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The worst you can be at work: “I don’t know”

When you have just been promoted, or when you just step into a difficult job, you may find yourself really stressed because of the mess you are facing, or you just don’t know why there seem to be so many things popping up from anywhere. How can you tell if you are in control of the situation at work?

The worst scenario is when you are clueless. The following list gives you an idea of where you are now:

1. You don’t know what the problem is (or worse, you don’t know what is going on).
2. You know the problem, but you don’t have a solution.
3. You know the problem, and the solution (provided by you or not) is in progress.
4. You have finished (or about to finish) solving the problem.

This applies even better when you have 2 or more problems. Added to the above list is that you are better off when you know how to prioritize solving them.

It also applies when the nature of your job is handling non-recurring tasks (if the tasks are not problems it is less complicated).

1. You don’t know what needs to be done (or worse, you forget what your supervisor asks you to do; worst: keep forgetting).
2. You know what tasks are at hand, but you don’t know how to prioritize them.
3. You know what tasks are at hand, and you know how to prioritize them.
4. You keep finishing tasks without time pressure (because you work fast or you are assigned only few tasks).

When you are facing a very tangled-up situation, simply enlisting the problems is going to make a huge difference. You will be calmer, get a clearer picture, and then you may find a direction of investigation to reduce those “unknowns”, those dark areas on the map you still need to explore. The bottom line is, you need to find out most, if not all, problems when you are stuck. Not knowing there is a bomb until it explodes is the worst you can be at work.

(my LinkedIn post in 2014)

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