How to Keep Moving in a “Hurry Up and Wait” Work Culture
Anytime we work with people, there will be times when it feels like our work comes to a screeching halt because we’re waiting on a decision. Or an answer. Or approval. Or a passed budget or a congregational vote or a senior leadership conversation or for Ron to get back from vacation and how much time off does that guy need, anyway?
Most of the time, the waiting can be chalked up to good rationale and reasonable timelines.
But if you’re like me, that waiting game can set off a chain reaction where I choose to stare at my screen or shuffle papers or twiddle my thumbs instead of actually getting other work done while I wait.
So how do we maintain a modicum of productivity while we wait for Ron to get back from his fishing trip? For me, there are at least four ways:
1. Avoid your co-worker’s slow lane.
Every single one of us has a slow lane: the communication method that causes your workflow to grind to a halt. Maybe you know what that is for your team: for some, they’ll never listen to a voicemail. Others will put you in inbox jail. Still others seem to always forget to reply to a text.
So figure out their preferred gateway, and use it to your advantage. Instead of sending an email, pick up the phone. Instead of scheduling a meeting, have 30 second conversation by the coffee pot.
2. Issue a (reasonable) deadline.
Ask your co-worker or boss or elder team, “Is it reasonable to get your answer by next Thursday?” There may be reasons why they can’t, and if that’s the case, you’ll find out what is reasonable.
But remember that your deadlines aren’t the only thing weighing on their shoulders. So let them tell you what’s reasonable. And don’t make crazy demands that they can’t fulfill.
3. Develop systems to remind yourself.
One sure-fire way to grind to a halt is to ask a question or set a deadline and then forget all about it (ask me how I may or may not know this from personal experience). Put a follow-up reminder on your calendar or to-do list. Snooze your email conversation to pop up at a later date, keep a list of open loops that need to be closed, or even utilize the humble Post-It Note stuck to your monitor.
4. Show grace in your pace.
Remember that your deadlines probably matter way more to you than the other person. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that they have other things cooking.
(This is a good time to ask, “Is this issue worthy of this person’s time and attention at this moment?” Your issue doesn’t necessarily need to be their issue, and it certainly may not be their most important issue. Perhaps you’ll discover that you can bypass that person altogether, delay your project until a later time, or bring them in closer to help chart the course.)
So yes – reach out with a reminder – but do so in a way that honors the person and keeps them from feeling like yet another task you’re trying to check off.
Better yet, give yourself a longer runway than you actually need, so by the time you follow up with the co-worker, you still have margin to get the project done.
What are the ways that you maintain momentum in a “hurry up and wait” environment?
Thanks to Anna Murphy for helping craft some key ideas in this post.