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Planning versus pressure

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

As a big fan of the MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator), I tend to both consciously and subconsciously filter much of what I experience through the four dichotomies, as a potential means for understanding behaviours, and as a challenge to some of the underlying principles behind the model. The dichotomy that has been at the forefront of my mind recently has been the “J-P” (Judging - Perceiving) one, that essentially looks at how things get done.

I’ve completed the questionnaire many times over now, and (as should be the case if the hypothesis behind it is correct) have always come out with the same answer, with broadly the same degree of clarity for each of the choices. One that always comes out with crystal clarity is the fact that I fall firmly into the Perceiving preference camp.

The implications of this have become startlingly obvious recently. I’ve know for some time now that this week was going to be particularly busy, with three days client training courses, and a lot of preparation to do for the courses that have been crammed into the forthcoming two weeks (end of the “credit crunch”?).

Yesterday, I ran a really well-received day for North Yorkshire Police, which is being repeated on Friday. I’ve spent lots and lots of time running through what I was going to cover, and the way I was going to cover it, in my own mind, with colleagues, and in meetings with the client, to ensure that we delivered exactly the training they were after. But the final hurdle for me was still the same - the physical preparation of the slides, materials and documentation.

It is tempting to blame the fact that I started and finished the physical preparation for the course on Sunday night (between 9pm and 1am) on the fact that I was running on Saturday morning, and then spending the rest of the weekend being the co-host of my daughter’s birthday sleepover, but the reality is that, even if I’d had a completely empty weekend (what’s one of those?), I’d have still left the final preparation to the very last minute. Why?

The Myers Briggs model goes some way to explaining this behaviour. People (like me) with a Perceiving preference prefer to keep things open-ended as long as possible, to use all the available time to explore new avenues, interesting tangents, and the full range of alternatives. This certainly goes some way to explaining me...on the odd occasion when I’ve prepared well in advance, written the presentation days before it’s due to be delivered, I still make last-minute changes because I’d hate to miss the opportunity of including my latest thoughts.

Part of the explanation is also about the need for time pressure. Many people are familiar with the time-management quadrants of:

I know that I work at my very best in the top category, and have a personal battle to operate in any of the others. If something is important but not urgent, I’ll leave it until it becomes urgent, and if something is (in my eyes at least) not important, it’ll rarely appear on the radar at all.

So what? Well, the challenge for me, and for others who recognise this tendency in themselves, is twofold.

Firstly, there needs to be a highly rational understanding of what urgency really is. Some activities rely on others having preceded them, or simply have longer lead-times. I know that, for the more complex parts of running a training business, I need to create and focus hard on sub-deadlines as well as the ultimate deadline, in order to ensure that not everything is left until the very last minute.

Secondly, there needs to be a highly rational understanding of what importance really is. Without taking a broad perspective of the potential impacts of actions (or inactions), it can be too easy to inappropriately disregard important things, because you don’t notice their importance as you are rushing around in your “urgent and important” box all the time.

However, I believe that if these two challenges can be met, it is possible to be a “urgent-important” focussed person with a Perceiving preference and still deliver quality results, on time, every time. We simply need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and work around them.

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