I’m dedicating this post to anybody who’s faced with task saturation, or needs some new ideas on managing their days or weeks…
One of the most important techniques I share with those I mentor, is how to manage To Dos. It’s too easy to experience churn or task saturation. It’s also too easy to confuse activities with outcomes. At Microsoft, I have to get a lot done and I have to know what’s important vs. what’s urgent, and I have to get results.
My approach is effective and efficient for me. I think it’s effective because it’s simple and it’s a system, rather than a silver bullet. Here’s my approach in a nutshell:
- Monday Vision.
- Daily Outcomes.
- Friday Reflection.
Monday Vision is simply a practice where each Monday, I identify the most important outcomes for the week. This lets me work backwards from the end in mind. I focus on outcome not activities. I ask questions such as, “if this were Friday, what would I feel good about having accomplished?” … “if this were Friday, what would suck most if it wasn’t done?” … etc. I also use some questions from Flawless Execution.
Daily Outcomes is where each day, I make a short To Do list. I title it by date (i.e. 02-03-07). I start by listing my MUST items. Next, I list my SHOULD or COULD. I use this list throughout the day, as I fish my various streams for action. My streams include meetings, email, conversations, or bursts of brilliance throughout the day. Since I do this at the start of my day, I have a good sense of priorities. This also helps me deal with potentially randomizing scenarios. This also helps batch my work. For example, if I know there’s a bunch of folks I need to talk to in my building, I can walk the halls efficiently rather than have email dialogues with them. On ther other hand, if there’s a lot of folks I need to email, I can batch that as well.
Friday Reflection is a practice where I evaluate what I got done or didn’t and why. Because I have a flat list of chunked up To Do lists by day, it’s very easy to review a week’s worth and see patterns for improvement. It’s actually easy for me to do this for months as well. Trends stand out. Analyzing is easy, particularly with continuous weekly practice. My learnings feed into Monday’s Vision.
It Works for Teams Too
Well, that’s my personal results framework, but it works for my teams too. On Monday’s I ask my teams what they’d like to get done, as well as what MUST get done. I try to make sure my team enjoys the rythm of their results. Then each day, in our daily 10-minute calls, we reset MUSTs, SHOULDs, and COULDs. On Fridays, I do a team-based Lessons Learned exercise (I send an email where we reply all with lessons we each personally learned).
Why This Approach Works for Me …
- It’s self-correcting and I can course correct throughout the week.
- I don’t keep noise in my head (the buzz of all the little MUSTs, SHOULDs, COULDs that could float around)
- Unimportant items slough off (I just don’t carry them forward — if they’re important, I’ll rehydrate them when needed)
- I manage small and simple lists — never a big bloated list.
- It’s not technology bound. When I’m not at my desk, pen and paper work fine.
- Keeping my working set small, let’s me prioritize faster or course correct as needed.
- It’s a system with simple habbits and practices. It’s a system of constantly checkpointing course, allowing for course correction, and integration lessons learned.
- My next actions are immediate and obvious, in relation to SHOULDs and COULDs.
Why Some Approaches I’ve Tried Don’t ….
- They were too complex or too weird
- They ended up in monolithic lists or complicated slicing and dicing to get simple views for next actions.
- I got lost in activity instead of driving by outcome.
- They didn’t account for the human side.
- Keeping the list or lists up to date and managing status was often more work than some of the actual items.
- Stuff that should slough off would, woulddn’t, and would have a snowball effect, ultimately making the approach unweildy.
I’ve been using this approach now for many months. I’ve simplified it as I’ve shown others over time. While I learn everyday, I particularly enjoy my Friday Reflections. I also found a new enjoyment in Mondays because I’m designing my days and driving my weeks.
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