There is no tool which is more fundamental to getting things done than the basic to-do list. Yet whenever I encounter a manager who is struggling to keep up with the pace of business and I ask to see his/her to-do list for the day, the reply is anything from "I don't use a daily to-do list" to "I didn't do one for today." Sometimes, I run across managers who have convinced themselves that their system of random Post-It notes, notebooks they can't find, somebody else's to-do list, or various emails in their in-box somehow serve as an effective organizational tool for the tasks they and their team must complete. They don't.
The most effective to-do lists are not fancy or high-tech. They are very straightforward.
The volume of tasks to do and to follow up on has never been greater for managers. Electronic communication has multiplied the workload. Never-ending quests for improved corporate efficiency have reduced manpower relative to workload. It will only get more difficult. It is more important than ever for managers to have firm control over their time and the tasks they are responsible for.
Keys to an effective manager to-do lists are as follows:
- Put it on one piece of paper so it’s easily and constantly visible.
- Include a full list of the routine things which must be inspected or followed up on (i.e., team tasks).
- Prioritize the list so that "must-do" items are clearly identified, follow up items are properly planned into the day, and "important" items trump "easy" items.
- Ensure that actions which facilitate action by others, either by delegating or by removing roadblocks for them, are labeled as "high priority."
- When new tasks are identified, add them directly to the to-do list, don't write them somewhere else with the intention of adding them to the to-do list later.
- Rewrite the list as often as necessary.
Perhaps the best reason for managers to use to-do lists is the incredible satisfaction which comes from checking things off as "complete." The sense of accomplishment brings feelings of success, and feelings of success breed greater engagement and even more success.
So, let's return to basics and bring back the lost art of the to-do list. It will do wonders for our ability to consistently get things done!