The Winchester Imperative

Major Charles Emerson Winchester III was a fictional character on one of my all time favorite shows, M*A*S*H. While he had many memorable scenes, the one that I remember best is the first episode he is introduced. Winchester was sent to the 4077th to assist while they were short handed, and he was not used to the incredibly hectic pace that the doctors needed to work at to save the lives of the wounded. The doctors tried to prod Winchester to move faster, but he responded with a line that’s been echoing in my mind lately.

I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.

You really don’t know how your workflow will stand up until you have more to do than you can handle. Since joining T8, I’ve felt a little like Winchester, but instead of keeping his resolve, I’ve felt my workflow crumble as I move into reactive mode. Instead of planning my work, and addressing one task at a time, doing it very well, and moving on, I’ve been responding to an increasingly complex influx of information. This does not put me in a position to do my best work.

Of course, this is no ones fault by my own, and a problem I intend to address immediately. A cursory glance at my work situation would indicate that I’m a perfect candidate for Getting Things Done. I’ve read the book, and I have a system which centers around The Hit List, but the system only works if you put everything in it. For example, I have tasks which require my attention that are entered into the shared task management/bug tracker system, and tasks assigned from the customer-facing ticketing system, and email, and phone calls, and face to face talks. My system started to break down as soon as I had more than one place to check for tasks. If I’m checking email, as well as the ticketing systems, as well as The Hit List, than requests for my time are not being appropriately prioritized. But, as they say, recognizing the problem is half the battle.

So, here is my plan of attack for the next week or so:

  1. Check email at 7, 10, 1, and 4. If something is urgent and needs my attention immediately, it would come over my phone.
  2. Check the ticketing systems immediately after email, pull anything needing my attention into The Hit List.
  3. Prioritize, then break projects into their own lists
  4. Assign a due date to each task.
  5. Go to the top of the “Due Today” list, and get it done.

Step three above is easy to overlook, but is vitally important. I’m purposefully scheduling time to think. Thinking critically about my work is necessary. I not only need to prioritize each thought that appears in my inbox, I need to be able to discern what it is that each task is actually asking of me. I need this information before I can get to step five, which I call the “Winchester Imperative”: do one task at a time, do it very well, and then move on.

I will be using this new schedule starting tomorrow. If it works well, I should have more time, and more cognitive resources available, to post an update to how it is going.