Apr 10, 2020

The ONE strategy to improve the quality of your work

This epiphany struck me one night while I was scrubbing the kitchen sink after washing a pot load of dishes. What does the job "washing dishes" entail? Does it only mean washing the dishes in the kitchen sink? What's the process one typically follows to make sure this task is complete?
  1. Keep the dishes that were washed in the afternoon in their respective places in the kitchen cupboards
  2. Fill the bowl with dish wash liquid/soap
  3. Bring all the dishes that are lying on the kitchen counter which are to be washed 
  4. Wash the dishes
  5. Wash the scrubbing pads that were used to wash the dishes
  6. Scrub the sink and remove all the dirt/grime
  7. Put the sink knob and cover the outlet
As you can notice, there are always a few tasks that need to be done before and after the main task. 

For any task, visualizing the workflow helps us to understand this pre-/post- tasks better. For critical projects, most of us plan ahead and break down the job at hand into these individual tasks. But I believe such an approach is needed for even the mundane tasks at work and at home. Maybe, it's my Virgo instinct coming to play 😉

This mindset of before/after thinking has a tremendous impact on the quality of any work we do. Focusing ONLY on the main task and ignoring these pre-/post- tasks eventually lead to stress and possible conflict both internally and externally.

Let me illustrate this with a few more examples:
Cooking a meal
  1. Check the available ingredients
  2. Decide on what to make
  3. Chop the vegetables / prep the ingredients
  4. Cook the dish(es)
  5. Throw the vegetable peels into the trash can
  6. Keep the spice boxes and other containers in their respective places
  7. Wipe the kitchen countertop
  8. Keep the dishes to be washed in the sink

Delivering a talk
  1. Decide on a topic to talk about
  2. Brainstorm a possible outline
  3. Put up a structure
  4. Gather the required materials
  5. Finalize the flow of the talk
  6. Work on the visuals (ppt)
  7. Copy the completed deck onto a flash drive / Send the deck to organizers
  8. Deliver the talk
  9. Answer the questions post the talk
  10. Do a self-retrospective on what went well, what didn't
  11. Make notes on the kind of questions that were asked and possible areas to explore

Initiate a meeting
  1. Understand the intent/objective of this meeting required
  2. Identify who you need to talk to
  3. Research on the context 
  4. Send a mailer / invite to the required person(s) with possible availability time slots
  5. Share objective and set the context for the meeting using a 1-pager writeup
  6. Start the meeting
  7. Listen intently, make notes, clarify questions, note down things that you would get back to
  8. Identify the next action items from all stakeholders
  9. End the meeting
  10. Send meeting minutes with discussed points, open items, dependencies and next action items
  11. Setup a followup meeting if needed
  12. Self-introspect on whether the objective of the meeting was achieved and if not, why?
    This might sound like a lot of work to do, but trust me, it is only a mindset shift. 
Planning ahead and retrospecting after the job is complete is as important as working on the main task. Most of the time, our minds are fixated on the main task so much that we don't allocate enough mind space for the before- and after- tasks. 

How does this practice of before/after thinking help?
  1. It enables us to become more aware and more mindful of our actions
  2. We think through the possibilities beforehand and end up being well prepared. We aren't caught by surprise (most of the times)
  3. We learn from our own mistakes, which would directly impact the quality of any work we do
If you would like to try out this strategy, 
Pick up any one task that you are supposed to do. Think through the steps involved. What do you need to do before starting the actual task? What do you need to do after the actual task is completed? Jot down the to-dos in a journal/notepad/todo app. After completing the task, introspect in a journal/notepad/notes app on what went well and what didn't. Try this out for one task tomorrow. 

Do you practice this form of before/after thinking? How has it helped you? Do share in the comments below.


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