I have been taken team lead position for new project and for new employer one week back. I am leading 8 members of team. The first day went smooth with joining my formalities. The next day after I had met my team I am overwhelmed with many action items. The workday invites me minimum 55 mails which takes at least 2 to 3 hrs to read and respond and figure out action items on me or delegate my team members. I feel like work is raining such a faster rate than I consume and channelize to different channels. Since I am unable to Organize and prioritize properly I am spending most of the time non priority tasks and some times I am unable to spend sufficient time on high priority tasks. Some times I don't know which Emails I can read and which Emails I can straight away delete without reading.

From this instance I am clearly able to make out that I need to improve on Organising and prioritizing my tasks. But I am not sure where to start and how to start it. My specific question is

(1)How can I prioritize and Organize my tasks and then plan my day effectively?

Research that I have done:

I am trying to divide tasks by categorizing important and urgent category. But the way that I am getting work and requests from various channels are too rapid so that I have to make the decision very fast. As a starter of the team it is very difficult to make those judgements. And also due to various undisclosed reasons my manager availability is very less and I can approach him very frequently and he sits in different office.

  • Is there anything other than "it's taking me a long time to respond to action items" that indicates a failure in organization/planning? – Adam V Feb 1 '13 at 19:13
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    this may be better suited for productivity.stackexchange.com – amphibient Feb 1 '13 at 19:50

First things first, you need a Project tracking automated system. No requests of any type unless the requestor enters them into the system. This step alone will eliminate a great deal of the requests. Hey if they don't think it is important enough to request officially, then it is not important enough to do.

Now you have everything in one place you can start to make lists by client or organization or what ever you need. You can take the list to a weekly (biweekly, monthly depending on the circumstances) meeting for the client and set priorities so that you know what order things need to be done in. You can tell people that you already have 33 items ahead of this one on the list and that it will be X weeks until you get to it. If a new hot priority comes in, you can tell them exactly what is going to be delayed (this often has the effect of cooling down the priority!). Rule 1 never accept more work without delaying something currently on the list.

Your job is to keep these lists and negotiate the priorities with the client(internal or external). When you have multiple clients, you need to havea way to determine how to balance the priorities. If they are internal, I usually have just let them work it out between tehmeselves and do not delay X's Number 1 priority to get to Y's new priority. If they are outside clietns or cannot work out priorities amoing themselves, you may need to decide on dedicated people for each client. So you still set priorities but only for that client and they know that the work will be done in priority order. If a client has a sudden influx of work and another one is less busy, you can move assets around, but once you commit people to a client, they don't get removed from a priority project to work on something else unlsess it is a total emergency. If you are in dedicated person mode, priorities can shift but only within the client's projects.

In many ways the Agile practices can help you here. You commit to a set amount of work in a sprint and then don't change that. New priorities are for the next sprint. (This may take some convincing on the part of your clients but once they get used to it, I'll bet they will like it better than a steady stream of half-finished projects abandoned for the priority of the moment.) The exception of course would be a production emergency, but if you have those, you need to plan a certain number of hours in each sprint for them and thus still be able to meet your teams commitments for the sprint.

Now with all projects in some sort of tracking system, you can have details about those projects added to the tracking system as well rather than in emails. That way you can get out from under the sea of unofficial emails. (If people continue to send you stuff by email and not through the sytem, that stuff is the lowest priority by definition. Send an email to each person who does this every time telling them that the item will not be worked on until it is in the official system. Write a standard blurb so you don't have to waste more than a few seconds doing this per email. If someone won't quit doing that, make sure to copy his boss on the standard "do this through the offical system" email.)

You now know what projects are priorities, so you check the discussions in the projects each morning in priority order. With all the discussion about project A in one place, it is easier to read them all in a coherent way and to see what has to be responded to. Further, you now only need to look in priority order, so if something comes up on the lowest priority task, you aren't distracted by it becasue you don't have to read it to figure out which project it belongs to.

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You need to normalize the requests as they come in before you even concern yourself with priority* or the specific action items involved. If you're getting requests from 3+ different avenues (phone, email, IM, etc..) then translate them all into a single format that helps you evaluate them and clearly identifies what has been covered and what hasn't been. This format could be something as simple as a text file or something more fully featured like Trello.

Once you have these items in a normalized format, then you can start evaluating holes and priorities. Identify those items where more information is necessary from those that are fully defined, knowing that work can only begin on those items that are effectively fully defined. Presumably you have some semblance of priority from the original requester that will help you sort those items that are ready to be addressed. These should be assigned to your team for attention promptly.

Now you're left with a bucket of items that need more details. This is where you lean on the expertise of your team. You've been there a week... You can't reasonably be expected to know everything, so you pull in one or two of your more experienced folks to help you understand where details are lacking in the rest of your items. Now you can go back to the original requester and get more information so that this request can be moved to the 'ready' bucket and be assigned out.

*-Except in the case of a production issue/outage which requires immediate attention.

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(3) How can I prioritize and sort the tasks as per the priority?

Since you're relatively new, I would start by involving your team; assign items to the senior members of the group to come up with the categorization of important/not-important and urgent/not-urgent. Tell them not to take much time on each item, and to include their reasons why they decided that way (stress that it's not so that you can overrule them, but so that you can learn what's important and urgent). For those items that come back as not-important/not-urgent, assign them to a backlog and come back to them as you have time.

Your questions #1, #2 and #4 are fairly generic, so here's my generic advice:

(1) How can I organize and plan my day more effective?

Keep track of the items you're assigning for yourself; as the team lead, you should take on less of the day-to-day development and more of the "roadmap"-type tasks. Get to know your team and how well they each do certain tasks, so you'll be better at assigning the appropriate work to the appropriate team members.

My boss keeps it simple - he keeps a running Notepad file that lists what he's scheduled himself to work on; when new items come up, he adds them to the list in the order he expects to work on them. As he finishes them, he can remove it from his list.

(2) What are the basic and core concepts of effective organizing and planning?

(4) Any specific tips or best practices which can be shared and helpful?

This I don't have much of an answer for. In general, since your manager has low availability, I would plan to handle most things yourself, and keep him in the loop on the team's day-to-day activities via an email status. Other than that, try to keep your plate clean by assigning work out quickly and not getting caught up in any one item for too long.

As a software developer, you may find value in reviewing recent code changes the team has done; read over the problem statement, then look at what was done to fix it, and that can help you get familiar with the code. If necessary, find a developer to walk you through some of the messier parts of the code.

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