists each day.
It is a similar application in sport. An athlete sets a performance goal, makes a plan with their coach to achieve this at some time in the future, and sets about the process to make the performance goal a reality. But what if they work on the wrong process? What if they are focusing on correcting a particular technical element, that is actually not the right thing to be concentrating on? What if they should be focusing on developing a different movement pattern? They may do great technical drills, work on specific exercises in the gym, and complete specially designed training sessions, but if they are not working on the right technical element, then no matter how perfectly they execute, it will not stack up to a good performance on race day that achieves their desired goal.
No matter what industry you’re in, I am sure that you can think of a few examples when you have experienced this. The question is, what types of checks and balances are you going to install in your work flow to ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future? How will you know that the next time you begin a task, you will be either building on or starting a process that will lead you directly to achieving your desired outcome? Remember, setting a goal and designing a process to get there is all well and good; making sure that the specific tasks involved in the process achieve the desired outcome is the key.