Balancing priorities is something we must do as part of the daily role to meet both project and business deadlines.
As the business analysis function often forms part of the early and middle stages of work, we often find that although deadlines are not always looming, other people in the project team rely on the work we do and the analysis we provide as a precursor to their part. Therefore, the importance of delivering as early as possible is vital to ensuring the critical path is as efficient as possible and not held up by the analysis work we do.
For some of you, none of the following will be revolutionary. But for those new to the field, or those finding themselves overwhelmed by workloads or delivering results the following could pay real dividends for you straight away.
Focusing on what really matters
Charting a path is often thought of as the key driver to delivering success. As the saying goes “failing to plan is planning to fail”. For me, however, there are 2 stages to this.
Firstly breaking down all the activities required and creating a to-do list is a vital component, but where the real value lies, is in a time management and value delivery technique called the ‘Power List’, but more about that soon.
We are often brought onto a piece of work or project once the business already has the desired outcome in mind. The end goal is known and we are brought in to help understand how we will get there. As a business analyst, it is often our expertise which forms the catalyst for how we achieve the results.
Analysing the current state and its strengths and weaknesses, the new requirements to achieve the desired results, the change planning, the scope of testing, and how we will measure success, are all vital components of what we do. I won't go into these but sufficed to say each one is as important and as critical as the next.
We break down each stage of our project delivery work into a list of things we need to deliver and these form the business analysis plan regardless of the methodology (agile or waterfall) or framework (Prince2, PMI etc…). Each day, each week, each project all have their own unique lists of tasks to do. Sound familiar?
The Power List
The ‘Power List’ is a simple and effective way to deliver what is really important. Each day you take your to-do list and regardless of its size you choose 1 or 2 of those items that provide the biggest value to the project. These are the tasks that you MUST get done and are the tasks you start with straight away regardless is how painful or complex they may be.
The key thing here is to not be distracted by other less important tasks. Those quick wins or small trivial tasks should all wait until your ‘Power List’ is done. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule) states that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. The ‘Power List’ is the driver for delivering the 80%. It ensures that you every day you are working on delivering the most vital component of the project.
You probably have those days in which you leave the office wondering where the time went and feeling like you achieved almost nothing despite being busy the entire day. By applying the ‘Power List’ it is almost impossible to feel like this as you are guaranteed to always be working towards the real value in your role.
Brian Tracy wrote a fantastic book on the subject entitled ‘Eat that frog’ in which he states that
‘Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it’
I often think back to my student days at university and remember getting stuck on an assignment. Rather than break it down into smaller pieces and work my way through each I would end up procrastinating and feeling overwhelmed. They when I’d be up against the clock and I’d finally got stuck in (because what other choice do you have when a deadline is fast approaching?), I realised that by just starting I would naturally overcome the barrier I had made up in my head. I’d kick myself for not doing it sooner.
I wish I had applied the power list principle back then as I’m sure I would have avoided many late nights in the library as the deadline approached.
The ‘Power List’ is the solution to delivering the most value in the shortest amount of time but without action, a plan is just a plan. The following techniques when paired with the ‘Power List’ can really make a difference and allow you to get the right things done.
A favourite technique of many and something I will often do in my daily life to ensure I’m focused on delivery and avoiding distraction is to use the Pomodoro technique. For those of you not familiar with this time management technique, it basically involves short periods of intense focus interspersed with short breaks.
For myself, 20 minutes is often the right amount of time for focus, especially in the office as being available for meetings with stakeholders or to answer questions the development teams have is vital.
I use a free app on my phone called ‘goodtime’. Although there are seemingly hundreds available, I really like the simplicity of the ‘goodtime’ app. I set the timer for 20 minutes, tap the screen to start the timer, and for the next 20 minutes, I will focus solely on one of the ‘Power List’ tasks. I won't check my phone alerts or emails or work on anything other than the task at hand. Yes, there will be distractions as someone will come to ask a question, but the timer makes refocusing on the task much easier.
The Pomodoro technique puts an end to procrastination and overthinking. It allows you to get something done immediately leaving more time to refine the work, and often simply increases motivation as mental blocks are removed simply through the art of starting.
The other technique I will use when I really need to focus is the use of binaural beats. Binaural beats are a way to use sound frequencies to put the brain into a concentration state. It works by playing two different frequencies, one in each ear. Your brain will make up the difference in frequency putting it into what is often referred to as an alpha state. For concentration, a difference of 8-12hz between two frequencies is optimal for a concentration state. There is a lot of science behind the technique but sufficed to say, it is something I have found really useful. Especially so when concentration is proving difficult due to the surroundings or tiredness. It allows your mind to get back into a focused state and helps ensure your stay productive and focus on the task at hand.
There are plenty of sources for these tracks. YouTube has thousands for free. Pop on a set of headphones and give one a try.
If you have made it this far I hope this article has proved helpful. So to summerise:
- Breakdown all your tasks into a to-do list
- Take 1 or 2 of the items on your to-do list. Those that will prove to add the most value regardless of how complex, difficult or unappealing they are.
- Work on these straight away and don’t let yourself be distracted from delivering them.
- Repeat steps 1-3 every single day and soon you and those around you will realise the incredible amount of value you are delivering.
If concentration is proving difficult or your environment often leads you to suffer from distractions that keep you from staying on track:
- Use a Pomodoro timer to help you focus intensely for short periods of time (just ensure you are taking short breaks in between).
- Use binaural beats (via headphones) to actively help your brain regain its focus on getting things done.
Getting things done is good, but getting the right things done is great, both for you, your career and the projects you are delivering.