If you pile enough on, anyone can be made to look foolish and incompetent. That’s the sad state of affairs many of us find ourselves in from time to time. Work piles up, deadlines are missed, quality suffers and then there are the consequences to deal with. What’s your reaction when faced with a situation like this? If you’re like me, the tendency is to hold on to all of the tasks, accomplish what I can on a daily basis and hope that no one asks about the others. Not a very good strategy for success.
There has to be a better way—right?
There is, and I’ll walk you through it. Grab your to-do list and we’ll walk through this together.
Prioritize your list.
Take out your to-do list and scan through it. If you don’t have a list and are just keeping it in your head, take some time to write it down. There’s only one thing worse than a long to-do list. That is a vague, anxiety producing bunch of ideas you’re trying to keep straight in your head. Get them out of your head and down on paper. I’ll wait for you.
Okay—let’s take a look at that list now. My list has 15 items on it. How many does yours have? Our first step is to prioritize the list by importance. Give each of your tasks a letter grade of A, B, or C depending on how important it is. We’ll try to get to everything on the list eventually, but let’s make sure that we focus on the important ones first.
I’m finished—are you? In my own case, prioritizing my list gave me 8 A’s, 2 B’s, and 5 C’s. I’m feeling a little better already—the eight A’s seem manageable and the five C’s really aren’t that important. How did your list shake-out?
Identify where you are at.
Now, take a second look at the A’s. Where would you say you are with each of these tasks? At Blanchard we use a model where you identify yourself at one of four development levels with a task depending on your commitment to getting it done and your ability to get it done.
- Enthusiastic Beginner—you’re excited about the task but don’t really understand how to get started.
- Disillusioned Learner—you understand the task and have some skills, but aren’t very excited about it at all.
- Capable, but Cautious Performer—you’ve got the skills to do this, but your commitment and confidence wavers sometimes.
- Self Reliant Achiever—you’ve done this task successfully in the past and you’re confident you can do it successfully again.
What’s your commitment and competence for each of the “A” tasks on your list? Are you just dragging your feet on a task because you’re not motivated, or do you really not know where to begin? Are there obstacles in the way that are outside of your control? Identifying where you are at with each task will help you with the final step.
Ask for help.
In some cases, you probably have everything you need to knock off a task. These are the tasks where you know what to do and you’re confident and committed to getting it done. The first step of Prioritizing probably helped surface these tasks on your list. You have everything you need so get those tasks done this week.
Some of the other tasks might have a trouble spot. Either you don’t know what to do, have some issues with it, or have encountered some obstacles that are keeping you from making progress. Talk to your manager about these. Discuss where you are at with these key tasks and enlist their help.
If it’s been a while since you talked, keep the conversation focused on where you are at with each of the goals and what you need in order to achieve them. Ask your manager to help you get what you need to succeed. Be specific and ask for either some direction on accomplishing the task if you don’t have the knowledge you need, some support if you are encountering obstacles, or some encouragement if you are not sure how this task matches up with departmental goals.
Tackle that to-do list. But don’t feel that you have to go it alone. Work is a group activity. No man is supposed to be an island. Prioritize your work, identify where you are at, and then ask for help when you need it. It’s in everyone’s best interest for you to succeed. Get started today!
6 thoughts on ““To-do” list got you down? Here’s the 3-step cure”
This is helpful.
I’d appreciate hearing more about the 4 developmental levels and any tailored strategies flowing from identifying which level fits a task.
Now, back to that list…
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Good advice, but don’t forget to rewrite (or re-type) your to-do lists several times a week. Priorities change and new tasks are added on a daily basis. I find keeping a clean updated list reduces the anxiety. Also, in your mind, do not stack the to-do’s on top of each other so the total “anxiety weight” bears down on you. Visually spread the tasks out horizontally so only the “weight” of each is felt and not the sum of all. This will help you focus and concentrate better on each of the prioritized tasks.
Thanks for your thoughts, I have been trying to replace a valve on the main sprinkler valve. Tried Teflon tape, not working. Tried this putty stick, but the package does not list cure time. Can anyone help?
Great tips! Thanks! I’ve found that changing the language I use helps too. Writing “go to mall” is too open ended. “Buy a gift for Jay” is much more focused and keeps me on task.