TechWhirl (TECHWR-L) is a resource for technical writing and technical communications professionals of all experience levels and in all industries to share their experiences and acquire information.
For two decades, technical communicators have turned to TechWhirl to ask and answer questions about the always-changing world of technical communications, such as tools, skills, career paths, methodologies, and emerging industries. The TechWhirl Archives and magazine, created for, by and about technical writers, offer a wealth of knowledge to everyone with an interest in any aspect of technical communications.
Subject:Re: Re. Magnum to-do lists From:Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM Date:Thu, 28 Mar 1996 16:14:00 -0600
Sorry, relevance is relative ... Many books on my "A" list are
application specific, e.g., learning to use the latest tool I've been
told to use. Many books in the B and C categories are not, e.g.,
books on managing the documentation process, designing documentation
for usability, etc. Such books are timeless, yet making the time to
read them is a hard sell if a company thinks the most important
things are how well you can use the latest whiz-bang
tool du jour!
<insert standard "one-man's opinion" disclaimer here>
This is why I like a four-level division, rather than a three. Think of it
as a matrix with one axis being Urgent/Not Urgent and the other being
Important/Not Important. Books on the tool du jour would be Urgent/Not
Important while books on documentation management, designing, etc would be
Now the idea is to spend as much time as possible doing the Important/Not
Urgent tasks, because this is where real progress lies.
Obviously, first priority is Urgent/Important, but if you can stick with it
these tasks go away, because you end up doing the important *before* it
also becomes urgent. The most important way to prevent Urgent/Important is
to take a look at them and see what happened that made them that way.
Usually it's a result of bad planning (not necessarily your own) and that
can be addressed successfully to prevent their recurrence.
You look for a way to avoid completely Urgent/Not Important tasks. For
example, the "tool du jour" books. If you know how to use your current tool
adequately, then ignore them. If not, then only look at them enough to gain
that adequacy. Any gain you might make by becoming more proficient will be
more than overshadowed by the gain you'll make by improving the process
through your other study.
For an example, take woodworking. I've seen folks proficient with hand
tools doing fancy joinery. It's a beautiful sight. And often they can do it
as fast or faster than people who use power tools. The reason isn't in the
tools, nor is it even in their skill with the particular set of tools. The
reason is in the fact that they completely understand the process of making
the joint, allowing them to choose the best way to make it with the tools
they have at hand. And, regardless of the type of tool they use, those are
the people who do the best work. You can use the best tools in the world,
and be extremely proficient with them. But simply knowing how to use the
tools (making good straight cuts with a saw or driving a perfectly straight
nail) doesn't mean the cabinetry will be good. Expertise in "how" always
takes second place to expertise in "what." So what if you're not the
fastest Framer in (substitute local geographical region)? What you lose
there you'll have already made up because of your improved layout and
design expertise. And the boos won't even realize you're not an expert on
the tool, because the job will finish on time (which is *his* bottom line).
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.