Warning: Do You Have an Iceberg on Your Task List?

Does this scenario sound familiar: You have a task on your list and you think it’s a piece of cake.

You start working on the task just a little in advance of its deadline and then the first issue comes up.

You manage to solve it, but then another issue comes up … and another and another.

Eventually you finish the task, but instead of spending 45 minutes on it as you planned, you spent almost 8 hours tackling the various problems that came along.

You thought that the task was just a handful of work – but instead, it turned out to be a very stressful experience.

You barely got it done before the deadline.

On top of that, the unexpected workload completely messed up your personal plans.

Instead of spending time with your family or your friends, you were working extra hours on a task that was supposed to be a piece of cake.

Iceberg in Sight! Iceberg in Sight!

Do you realize what just happened? The iceberg caught you off guard!

“Iceberg?” you ask.

Yes. Let me explain what I mean. Icebergs are pieces of ice floating on water and their size varies greatly.

There are small and large icebergs, but for the sake of explaining this, let’s focus on the bigger ones.

Icebergs can be deceiving, because what you see above water level is only the visible part of it.

However, in some cases the iceberg could be a huge ice mountain, where the majority of its size is hidden underwater.

Do you now see the connection between a iceberg and those certain types of tasks on your to do list?

The task may look insignificant outside, but there is so much more to it than you think.

It’s the hidden part that fools us into underestimating a task and promises an unrealistic optimistic timetable for finishing it.

Do You Really Know What is Ahead of You?

Don’t be one of those cocky people who never bothers to find out more details of their task, because they think they know what’s ahead of them.

It’s the lack of preparation which causes issues down the road. Especially if the task is something you have never done before, this kind of attitude is very dangerous and it could mess your schedule up completely.

Finally, when you don’t find out more about your task in advance, you are letting Parkinson’s Law step in: You think that you can accomplish a task very easily and you decide to postpone the start of it.

Eventually when you start working on a task (just before deadline) and an iceberg hits you, you are going to have a hard time finishing the task before the set date.

Smart Navigation to the Rescue

So, how do you prevent the iceberg effect from occurring?

By preparing, planning and adding a buffer to your time estimation.

First of all, do you have any kind of idea what type of task you are dealing with? If the task is something you have done already, then the risk for hitting an iceberg is much lower because you know what to expect.

However, if you are attempting a task for the first time then it’s time to do some homework – well in advance.

When you know that you have a new and unknown task coming, allocate time immediately to know about it a bit better. Once you have gathered some background information first, you at least have some idea of what to expect.

Also if possible, add extra buffers for your time estimation. If this task was assigned to you by someone else, it’s fair to say to him/her that you haven’t done this kind of task before and giving an exact schedule is not possible.

By doing this, you are keeping up-to-date with real schedules (instead of overly optimistic ones) and it is a good way to keep everyone’s expectations on the same page.

Finally, take some notes and create a system. Once you pull off the task you never done before, it is so much easier and faster to do it the next time. But to truly maximize your time on the next project, create a system to follow and apply that system the next time the task needs to be completed.

6 Ways to Get Rid of Those Icy Giants for Good

In order to avoid those icebergs in the future, take these steps:

  1. Ditch your cocky attitude. Especially if this is a new task you have never attempted before, don’t expect to understand how much work there is involved. Giving overly optimistic timetables at this point is just plain silly.
  2. Allocate time for preparation and studying. If you know that this new and unfamiliar task is coming soon, make sure that you learn more about it in advance. You could even set time aside to really dive deep into what the task entails.
  3. Split the sucker. If you realize that this task is a big one, split it into manageable pieces and schedule the execution in your calendar. Tackling the task this way gives you a feeling of being in control – instead of being a passenger.
  4. Start working on the task as soon as possible. Don’t let Parkinson’s Law get you. If you underestimate your task and start working on it too late, you are going to have a hard time meeting the deadline.
  5. Communicate properly. Let every party involved in the task know that you haven’t done anything like this before and that you may need some extra time for completing the task. This way no one has unrealistic expectations of you for when the task should be ready.
  6. Create a system. Record each and every step you took and you can even take notes on how long a particular step took to accomplish.

If you do the task again in the future, you have a much better way of estimating how much time it is going to take to finish it.

Conclusion

It is very easy to underestimate a new and unknown task and think that it’s piece of cake to get done.

Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily so and you will soon be bargaining your agreed deadline with your client, workers, or partners.

By following the steps laid out in this article, you will be on top of things and there is much less chance of becoming a victim of the dreaded iceberg effect.

It takes just some planning in advance and dumping the cocky attitude out into the sea along with the rest of the icebergs :)

Now it’s your turn: Have you encountered “iceberg tasks”? How did you tackle them? Please share your tips in the comments area!

Written on 10/24/2012 by Timo Kiander. Timo, a.k.a. Productive Superdad, teaches WAHD superdad productivity for work at home dads. If you want to get more productive in your own life, grab 222 of his best Tips for Becoming a Productivity Superstar. Photo Credit:
Natalie
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