Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Finding Sanity in Confusion

Confusion most commonly arises when a person is faced with one of two scenarios: 
1. The information they're working with is disorganized.
2. The volume of information is overwhelming.

It's information clutter and high workload that flummox most people, rather than insufficient qualifications or lack of experience.  

Disorganized Information

We deal with disorderly and imperfect information almost every day: You may receive batches of invoices that aren't in sequential order, blueprints with incomplete information or an ambiguous brief.

Before organizing your information or agonizing over how disarranged everything is however, first clearly identify what you want to achieve. Your objective will dictate how you organize everything...if it needs to be organized at all.  If you wish to pay the longest outstanding amounts first, then your invoices would be arranged chronologically.  If you wish to pay the highest amounts owing and pay the smaller amounts later, then you would organize them by value.

Knowing what you wish to achieve will also remedy unnecessary perfectionism.  Example, a blueprint for a component may not contain enough detail to calculate a cost, but it could be sufficient for the purposes of determining a process lineup on the factory floor.  So even if you have less than ideal information you can still get what you need out of it.

You know how to file, label and rename documents, but let your objective drive how you do it.  

Overwhelming Volume

When your task is immense, don't just start burrowing away at it.  Negotiate first, then divide and conquer.  Before commencing, discuss what's deliverable by when with any stakeholders (seniors, customers, colleagues).  Challenge each expectation and deadline.  Be pre-emptive by stating early on what you can achieve and by when.  In fact, it's good to understate what you can do each day or week so that it leaves you with room to maneuver.  This way when you and your stakeholders meet halfway it hopefully ends up being a deadline you're comfortable with.

Uncertainty is removed when all parties can agree on what is due by when.  You can then work with more peace of mind.  Your work will also be broken down into manageable lots as you work towards interim checkpoints each day or week.

Working through confusing situations is similar to solving an algebraic equation: first define what variable you wish to solve, then simplify and state the problem in terms of that variable (usually x).  Once this is done the solution becomes more apparent.  It can be tempting to attack a problem and work furiously, but some prior circumspection will simplify your task and allow sanity to prevail.

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