No user’s system is perfect, and all systems are liable to fall apart at the seams when pressure hits and certain practices (like Reviewing) fall by the wayside.
What a smart user at a high level will do is to create a series of warnings that indicate whether or not the system is operating adequately. Ideally, these warnings should be designed to come early – long before there is any danger of the system failing.
Warning involves putting in place automated signals that tell the user that the system is about to fail.
While each person’s early warning system would be different, there are some elements that are commonly included. Some examples of when a warning would be “triggered”:
- a maximum number of emails in an email in-box is exceeded
- a pile of incoming mail reaches a certain height
- a list contains more than a certain number of individual items
- a day is scheduled with less than a certain amount of time between tasks
- a paper capture point exceeds a certain number of items
These can all be numerically decided and managed using simple reminders built into each component of the system that indicates when a warning is imminent. For example, a box that only contains a certain amount of incoming email could be chosen as the “warning” – when another box is needed, the system is in danger of collapsing.
- A Novice, White or Yellow Belt has no early warning system. Their only choice is to either enter into a frenzy when their time management system becomes overloaded, or stop using it altogether.
- An Orange Belt has begun to create an early warning system that they monitor infrequently.
- A Green Belt has a well-designed system that they monitor carefully. Once a critical warning is triggered, they stop as soon as they can to remedy the situation. If a warning is too passive, they put in place audible, verbal or email triggers to force themselves to stop what they are doing to deal with the warning.