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The Other Bucket
You need a way to handle unusual tasks, or else they will overwhelm you.
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Everyone has a place in their house that is the home of random stuff. Sometimes it’s a drawer, sometimes a box, but everyone has this place. If you don’t know where to put something, it goes in there.
Why does everyone have one?
In any organizational system, no matter how rigorous, there will be many things that don’t fit nicely into the categories you create. For example, are capris shorts or pants? When something doesn’t fit into your system, you have a few choices:
Re-structure the organizational system to make room for a new category
Have a catch-all “Other” category and stick it there
If you spent the effort to reorganize everything whenever something didn’t fit you would waste a huge amount of time. As a result, it’s easier to just do #2 and have a drawer to put anything that doesn’t fit.
This applies to business as well! No matter how well you lay out your organizational structure and processes, there will be many tasks and events that don’t fit well. It will be unclear who is responsible for handling it, or how it should be handled.
If you don’t have a way to catch these outliers, they will move up the org chart as far as possible. Many CEOs complain about the constant barrage of small, detail oriented tasks that distract and waste their time. Why do these small things ever make it to the CEO? Because they didn’t fit into the organization or processes. They didn’t fit the system.
If you want to retain your sanity as a leader, you need the organizational equivalent of the “Other” bucket. Somewhere that things go which don’t fit nicely into your processes and structure. You have a few options, your bucket can be people, process or time.
The People Bucket
The best solution is to have a team whose job it is to handle these things. This is typically the operation team (see The Ties That Bind Us), and their job is to make sure the business is operating. That means handling all of these in-betweens.
Whether you have a full operations team or a single operations person, they focus on the interactions between the functions at your company and that is where these “other” things typically arise. A great operations person will handle them without you even knowing.
At what stage should you hire your first operations person? For me, it’s as early as possible as I really dislike interruptions.
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The Process Bucket
Not all companies or organizations are big enough to have a dedicated operations team. In these cases you need to put together an exception process so your teams know how to handle exceptional things.
The most common form of this is a collective task list that has rotating ownership among the team. You see this often in customer support, where customer tickets that fall outside of normal requests are gathered in a common inbox and the team rotates who handles them.
There are many other options, including escalation procedures, and the right solution depends on your team and how they operate. The critical thing is that the exception process is written down so that no one wastes time trying to figure out what to do.
The Time Bucket
Some companies and organizations are so small that even a process is too much. In these cases as a leader, they will always fall to you. If you let them pop up whenever they want, your schedule will be dominated by interruptions.
Instead, take control by setting aside dedicated time on your calendar to deal with them. You handle as many as possible in the small time you have, and anything you can’t cover waits for the same slot next week. Anything urgent you’ll take care of quickly, and anything not important can wait anyway.
This isn’t ideal as it still distracts you as a leader, but at least you control and isolate the distraction.
What About Leaks
Regardless of which bucket you choose, things will fall out of it. That is why we have leaders, after all, since the buck needs to stop somewhere. You will have random things fall through the cracks and end up on your plate.
But, if you have already set up your “Other” bucket, it should happen rarely enough that maybe you’ll see it as a welcome distraction. Or perhaps not.
For more on Organizational Design and Planning, see:
Company Culture is a valuable management tool
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