An Ops tool: The Worry List

I started a new job this week as Director of Operations for Support Driven 🎉. Two of the major components of my role are to manage the various projects the company is working on and to design the work of the organization: what we will do, who will do it, and by when.

Last week, I noticed Scott, the owner, online when I logged in to check on the benefits packages we were considering. It was about 6:30am my time — which means it was 3:30am his time.

I sent him a message,”Why are you working at 3:30am?!”

The answer was simple: he had a lot to do, not enough time to do it, and he was concerned about things slipping through the cracks.

“How about this,” I said. “I can’t help yet because I need to finish out my old job. But on Monday I can dive in. To help me understand where you most need help, would you mind making me a worry list? Open a doc, dump all of your worries in it, and we’ll go through it together to figure out how to address them.”

When worries swirl around in our heads, they repeat themselves and fill an amount of brain space disproportionate to their size. They’re all jumbled together, making it difficult to know where to begin, which ones are most important, and how to organize our time to tackle them. Also, when they’re inside our brains, nobody else can see them, making it difficult for others to help.

Scott’s worry list helped me understand the work of the company right away, and how best to organize ourselves to get it done. We divided up the outstanding concerns based on who is best equipped for each of them: Scott’s on partnerships and sponsors; I’m on communications and HR; Rose and I are on events. When I’ve been here a few more weeks and gotten the lay of the land, we can revisit the list and see where else we can better design the workload.

This Worry List has become one of our central documents. In fact, we started another one for the upcoming conference we’re organizing. Naming worries forces us to pull out of them so we can see them, which changes our perspective: we end up taking a higher level view. Bounding worries by words and anchoring them on “paper” shows their true size and makes them manageable: we can prioritize them, assign them, cross them off the list.

An unexpected side effect of this exercise is that we have peace of mind now: the worries are external to us rather than inside our brains. With them documented, all of us within the organization can easily look at the list and share the load. None of us has to shoulder the responsibilities alone :-).