The Most Forgotten Management Tool? To-do lists!

Perhaps the concept of using to-do lists is such a given that it doesn’t warrant discussion.  But is it a given?  How many times have you had to chase a manager on an assignment and found that it had “fallen through the cracks?”  How many times have you seen a manager scrambling through a notebook, through emails, or through random Post-it notes to set their agenda for the day?  How many times have you seen a manager not even try to set an agenda for the day and instead spend their whole day reacting to whatever emergency pops up next?  How many times have you been frustrated with things not getting done?  At the root of all of these situations is the absence of a good to-do list process.

With today’s technology, managers are bombarded more than ever with things which need to be done.  And, more than ever, managers are challenged to get more done in shorter amounts of time with fewer resources.  Keeping it all organized is critical to a manager’s success.  In addition, to-do lists are fundamental to all other management skills.  Delegation, time management, action planning, follow up, coaching, etc., are all dependent on having an organized list of things that need to be done.

Accepting that effective to-do lists are an often overlooked necessity, some keys to effective use of to-do lists are as follows:

– Maintain one running list to which items are added IMMEDIATELY when they are identified.  The list can be written on paper or kept in a smart phone or tablet, but it should be something which will be close at all times.  The running list can be a daily list or a weekly list, but I recommend starting a fresh list at least weekly.

– Ensure that everybody on the team has their own to-do list.  Let them keep the list in a format which works for them personally, as long as their personal to-do’s are all in one place and available within seconds.  And managers must inspect their team’s lists to make sure they include all of the items which need to be included.

– Prioritize to-do list items so that the most important are worked on first.  As a manager, the most important items on a to-do list will generally be those actions which are necessary before others can get their work done.  When a manager delays action on items which are prerequisites for other employees, the manager becomes a bottleneck which decreases the team’s overall effectiveness.  Second priority for managers will generally be those items which have the largest and most direct impact on either the team’s engagement level or on the business.

– Build regular routines into daily and weekly to-do lists.  This can often be best accomplished through the creation of routine checklists.  For example, managers may have six things they must do every morning, another five they must do at the end of the day, and another four that must be done every week by Friday.  These can be compiled into one checklist, and completion of the checklist can be a standing item on the daily/weekly to-do list.  This ensures continuity between the routines of the “day job” and the extra one-offs which come up during the course of running the business.

In summary, a good to-do list system is the foundation of effective management and the ability to get things done.  It may sound like something really basic, but that doesn’t mean it’s being done.  We would all be well-advised to not take this for granted!


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