One of the reasons we struggle to complete all the items on our to-do list is that we aren’t sure what to do with all of them. The problem could be that we haven’t been given clear expectations for the task, we may not have all the information we need to do the task, or we may not know why we have been given the task. So let’s look at what to do in each case.
- Clear Expectations: When you are assigned a task the person delegating it to you most likely thinks they gave you everything you need to get it done properly. Unfortunately this is often not the case. When you are given an assignment, summarize your understanding of what output is expected and when it is due. If your understanding is flawed you will find out up front instead of after spending time and effort. Think in terms of X by Y (what is due by when). If you look at all assignments this way you will get clarity on what is due and what conflicts you will have.
- Lack of Information: Have you ever been asked to put together a report on something but you don’t have all the required data? When given that kind of assignment you need to ask up front who has the data you need, if you don’t know. Again, looking at it in terms of X by Y it’s critical to look at what you need, who has the information and when you need it before you get started. It is very inefficient to start a task just to have to stop again to round up the information needed to complete.
- Why Me: Sometimes we are given something to do and have no idea why we were picked to do it. If this happens to you, ask why me? It may be that your boss sees it as a development opportunity for you because it exposes you to a new part of the organization. It could be that you have past experience that makes it more efficient for you to complete the task instead of others who are newer to the topic. Maybe you have superior skills and the task needs to be done now and waiting on someone else just isn’t viable. You will never know unless you ask first. You can prioritize your work load better if you understand why you are being assigned something out of the ordinary.
Ultimately it is important to know what needs to be done, by when, and what is expected. Asking some questions up front gives you that clarity. An additional benefit of asking intelligent questions up front is that your boss will see that you are concerned with doing a good job which will grow your reputation as someone who gets things done.