Adding structure to a nebulous job
October 21, 2015 4:03 PM   Subscribe

How can I add structure and focus to my kind of nebulous and self directed job?

This is the first job I've ever had where I was primarily working in an office. The main function of my job is to coordinate a large program that happens only for a month out of the year. I was hired in March and had to jump in feet first with a lot of concrete logistical and organizational tasks to do because the program was in July, with a nice number of abstract, thinking type problems to solve as well. I was very busy until the program ended in August. I got positive (even rave) reviews from my supervisor and coworkers at this time.

For the last few months though, I feel like I've been floundering a bit and haven't been doing as much as I could. At first I cut myself a break because I'd worked so hard in the busy part of the year, but I've had time-- now I need to kick my productivity up a notch. However, there's so little structure to the job that I'm struggling to do that.

75% of my job right now is looking back on the program thinking about how we can improve things for next year (I have a few other projects, but there isn't enough on those to keep me busy). There isn't a lot of concrete work to be done, it's all more big picture stuff-- ideally I'd have a nice mix of both. I'm also doing most of it alone-- while I have some opportunity to talk with coworkers and present my ideas and bounce ideas around, most people have a year round schedule that means they have more immediate tasks that they're worrying about.

It's not exactly as if there's no work to be done-- I could certainly fill all of the time between now and the spring with dreaming up improvements to the program. But any deadlines I make are self imposed, and its all fairly self directed. I used to love having time to work on self directed projects at work, but as it turns out I don't have the focus or self discipline to be entirely self directed and I am worried that people are starting to notice that I spend a lot of my time not doing too much. And everyone else is so busy!

My supervisor is great, I formally meet with her weekly and have told her I'd like to get involved in some of the other initiatives we have going on, and she's made that happen, but there aren't a ton of tasks coming out of those either, at least not yet. I don't feel comfortable saying repeatedly 'I feel like I'm not doing much' or 'I don't have enough to do' because I could always be working on program improvements. She's also very busy--it's not like I want to make her into my accountability buddy.

So I guess my questions are: how do I add structure to a job that isn't giving that to me, and how can I stay on task when my job is largely self directed? How do I quit procrastinating on the internet when I have few real deadlines? How do I focus when work is more big picture than concrete?

Things I've tried:
-Scheduling in tasks on a calendar and assigning them deadlines (if no one else is depending on it I just end up ignoring them).
-Identifying the top improvements that I want to work on and trying to narrow in my focus to those.
-In general making myself useful as an extra hand (jumping in on anything that is short staffed or anything that seems like it might be useful) so people don't think I'm a total slacker.
posted by geegollygosh to Work & Money (1 answer total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, on a practical basis, there is structure, you're just ignoring it. The structure is the calendar because times and space are fairly immutable. Have you done a year-long planning calendar, with goals and steps broken down by date? Like, I organise a conference and just one of the 30 million things that needs to be done is all of the printing. So I create a project called PRINTING on my master Conference calandar and set all the dates against it:

* Jan 21: List all printed items required
* January 23: Write spec for designer
* January 24: Meet with designer
* February 1: Write spec for printers
* February 3: Solicit quotes for printing
* February 20: Get mockups from designer
* February 21: Revert to designer for changes
* March 1: Order badge holders and lanyards
* March 10: Finals from designer
* March 15: Deliver to printers | Milestone
* March 28: Take delivery from printers
* April 2 - 3: Stuff badges and lanyards and reg packs
* April 5: Deliver to venue

Obviously, it's a conference so there are also color-coded projects for speaker booking, speaker travel, staffing, venue, catering, PR, registration processes, etc. I use Teamwork for this but you could use something free like Teamweek if you have to. (Google Calendar is really not sufficient for multi-project planning IMHO.)

Honestly, once you get EVERYTHING on a calendar you should be in a state of near panic rather than one of procrastination. Sharing this calendar with your manager and using an app that reports on milestone delivery to her as well builds in accountability.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:24 AM on October 22, 2015

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