Prioritising and delegating

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

What should I do now? Should I stop everything I'm doing and react to this incident? What can I delegate to whom? When can I find time to code?

Many people, from different countries and different cultures ask the same questions. As a matter of fact, this questioning is not even recent. People in leadership position have been asking themselves the same kind of questions.

Ok, maybe not everyone in a leadership position in the world is looking for time to code, but the underlying question is the same: how do I find time to work on things that give me pleasure?

The Eisenhower Matrix

One of the most famous methods for prioritising and delegating dates back to the 1950’s and was proposed by Dwight Eisenhower, president of the US. He proposed the following quadrant:

The Eisenhower Matrix

This model makes a person reflect about what needs to be done, and how urgent they are, but if focus on the reality of an individual, as opposed to a team.

Why is this difference important? Because not everything that goes in my personal red quadrant should necessarily be discarded by the team. For instance, refactoring a piece of code that's currently causing minor troubles is an activity that's not urgent to me, as a lead, but is something that anyone in the team could execute later on.

A slight adaptation

What's the difference? — you might ask

First, I find it more straightforward. When I read it I immediately realise what are the things that I'm responsible and what someone else is responsible for.

Second, it matches the way my brain works. When I read a line chart, for instance, usually I expect it to grow towards its top right section. So the top right is where I expect to find the most important things on a page.

And third I've proposed it myself, so I like it better :)

Delegation creates opportunities

Once I go through the tasks I had initially thought of undertaking alone and have them prioritised, the step of delegating tasks is actually creating opportunities, both for me and people within the team.

For instance, if there's a meeting on my schedule and there's someone else in the team that feels as comfortable as myself on that domain and who also happens to be interested in getting more responsibilities, why not letting that person attend it on my behalf?

On a more extreme scenario, in the case of an outage, do I really need to stop everything I'm doing to jump into its resolution? Can't I delegate it to another person who's just as capable of handling it? This way I can focus on tasks that I can't delegate to anyone else, like thinking of how to solve a conflict within the team or give more attention to a more junior team member.

Delegating also helps me finding time to not only work on what is expected from me as a team lead, but rather on the things I love, like coding. If I delegate the preparation of a training session to someone who's willing to learn more about that topic I can actually get to do some coding and we both win.

Making it part of daily work

The best thing about working in a team is that everyone is different and has different angles and perspectives.

As a lead, your past experience will naturally push you to foresee some things, which not necessarily need to be tackled immediately. That's when having an issue tracker comes in really handy. You don't need to keep your ideas hanging on your head or on your personal "ANYONE ANYTIME" blue square.

Instead, what I usually do is creating tickets for those ideas that someone else, or anyone at all, at anytime, can be in charge of. This way, I relief myself from further load, the work gets prioritised and tackled at the proper time, while also give the team to opportunity to work on those tasks. And we all grow together.

It requires discipline

It's not easy to stop, take a step back and reflect on the ideas and tasks you have bouncing on your mind.

It takes a bit of effort and discipline to hold yourself and plan your ideas, think about other people that could benefit from them and prioritise the most urgent things.

Just give it a try. Write down on post-it's what's bothering you and have them prioritised. Focus on the things that only you can do and let me know if you felt productive, I'm interested in learning how this works for others :)

SW Engineer @ ThoughtWorks

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