Blog Post

How to Manage the Uncontrollable and Get More Done

rollercoasterIf you read Aliza’s post outlining the five best web working lessons she’s learned so far, you might have noticed a trend: all of those lessons were focused on control.

For the web worker who works remotely, relies on someone else’s technology, and/or needs to coordinate disparate, diverse inputs to some kind of timeframe and standard of quality, control is always going to be an issue.

Accepting the Limits

We’ve all had those times when an erroneous keystroke has undone hours (if not days or even months) of toil. The times when we’ve missed a deadline due to power outage or loss of Internet connectivity. The times when someone or something we needed urgently were simply unobtainable.

The nuances of web work dictate that we need to be able to relinquish our need for total control, because the environment in which we operate will not support such a goal. In some way, every new tool that’s released is designed to give users a feeling of greater control over what they’re doing. But the reality is that no matter how well you’ve bookmarked an article, uploaded a file, or composed that email, if the service, your web connection, or your contacts are offline for any reason, or a necessary device is out of power, it’s no good.

Perhaps rather than adopting the latest carefully-devised productivity philosophy or downloading a new work tool, we should accept that total control is impossible — we should let go of that idea. Then, we should work out the ways in which we might be able to influence our work success within a context of very limited control.

Managing the Uncontrollable

Of course, those cool apps we all subscribe to have their purposes. But there are other approaches we can take to help manage our work processes to take account of the uncontrollable.

  • Delegation. Aliza mentions the importance of learning to delegate in her post. Recognizing and accepting the unique capabilities of each of the individuals you work with is the first step in learning to delegate effectively. Leaving them to do the work while you attend to other tasks, on the other hand, may take a little practice.
  • Plan for unavailability. Web workers tend to be good preplanners, saving valuable information using decentralized means, backing up their work product, and operating around colleagues’ various commitments, timezone differences, and so on. But it’s also good to plan for the possible unavailability of services, people, and resources at any given time. If this means you need to get things done ahead of time, expand your remote work kit, or confirm and re-confirm the details of meetings, processes, and project plans, so be it. Perhaps, if you feel unconvinced about the reliability of an arrangement (a site, a meeting service, etc.) you’ll make your own contingency plans, just to be on the safe side.
  • Accept the limitations of an offsite life. There’s no point getting frustrated that a contact’s not available, or that you left that important file that you need for your ten o’clock meeting in your home office. We need to accept that, as web workers, we must be super-organized and plan ahead. So make sure you have everything you need for a day on the road the night before. Don’t leave it to the last minute before you try to get in touch with a contact who has an input you need for your project. If you’re in a bind, don’t panic (too much). Remember that you’re at a the mercy of the online environment, and you can’t control everything. Then try to think laterally about how you could solve your problem.
  • Learn when to step up and take the lead. We all know there are times when teams lack leadership, people place too much faith in the system, and we find ourselves in a train wreck waiting to happen. If you feel uneasy about the way a project’s going, think about what you can do to make yourself more at ease. This doesn’t have to necessitate your taking responsibility for the whole project, or taking control of aspects of the job that are beyond your sphere. But in some cases we can help work tasks happen more smoothly if we accept a little more responsibility. It can be hard to tread the fine line between responsibility and control; the key is to know and accept the point where your responsibility ends.

Are you a control freak? How do you handle the aspects of your web work that are beyond your control?

One Response to “How to Manage the Uncontrollable and Get More Done”

  1. I think the first point you made is the one that hits home the most with me. Sometimes when working as a freelancer you find that you think you are invincible and your time is unlimited. A month later when you can barely see out of your left eye, you realize there’s only so much you can get done in a day – and not much you can do with things left out of your control. Plan, plan, plan, and then work that plan with the contstraints of a normal work day!