Offputting

September 28, 2012

There are many different shapes of procrastination:

The evil toad: You have one big, important, and difficult item on your to-do list, and it squats there glowering at you while you do everything else on your list in the hope of distracting your mind from it, but you can find no satisfaction in any of your other achievements while the black hole of guilt is still there.

The fake toad: You have one big, unimportant and probably long-deferred item on your to-do list, and it functions as a decoy from which to procrastinate by doing all the actually-more-important little things.

The tangled web: You know you’re supposed to be doing X, but you convince yourself that you can always say that you were doing Y (which also needs doing) instead, while actually avoiding both and doing Z (which may or may not need doing), with the result that you not only haven’t done X but you now also have to fit Y in somewhere as well if your story is going to hold water.

The void: You know there are things you need to do, but all you seem to be able to do is click refresh on Twitter, Facebook, email … maybe just one quick game of solitaire before you start on the important tasks … and before you know it several hours have passed and you’re no closer to doing the things that need doing.

The bouncing ball: You have a task that’s sat in your inbox or at the top of your to-do list for weeks, and it seems impossible to start it now, out of the blue, without any kind of trigger or marker or change to your circumstances; you need to give the task some kind of momentum again, so you can feel like you’re returning the ball rather than fishing it out of a stagnant pond. In order to do this, you phone or email someone else who’s involved in the project and ask something vague like “Can I just check where we are with this?”

Sound familiar? Can you think of any more?

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Communication breakdown

September 20, 2012

Two separate small annoyances the other day revealed a host of deeper issues with internal communications structures:

  • Colleague A emailed our departmental ‘chat’ mailing list (we have two all-department mailing lists, one for ‘chat’ and one for ‘work’) saying that he needed someone to “make a change to the DNS” to redirect from one URL to another. His email ended, rather desperately, “Can somebody help?” Colleague B then followed up to this email (moving the discussion to the ‘work’ list) to say that what A meant to ask for was an HTTP redirect.
  • Colleague C, from another department, emailed me asking me to forward an email to a University-wide mailing list for web managers. I used to administer the list when I was part of the webmaster team, 3 years ago; I still have posting rights but I’m not really responsible for the list any more, so I forwarded C’s request to the appropriate role email address so that someone from the webmaster team could deal with the request via our ticketing system. In the course of the subsequent correspondence on the ticket (visible to everyone in the department) I learned that C had been told to email me directly by someone who is explicitly responsible for managing internal communications.

Exercise for the reader: how many separate communications problems can you identify here? Or do you think it’s all part of one big problem?