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Task and Management Update

I haven’t written a blog article in about seven months. It has been about a year since I optimistically wrote “The Great Untasking“. Here’s an update of that graph. Big-picture, little has changed:

The “total queue” seems to be on average 280 items. “Days overdue” seems to be on average a month. Both series are structurally higher than prior to our first full-time hire in late 2016. This hire, which was the cause of so much optimism, gradually reduced their full-time hours until finally they went on full-time leave. This was for personal reasons, and we don’t begrudge them it. I was too cautious/optimistic in waiting for their bandwidth to return; MassLandlords should have re-hired much sooner.

We hired that one person full time before we should have. A single full-time hire leaves one vulnerable to changing bandwidth and personal circumstance. We have since hired four part-time people to replace the one on leave, and have been cross-training them in essential operations. We are now more immune to key personnel departures.

Despite the graph moving in the wrong direction, there are reasons to be optimistic. The new hiring process we used successfully identified new team members with the right skills, and took very little of our time. For the first time, I perceive my personal inbox to no longer be growing even with minimal attention. At time of writing, the inbox represents 188 items and 32 days’ worth of queue, no small percentage of the above backlog. So any day now, when I process that inbox down, we may realize what becomes a new structural low.

Types of Work

This graph shows the types of activities where I spend my time. There are three possibilities:

  • Individual contributor (IC; I am doing work that theoretically could be hired for)
  • Leveraged management (LM; I am working with or specifically to enable another team member)
  • Strategy and analysis (SA; I am stepping back to think about what is happening or should happen)

You can see when the MassLandlords employee went on leave in January, I realized I needed to change what I was doing. I spent much more time on the MassLandlords hiring process, and on our four part-time hires, and have prioritized keeping them busy. I don’t know how high I can drive the leveraged management bar, but the goal is that IC should go down to zero. If it can be hired for, we hope to hire for it.

Split Between Projects

This graph shows the split between my projects:

  • “MTL 7” includes running the house and shopping for a new property (it ought to be renamed from “MTL 7” to “real estate”)
  • “RH” is RentHelper
  • “ML” is MassLandlords
  • “Personal” is other unsorted work stuff like this blog

The real estate portion has been climbing because of the sudden vacancy, a renovation, and some open houses (maybe we’ll buy something). The real estate portion could fall back to long-term levels once the vacancy is filled if we don’t buy anything. Or we could buy a new property and it could climb.

RentHelper is not getting the attention it needs.

Overall, with the exception of the most recent week, I’m more engaged with my work than in the 2017 timeframe (more hours worked each week on average).

Expediting

In the absence of any real “stepping back” to reevaluate what I’ve been doing, I’ve resorted to the trap of expediting. In the reminder system, some things are tagged as “must happen today.” For instance, each team member gets a “must happen today” reminder to address any remaining emails or overdue tasks at least once a week; 13 ticklers are related to team members. This effectively limits the time they’re waiting for my input on routine matters; they all get expedited answers by chatting or messaging me when they need it.

The rest of the priority ticklers are almost all related to cashflow management, taxes,and billpay. These are all tedious and you would think I could eliminate them, but the consequences of a possible mess-up have prevented me from delegating these.

The final ticklers are about reinforcing priorities. For instance, I purposefully work on the MassLandlords newsletter, MassLandlords events, and RentHelper lead nurturing ahead of older items in the queue.

The problem with expediting is that the queue keeps growing. So until I can work this list of priority ticklers down to zero, we shouldn’t expect to see the task queue decrease. I briefly experimented with eliminating the team-oriented ticklers, but as I wasn’t able to stay at inbox zero, I found our team became unreasonably delayed waiting for my input. So I added them back in.

If we’re thinking about structural issues, the major issues are certainly distractions from what will drive progress. A negative example: a MassLandlords contract partner felt threatened by our ascendancy and stated they would sue us; we offered to discuss and settle, they said no. A positive example: I was invited by the City of Worcester to participate in a task force for housing-first solutions to chronic homelessness; I said yes. None of the work I do on either of those will move the needle on these graphs, but the work needed to be done, both for our long-term well-being and for the public. So it goes.


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