I think my fascination with lists started as a teenager when my parents would leave me home alone for a few hours and would write a list of (super easy) chores to complete before they returned. Once I had conquered the list, I was free to talk on the phone, watch TV, raid the refrigerator. As long as each item was done, no questions asked. My love affair with lists continues to this day. Lists complete me.
Here is my Top 10 list of tips for getting things done:
- Make a list of the task at hand and the sub-tasks that go with it. This will help you find manageable chunks of smaller tasks and will also highlight where you may have dependencies on other people. Get busy asking those people for what you need ASAP. Give them plenty of notice and ask nicely. Your emergency isn’t their emergency. Yada yada yada.
- Put yourself in jail. “I can’t leave this office until I create that pivot table.” “I can’t lay down on this bed until I fold the clean laundry.” “I can’t have a glass of wine until I hit my 10,000 steps on my Fitibit.”
- Do a mind map. Sometimes trying to write an orderly list is a barrier to getting started. You may need a less structured way to brain dump and find a path forward. If you haven’t done a mind map before, check this out. A great tool!
- Set a timer. Shut out all distractions and set a timer for 10 minutes. You are only allowed to work on the 1 project for that 10 minutes. At the end of 10 minutes, decide whether or not to do another 10 minutes. You’d be surprised what you can get done in a short sprint. I’ve written this list (so far) in about 10 minutes!
- Get down and give me 20. Write down 20 things that will help you achieve your goal. Don’t give it too much thought just keep writing until you have 20 ideas. Getting to 20 is often a struggle. You will have to think outside the box to complete the list. Warning! Be on the lookout for breakthrough ideas.
- Imagine if. Tell yourself a story of how the world will look when this project/task is done to perfection. When I don’t know where to start or don’t have all the details I just close my eyes and imagine that future place when this seemingly impossible project or problem is finished and I’m accepting an award for my outstanding achievement. Who is there? What are they doing? What has changed? What am I wearing? Writing myself a few paragraphs on what that imaginary place looks, tastes and smells like is both motivating and productive. Once I’ve glimpsed a better place, I have to get there!
- Do the most unpleasant task first. It may be that this 1 painful thing is prohibiting you from getting started, so just get that 1 thing out of the way.
- Reward yourself. Sometimes hard work is its own reward and sometimes you need a fro-yo or a mani/pedi. Right-size your reward with the task and make them both happen.
- Outsource it. Is this really yours to do? Can you trust someone else to do it? Can you hire a service to do it? Many people (guilty!) bury themselves in tasks because they can’t give up control. Maybe your husband can be trusted with your fine washables. Maybe someone else on the team would be willing to arrange that meeting. Maybe your son is old enough to write out his own birthday invitations. Maybe you can bring lunch for a month and hire a professional painter versus spending two weekends on a DIY project.
- Don’t do it. Will this matter in a year? What will happen if this doesn’t get done? Could this possible be a nice-to-have? Will this jeopardize another priority? Sometimes we are reluctant to start a task because we don’t see the value in doing it. Not doing it is always an option. Like the song says “Let it go.”
Daily Post | Wasted Days and Wasted Nights
More tips for success at the workplace.
This is part 2 of the behaviors I tracked for my month-long focus on work for my Happiness Project.
- Make a note of it. A senior executive once said to me, “You always do what you say you will do.” A big part of that is my inner rules follower and personal commitment to keep my word, but good intentions don’t always equate to remembering to do things. My secret to following through is simple, keep a small notebook with me and write things down. I am generous with my pages and don’t try to squeeze too much on each sheet. I use checkboxes to highlight items that require my action. It is amazingly effective and a top tip I tell new folks as they enter the workforce. I’ve had many come back to me years later and say Thank You. I recently attempted to go all digital and lose the paper and pen. It didn’t work. I forgot things, I felt like I was slipping. Studies show that the act of physically writing imprints more information on your brain. If I really need something from my paper notebook in my digital files, I just take a picture of the page. Problem solved.
- Build relationships. People matter. I take the time to get to know people, to serve them and not care if I get served in return. I strive to be a good collaborator and to openly praise people and remind them of their strengths. The result has always been that people enjoy working with me. This has been key to my success. But I have to work at it. Sometimes I may feel like avoiding an introductory meeting or a networking event, but I know these are good for me and feed my soul. So I go. Case in point: Recently a new employee set up a one on one meeting with me and we had a few hiccups in scheduling. I told her where I would be (in a remote office) and her back-to-back meet everyone on the project in one week schedule caused her to not be able to find me. We ended up starting late and talking on the phone versus talking in person. I was frustrated, but I took a deep breath and opened my heart and mind to this woman. I gave her my best wisdom on being successful at our company. Starting with not over-scheduling herself and guarding her calendar (and her time) like the precious non-renewable resource that it is. She shared that God was moving in her life bringing her to our city, this company, this project. I went out on a limb and asked her if she had found a local church. She had only been in town 2 weeks so she hadn’t. She attended my church that weekend and followed up with me that she loved it. We’ve bumped into each other several times and have formed a loving bond. This past week, we happened to be at a networking event with about 12 other ladies and as we all went around the table to introduce ourselves and share our experiences of women helping women, she praised me in front of everyone for being so kind to her in that initial meeting. She said my advice had saved her life and that I was key to her success and sanity at work so far. She even shared that I had invited her to church! My heart sang. We don’t do good works for the praise, we never know when we will reap what we sow, but having this amazing woman speak from her heart about how I had made a difference in her life gave me encouragement to keep investing in people. I have now established a regular mentoring relationship with her and have a sister in Christ for life.
- Anticipate the next move. Using an overly simplified example, sometimes the answer to the question “Do you have the time?” is just plain “Yes.” But those occasions are rare and more than likely will frustrate the asker. If you want to truly demonstrate that you add strategic value, you answer the first question and anticipate the next one, or prevent the next one. “Yes, the time is 12:30. Here let me show you how you can find the time out for yourself going forward.” Or, “that is interesting that you are asking me the time, is there a fundamental issue that is keeping you from knowing the time that I can help you solve?” Teach people to fish. Understand the problem behind the question. Save people steps. Another concept I weave into this theme is to respond versus react. Using the same goofy time example, I could easily have an inner-dialogue along the lines of “why is he/she asking ME for the time? I’m not their time keeper, it isn’t my job to tell them the time. They could figure that out themselves, they are just lazy. They don’t value me to waste my time with stupid, tactical questions like this.” It is important to shut down that inner-critic and breathe. A more constructive dialogue would be: “I’m feeling a little annoyed they asked me this stupid question. Let me put myself in their shoes and not over-react. They must be very out-of-sorts to ask me this. They must think I’m a safe person to ask. I’m going to leverage this opportunity to build our relationship and be helpful.”
- Master your business. Study something new every day. No matter what your business you can always know more about it. What do your competitors do? What are the industry best practices? Everyone is using that new buzzword. I wonder what it really means? Use the internet to continue your education. Take a few minutes each day and research something online, you will be amazed what you can find. I do this to find cool Powerpoint slides all the time!
- Add to the resume. Keeping your resume updated is like exercising every day, easier said than done. Turning your many work achievements into the right bullet points to capture your audience is a daunting task. One thing I’ve started doing is regularly reading job descriptions and grabbing key phrases. I store these on my computer and refer to them as my marching orders for getting my job done. Why yes, I am “comfortable in a fast-moving environment with rapid, incremental deliveries and direct customer feedback” and I excel at “driving cross-team partnerships to deliver impactful end-to-end scenarios.” Knowing these are the qualities companies are looking for helps me squeeze more out of each work moment and improve my skills. I’m not just participating in another meeting, I’m driving cross-team partnerships! I’m not gearing up for yet another round of external complaints, I’m building on my ability to process and manage direct customer feedback. It’s all about perspective.