Tag Archives: to-do lists

Interesting Articles for July

I wanted to share some of the thought provoking articles that I’ve read recently.  Enjoy!

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Interesting Articles for June

These are some of the articles that caught my attention over the month.  Hope you enjoy them as well.

How do you find inspiration in your busy day?

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Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Time Management, Uncategorized

Activity vs Results

I’ve seen a lot of information lately on the idea of what constitutes productivity.  Is it getting things done or is it getting results?  I love this debate because it really is relevant to today’s world. 

So often we get caught up in the idea of checking things off the list and we focus on that list.  But do we look at what are the results of the actions we take?  Many of the time management systems out there tell us to prioritize our activities, identify what is important and make sure we look to the important things first.  This may still be a focus on the things we do.  Many jobs are geared towards getting things done and people are rewarded for getting things done.  I know I’ve been proud that people see me as someone who “gets things done” and yet at times it feels very hollow.   I’ve gotten true satisfaction from the results I’ve achieved more than the things I’ve done.  This distinction is important for productivity.

The idea of lean processes is to get rid of waste and focus on the things that create value.  This really is a results based thought process.  By zeroing in on the things that create value in a business process the company can eliminate waste, save money and be more profitable because their efforts are centered on the things that matter and will provide the best results.  Going through a process mapping exercise can be enlightening to the people involved.  They have been focused on all the things that they do get complete the process and often they have never stopped to think about which of those things really have no impact on the results.  They just do the steps to get it all done.

What if we looked at our daily to-do list from that same perspective?  What results do we need to achieve and what steps do we take to get there?  Are there things on our list that can be skipped without jeopardizing our results?  How much more time would we have in the day to really accomplish the results we want if we work only on the things that impact the results? 

Now I know there are many things that we do because they are required by others, so we can’t just stop doing those.  However, do you know why that report is needed or why something is required?  If not, ask about it.  It maybe something that has always been done so it must continue, but if no one uses the information to get the results they need, where is the value in it? 

The key to making this work is to know needed results of what you are doing.  Understand the why of the activity that is on your to-do list.  This accomplishes two things for you.  First you will know how important the task is for you and / or the organization.  Secondly it will tell you what you need to do to successfully complete the task.  This allows you to do the things that will make your efforts valuable without wasting time and energy doing something that has no impact or no value to the end product.

For you is productivity about results or completing tasks?

photo from iStockPhoto.com

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Interesting Articles for May

These are some of the articles that caught my attention over the last couple of weeks.  Hope you enjoy reading them as well. 

  • Mastering Your To Do List A Novel Approach.  Here is a case for having everything on your to-do-list and when to break that rule from The Organized Executive.
  • The Perils of Overplanning.  This is a great look, from Royale Scuderi on Stepcase Lifehack, at how spontaneous things can be more creative than planning creativity.  Finding the balance is the key to true productivity.
  • 6 Passages of Leadership and Management.  I liked how this article looked at the internal and external aspects of leadership and management.  This provides a model to handle yourself and then how to handle others.  From Great Leadership.
  • Strengths, Weaknesses, and Engagement.  In this article Steve Roesler of All Things Workplace looks at the impact of a manager’s focus on the employee.  Are we looking at the positive or the negative and how does that affect the employee.
  • The Second Question.  Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak provides a great set of steps to help align the team goals with the interests of the team members.
  • How Employers Can Make Us Stop.  A compelling case for why we need to focus on the task at hand instead of multi-tasking.  I found this on Harvard Business Review Blog.
  • Be Opportunistic A Little Bit Every Day.  For those of us who have too much to do and need to help find a way to get it all done.  This post is from Sell, Lead, Succeed!  

How do you find inspiration in your busy day?

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Eating Frogs!

I was sitting at my desk debating how best to tackle several tasks on my list and I was reminded of a book on procrastination by Brian Tracy “Eat That Frog!”  Part of my issue was that I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to accomplish either task in front of me so I was finding things to do instead.  The premise of the book is that as Mark Twain once said if you have to eat a live frog first thing in the morning it will be the worst thing to happen to you that day.  Tracy compares the most important thing you have to do each day is your “frog”. 

I love this analogy and have seen it used several times in time management training.  The big message behind using the frog analogy is to encourage people to take action immediately.  For me as I’m sitting stalling and dragging my feet I tell myself it’s time to eat the frog.  I always smile and it forces me into figuring out the next step on the task that is staring at me.  For me it’s a call to action.

The key to breaking the procrastination habit is to get started.  First you have to identify the most critical item that you need to complete that day.  Once you have that figured out, break it down into steps so you know where to start.  Once you know what to do you can plan your day and take the appropriate actions.  Once you know what to do you can plan your day and take the appropriate actions. 

Remember you don’t have to finish the big complex items at one sitting and you will never finish if you don’t take the first step.  Wayne Gretzky has been quoted as saying “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  So commit to getting started, break down the task into manageable steps and get moving. 

So next time you are struggling to get started on the items on your to-do list, picture eating the ugliest frog possible.  Remember if you must eat that frog, then get to it and get it over with quickly. Your day will get better from there.  It can be eaten in bites, just get it done! 

Bon appétit!

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Prioritizing Your To-Do List

Now that I have my to-do list all up-to-date and visible where do I start?

  • Do the fun items first
  • Do the easy items first
  • Deal with that email I just got
  • The phone’s ringing – I’ll deal with it
  • Start on the biggest, ugliest project on the list
  • Deal with the item that is due soonest

All of these are valid methods to get things done, however they may not help you get them all done. This is where priorities come into play. So how do you set priorities? Activities can be put into one of 4 categories below:

  1. Strategic Tasks:  Important but not Urgent – Planning, research, creativity
  2. Critical Tasks:  Important and Urgent – Emergencies, meetings, projects
  3. Time Wasters:  Not Important or Urgent – Idle chatting, web surfing, couch potato
  4. Interruptions:  Urgent but not Important – Phone calls, emails, unplanned visitors

The urgent things are the ones that everyone focuses on first because they are compelling, that phone ringing, the new email, the boss coming by with a new assignment…..  Some do need to happen right away such as the project with a fast approaching deadline, the monthly billing, the client meeting.

Unfortunately the ones most often ignored are important items that are not urgent. They are the ones that will help you achieve your goals and yet they have no time constraint on them. These are the things that fall in the category of “When I have some free time I’ll….”. Amazingly for me this free time never appears.

Franklin Covey suggests looking at your to-do list and assigning a priority to each item starting with Category 2, then moving to Category 1 and then 4. Category 3 should be avoided since these are time wasters that cause you to delay Category 1 items.   See Franklin Covey “How to Set Priorities”  http://www.achieve-goal-setting-success.com/set-priorities.html for more insights.

Now that you know the priority of each item, think about the time it will take for you do get it done and compare that to your schedule. If you have a meeting in 30 minutes but your highest priority item will take 2 hours, now might not be the best time to start it. Either carve out time in your schedule to dedicate to it or break it into pieces that can be fit into your day easier.

By knowing how much time things will take you can use your prioritized to-do list to fill in your day with the important things not the time wasters. It’s easy to chat or surf the web when you have 15 minutes until your next appointment but you may have something that will advance your goals which would be better use of the same 15 minutes.

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What to do?

How do you know what you have to get done?

  • Sticky notes with reminders
  • A bunch of notes on paper
  • A list in your head
  • A pile of files and papers on your desk
  • Your email or desk inbox

So many of the people I’ve worked with have desks stacked with piles of paper, notes and reminders to organize their work load.  Often they are stressed out and frustrated because they are constantly shuffling paper and notes to make sure they get it all done on time.  This creates inefficiency due to the extra work of managing the paper to ensure nothing is late or gets dropped.

I challenged one excessive sticky note user to use Outlook (her email system) to create a to-do list and a flagging system for emails to get control of her work load.  It took her a week to collect and organize all her notes and get the new system in place.  That was a VERY stressful week for her.  Then after two weeks of using the new system, she found she had more time to get work done and was getting everything done much more efficiently.  Her stress level went way down as well.

Tips to make a To-Do list work:

  1. Must be quick to update (15 minutes per day max)
  2. Easily accessible and visible
  3. Allows you to prioritize or set due dates

The to-do list should be a tool, not a task, so find a simple way to capture the things you have to do.  Setting a time limit on managing it will help you keep it as a tool not an activity trap.  Doing the review at the end of your work day can help clear your mind of work and set the stage for a smooth start in the morning.

Some ideas for effective to-do lists:

  • Task list in Microsoft Outlook
  • Evernote – allows you to sync your computer, phone and tablet
  • Manual list that is easily visible/referenced
  • Other apps for your smart phone are available

If you are spending more than 15 minutes a day on your to-do list, take some time to find a new method of tracking your work load.  You will get more done, more efficiently and your stress will drop.

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