Today we have a guest editorial as Steve is on vacation.
All of us have to organize our efforts at work to get things done. I would guess a number of us use a to-do list. It might exist in Excel, OneNote, Notepad, just a plain piece of paper, or just in our minds. A list helps us to stay focused on what needs to be accomplished. It can also give us a sense of accomplishment when we cross something off the list. It also can make us feel like we are making progress toward a goal. Hopefully, we know what the end goal is and where it is leading us.
There can also be downsides with a to-do list. The list can become overwhelming and unmanageable. Sometimes things never seem to get crossed off. Perhaps it is because nothing seems to get fully completed, or just because we are pulled in so many directions, it can be hard to focus and to get much done. What does it matter if our to-do list gets accomplished since we can’t see above the waves of chaos that is our job?
In some situations, the demands on us are already so overwhelming, we are just dealing with issues and emergencies all day long. In this case, a to-do list is almost meaningless since it is never even looked at. You are just too busy trying to keep the ship afloat to even worry about where things are heading. The current fire that needs to be put out is what you are working on.
Sometimes not having work direction can be a problem. It is hard to create a to-do list if you don’t know what your priorities should be. If you do have a manager that clearly passes down to you what you should be working on, that can be helpful. Still, in some cases, the directives being passed down can be pretty general so it isn’t always easy to get down to the specific steps of what needs to get done.
It seems like the to-do list is only as good as the vision and plan behind them. If you know where you are going, you can figure out the steps to get there. If you don’t know where you are going, then it doesn’t matter what you are working on or in what order you try to accomplish things.
I think planning sessions can help with this. Having a team of people thinking about where, as a company / department / team, you are trying to go and what you are trying to accomplish. What issues are you currently facing? Where you want to be in six months to a year or 5 years from now? Once a plan is decided on, the steps to get there can be formed and directives can be given to groups. Then they can know what they should be working on and what should be their priority. Then it is up to you to use a to-do list or some other method to manage the things you need to accomplish.
How about you? Do you use to-do lists? Do you have clear directions on what you should be working on where you work?