I’m a list guy. I have 18 separate lists where I keep track of things to get done for different areas of my life. I have no faith that my brain will remember more than 3 things at a time, so everything else goes on a list. There is nothing that epitomizes a satisfying workday for me more than crossing off dozens of tasks.
However, my approach to lists has often gotten me in trouble in India.
How lists can fail you in India
I was in one of those meetings with my boss and a potential partner that made it seem like the biggest deal in history was ours for the taking if we only acted on it. After the partner left, I recapped for my boss all the things I would follow up on; number one being getting in touch with the partner’s local contact to get things moving.
I went back to my desk and added these things to my list for the day. Once I sent the email to the local contact, I crossed it off, assuming he would send a reply.
A week went by, and my boss asked me why nothing had happened yet. I said that I had emailed the person but didn’t get a reply. I assumed it was another too-good-to-be-true meeting.
The look of disappointment on my boss’ face made it clear that I had not fulfilled my role. I was still in the thick of learning Indian business culture, so I asked honestly if I was supposed to follow up on every email I ever sent.
She said my job wasn’t to send emails, but to get things done.
Why can’t I get anything done?
Whether it is a list of items to get fixed around the house, or things that must be done before the next quarterly report, experiencing productivity in India can be a huge challenge. Certain tasks act like a squatter who makes a home on my list and invites his family and friends to come over. When I try to evict him, he claims that he owns that place on the list and refuses to leave.
Why is it that it is so rare to actually cross anything off the list permanently? Why do things keep creeping back in? Why do I feel like the same things show up over and over? Call Santosh (for the 12th time). Call the carpenter to see if he’s coming (for the 7th time).
Every major task seems to have a Roadblock. An important partner who won’t respond to an email. One team member who still hasn’t contributed his section. A spare part you thought someone ordered never arrives.
The 10 Step Plan
After learning my lesson in the office, I came up with a ten-step plan to get things checked off a list.
Step 1: Break the task down into as many small tasks as is conceivably possible.
Step 2: Do as many of the small tasks as you can on your own, and then send an email to the person who you need to help complete the task.
Step 3: DO NOT REMOVE THE ITEM FROM YOUR LIST.
Step 4: Set a reminder to contact that person again in two days.
Step 5: Realize that a call would have been better than an email. Make a call and get them to promise to do the work.
Step 6: DO NOT REMOVE THE ITEM FROM YOUR LIST.
Step 7: Since they still have not completed the work, ask yourself “Which is the most likely reason they have not replied?”
- I have unknowingly offended this person, (#Thinskinned), or
- I don’t have the status that warrants an immediate response (#PowerPlays).
If A, then invite them for tea/coffee and show that you are sincere and didn’t mean anything negative.
If B, then reply with a new email, including your most senior person and his most senior person on cc.
Step 8: DO NOT REMOVE THE ITEM FROM YOUR LIST.
Step 9: If you still get no response, consider calling in some favors of friends that might have access to this person’s circles. Find someone of influence who can find out the real story about why they are not responding.
Step 10: Choose one of these four options to finally get the item off your list, depending on your situation:
- Realize that this is not worth it and give up.
- Do the work yourself.
- Find a replacement person for the Roadblock.
- Give the task to someone else.
90% of the people involved will be happy if you choose A. Only you (and your boss) can tell if it is right for you. Beware of option B – it goes against #See1See100 and will likely leave you bitter with no friends. Options C and D are the best ones.
Getting an item off the to-do list and showing productivity in India can be a huge accomplishment. Celebrate when you finally complete a major project, because most people would have quit a long time ago. Be persistent. Know when it is smart to keep pushing on. If you rely on your groups and remember these tips, you should be able to bypass most of the roadblocks that come your way!
Image Credit: Justin See on Flickr