The Dilemma … What? and When?

I don’t know about you, but I have been very busy since I started to work back in my office.

Working from home was fine but the cat and me were getting fed up with each other’s company. I could tell because the cat kept leaving home. I try not to take it personally. I even still feed her.

So, the last few weeks have been very busy. Have you noticed that when you are busy, everyone wants you to do stuff for them and inevitably, it cannot wait till you are in a quiet time. Perhaps there is a reason for this, I never have a quiet time.

The dilemma? We have a lot of excellent staff and I can delegate a lot of tasks but there are always those things that I enjoy, and I want to do. But there are only 34 hours in every day, so my dilemma is, what to do? If I cannot do everything that I want to do and enjoy doing, how do I decide which tasks that I really want to do, will have to wait. Therein lies my dilemma.

Are there a set of nice clear logical criteria that I can apply?

  1. Profit

We are all in business and one of the necessities of any business, is the creation of profit. Without profit you will not have a business for very long. I tend to subscribe to the theory that we all need a motive to be in business and that motive is not profit, but profit is a necessity just as oxygen is a necessity for life, but it is not life itself.

So, we all have a reason to be in business. I know that I do, and it has a lot to do with being in control of my own destiny, sinking or swimming by my own efforts and not pinning my colours to somebody else’s mast. But I know that we must make a profit and it is quite nice to see that in the monthly management accounts. 

But how far should profit be a motive in prioritising workload.

  • Time Limits

In our line of work there are always filing deadlines, whether it be tax returns or accounts. Failure to meet these deadlines could result in late filing penalties and very unhappy clients. So, this is something that we take very seriously. But in as much as this is part of our normal routine, it is something that I can leave others to deal with and just need to check it is done.

But what about a grant application that needs financial projections and there is a filing deadline for the application, after which the door closes, and the grant is lost. That’s a hard one, and depends on all the other criteria, and comes down to a consideration of risk, reward, and the consequences of doing or not doing the task.

  • Effect

Should I be considering what effect my next task will have either on my own fortunes or those of my client. What will be the short or long term effect of either doing or not doing that task next?

It might be that doing it will not be particularly profitable for me, but it has a major impact on the wellbeing of my client. What if I will make nothing out of it but it keeps my client trading and still in the game to fight another day?

  • The Squeaky Hinge

Sometimes I will be asked to do something which on the face of it should be low priority but in the eyes of the client, it is important. I might not necessarily agree because I can see the bigger picture and the landscape of all the tasks I could be performing. But they are quite insistent, and you feel the pressure of their demands. If I get their job out of the way, I can relax and not have to worry about the next phone call. I am sure that you will agree that this happens from time to time.

  • Positive Result

If I perform the task, will there definitely be a positive result. Is there a risk that, after putting in a lot of time and effort, working out of normal hours to get it done, that nothing might come of it, and the whole effort been in vain?

Occasionally a project comes along that I know I can influence and have a significant impact, but the final decision, the result, is out of my control. It may be that I am on a no win no fee pricing structure, and at the end of all that work, get absolutely nothing out of it.

I must admit that this is a consideration, but then it comes back to risk and reward.

  • Personal Projects

Maybe it’s a project that we are a part of and, if it works, could generate a big pay-off sometime in the distant future. These are possibly the hardest tasks to prioritise because experience has shown that most of these fledgling projects fail to fly, but this could be the one!

You want to, but should you?

Like so many decisions, the final choice is likely to come down to a consideration of a number of criteria, and at the end of the day, unlikely to be logical. You can list out all the possible tasks you could perform next, but how many of you have cold logical system for deciding which one to choose.

I have heard it said that you should choose the single most important task at that moment in time, but you still must decide on the relative importance of each one to you.

I suspect that in the absence of a single overpowering critical factor, that what it will come down to is …. you make a decision and then you use logic to justify it.

Are we logical creatures? I will leave you to ponder that question.

Alan Long

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