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Nobody Likes a Nag

By Greg Harris

I admit it. I'm a nag. Some view this as a character flaw but I see it as an asset.

First let's discuss what nagging means. The definition of "nagging" includes descriptive words like "annoy," "wearisome" and "irritating" when defining the word. I guess I was disappointed to see all these negatives, because I'm convinced that nagging is essential to running a healthy business. That said, I'm on a mission to kick my habit.

In a professional world nagging is one of the techniques necessary for coordinating the efforts of many people across multiple departments. In theory no one should ever need to be nagged and yet the cost to an organization when someone misses a deadline can be significant.
Nobody Likes a Nag

Most projects within a company require the orchestration of effort across a team. Imagine a car assembly line where the parts didn't arrive in time to be added to the car. The whole production line gets held up because of one failure. It can be the same way within an organization working on a project when one action item isn't completed on time.

When a team gets out of synch there could be many reasons for this. It could be as simple as one person who is overworked and creates a bottleneck. Or maybe this same person doesn't have all the resources they need to complete the action item. The problem becomes costly when these delays aren't factored into the plan.

Enter nagging. Nagging is a technique to insure that action items are completed on time, or at a minimum, that there is proactive communication that an action is at risk. As often as not, nagging also helps establish the priority of the task relative to others since, as I've written about previously, people tend to put off important tasks that are not urgent.

I'm personally cursed by genetics that cause me to arrive too early and have my action items complete well in advance of their deadline. I say cursed because I live with an internal nagging where I truly feel the weight of open action items and feel like I'm in an endless race to shed this burden. While the psychologists may find much in my personality to worry about, it ends up being a benefit in a work environment. In fact, when I'm done with my projects I start worrying about others' projects and that's where my nagging happens.

In an effort to make my own neurosis obsolete, I can offer a few suggestions on how to avoid your worst nightmare... me!

  • To Do List. If you think this old-school technology that is out of date, you are wrong. If you don't have a To Do List then your job is either repetitive or you aren't committed to getting everything done on time. Beyond just having a list you should interact with that list at least once a day.
  • Forecasting Skills. It's really important that you get good at estimating how long it will take you to complete a project. The best way to do this is to make a habit of predicting how long a task will take, write it down and then measure afterwards. Overtime you'll get very good at estimating how long it will take you to get through your list.
  • Communicate. Look at the list every night before you go home and send a note to anyone who might be counting on you for something that is at risk for not getting done on time. This simple step by itself allows others to plan around your delay.
I agree that nobody likes a nag. And while I claim to hate nagging others, I do feel like I'm adding value when I do it. So, the next time you see a nagger heading your way, don't hate us. We can't help ourselves. Instead figure out how to head us off by giving us less to nag about.