Do more with less. That's the go-to corporate mantra, and it's not going away anytime soon. The expectation is that each employee step up and get the job done, expediently and within budget. It's a tall order; no wonder employees are stressed out.
- Because of the economic downturn, nearly half of American workers surveyed say they are required to do more with fewer resources.
- According to a MetLife study, 40% of employees said their workload had increased in the past 12 months.
- Perhaps most telling of all, nearly 40 percent report they're doing the work of two employees.
The upshot is that our job descriptions are expanding without a commensurate expansion in personnel and budget. There's no time to do everything. Employees must, therefore, make tough – and strategic – decisions about how they allocate their time.
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A task list is an essential tool. It is a road-map with which you can navigate the often conflicting demands on your time: requests from other departments, from your supervisor, from the president's office, and the endless internal and external meetings, presentations, powerpoints, emails, voice mails, budgets, and reports. A task list can help bring order out of this chaos.
How do you create the perfect road map that, if followed, will take you to your destination – in this case, optimal productivity. Follow these 5 Golden Guidelines and you'll be on your way:
1. Be strategic.
According to the MetLife survey, nearly half of respondents admitted that they were not adequately focused on supporting the strategic direction of their companies. How can we differentiate between strategic and non-strategic activities? Consult your strategic plan – what are your company's and department's objectives? How is your performance being measured? As you consider all the possible activities you could be doing, which of those directly advance or support a measurable objective? If it does, it belongs.
The idea is to focus on action items that generate high ROI for you and your team. Sure, there are always going to be non-essential work that needs to get done; still, try to focus disproportionately on projects for which you will receive a high payoff.
Being a perfectionist can work against you. It takes a lot of time and resources to be a perfectionist, and it takes a toll on your ever-expanding things-to-do list. For non-essential activities like paperwork and most meetings, speed – rather than perfection – is more important. Breeze through routine activities, reserving more time and diligence for high-reward activities.
2. Less is more
One of the keys to preparing the perfect task list is knowing what should not be on your list. You might even try listing all the activities with which you are tasked; then ask, are they hot or cold, urgent or an evergreen? Do they advance a specific objective? It is important to keep your lists short, manageable, and actionable. The simple act of excluding certain activities from your to-do list can do wonders for your morale. It reduces anxiety and pressure, while ensuring you stay focused on the right things.
If you insist on putting non-essential activities on your to-do list, consider creating a separate section. Call it your Parking Lot. This is where you can park non-essential items that can be revisited at a later date. Capturing these activities so they don't fall through the cracks may give you peace of mind
3. Share your daily priorities with your co-workers and supervisor.
Doing so serves three main purposes: First, it shows your colleagues that you are organized and on top of your game; this kind of transparency will enhance your trust and credibility, and change the way the boss perceives you.
Second, it makes you accountable to yourself; once you tell the world you're going to do something, chances are you're going to follow through – or suffer the consequences.
Finally, sharing your to-do list with your supervisor, and requesting her feedback, will validate that you are, in fact, headed in the right direction.
4. Update your lists on an ongoing basis.
How frequently should you update your task lists? Whatever seems to work for you, but we suggest doing a big picture list once a week, and a tactical list, consisting of specific, measurable action steps, on a daily basis – at the close of business ideally or first thing in the morning.
5. Make your lists specific and actionable.
David Allen, a to-do list expert, says the key is to write specific, even narrow, action items, not vague or broad goals. Instead of “schedule meeting,” you might say, “send out meeting invitation to staff by 3 p.m.” Breaking it down into smaller pieces makes it less overwhelming and eliminates any confusion as to your next step.
Why is learning to perfect your to-do list important? Because it forces you to take stock of everything on your plate, and to determine your greatest priorities. A task list is really much more than a litany of stuff that needs to get done. It's a way to optimize the allocation of your most precious resource, your time. By focusing strategically on what matters most to your department and the larger company, you can enhance not only your productivity but also your position in the company.