Mar 22, 2011

Methodically removing balls from the air

Ever feel like you are working on so many responsibilities and immediate deliverables at once? It can be just like you are simultaneously juggling many balls in the air. This can happen in the "functional service areas" like analytics.

The key is to focus on getting items completed, one by one. Not on getting overwhelmed with the total set. Each completed and transitioned result will provide satisfaction for oneself and one's "clients."

But how to choose which one to complete first? You need some kind of "greedy algorithm:"
- first in, first out?
- nearest to the deadlines?
- easiest to get over with?
- task with the most pressure and stress attached?

The "greedy heuristic" you choose for getting the first one off your plate may be up to you, or handed to you.

As you plow through your list of tasks, some might be thorny, and need a new perspective, even a chance to put aside and "sleep on it" before solving.

I remember fondly my days on the high school mathematics team when there was a book called: How to Solve it, by George Polya It gave great problem solving techniques for seeing mathematical puzzles and theorems from a new perspective.
Examples of these techniques are:

* break into sub-problems, relate these to each other, and solve the core sub-problem.
* draw diagrams to represent the core issue
* apply a rotation, or a transformation, so the relevant dimension is more obvious
* find an analogous problem and solve that.

For the technically and mathematically inclined, this is a paperback investment well worth it.