Task Management – simplified!

Have you ever had this experience?  You’re lying in bed, just about to go to sleep, drifting off even, until it hits you.  That thing that you meant to do today?  You forgot.  Suddenly, your brain is on full alert, and you’re promising yourself that you’ll remember to do it tomorrow.  Just like you promised last night.  You lock the task in your memory and then lie there, unable to relax, just hoping that you don’t forget it again tomorrow..

We all face challenges, and managing time and tasks is probably one of the most universal.  When you’re juggling work to be completed for clients, business development activities, administrative work, professional development and training, plus personal tasks, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you don’t keep a running, written “to do” list.

Chances are, you’re a bright person with a good memory.  You may even rely on your memory more than you really should.  If you’re keeping a running list of things you need to accomplish in your head, not on paper, you’re committing a foundational mistake that will cost you peace of mind – and it may even cost you clients.

The solution?  An easy 3-step process:

  1.  Keep a running list of all tasks, both business and personal.  (You’ll need to accomplish all these tasks, so why separate those lists?)  Whenever you think of something you need to do, it goes on the list.  Every.  Single.  Time.
  2. Create a list of weekly “to do” items from your master list.
  3. At the end of each day, draw up a daily “to do” list from your weekly list, supplemented with whatever additions are necessary.

By writing down every task as it arises, you free yourself from the mental “to do” list that will float around the back of your mind, distracting you from what you’re actually doing or, perhaps, chiming in too late to get the task done.  You must train yourself to write everything down.

Create a system for capturing your task list that matches your life.  If you do most of your work in a single location, you might create a word processing document or spreadsheet that lists the project (by client name or number, for example), the specific task, the category (client work, administrative, vacation planning, etc.), and the due date.   Be sure you can sort based on each of these so you can know at a glance, for instance, what’s due when or how much work you have to do for each client.

If you frequently travel, you’ll want to look for a more robust solution that will sync your computer and wireless devices.  A few that I’ve used or that clients have recommended:

Finally, since looking for a new “to do” list organizer likely wasn’t on your task list for today, try this handy gadget for marking those web pages for later comparison.

Taking Risks

Failure is often a difficult topic for high performers. After all, those who achieve much do so by making it a habit to avoid failure.  More than a few times, when I’ve talked with my own coach, the conversation has ended up with me saying, “Well, that’s fine, but failure just isn’t an option for me.  I don’t do that.” How ridiculous – and also, perhaps, how familiar.

I’ve failed plenty of times. When it comes to business, my goal is to fail quickly if I’m going to fail.  When a task is important, failure often leads to a better-informed next attempt, which usually leads (directly or not) to success.  So, when failure is inevitable, fast failure is the way to go.

And yet, failure is still unpalatable to me.  Is it to you, as well?

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a client and out popped what I believe to be a truism: You cannot succeed unless you’re willing to fail.  This was reinforced in a story I read recently about a ne’er-do-well door-to-door salesman.  He’d march up to someone’s doorstep, extend his finger to press the doorbell, and then pull back, muttering, “She won’t buy anything.”  And he’d turn around, guaranteeing his failure on that potential sale.  No wonder he was a ne’er-do-well.

Now, most of us don’t do door-to-door sales, but the principle is just the same. You must take a risk to have any chance of success.  Whether it’s reaching out to a potential client, asking a current client how they think things are going, or stepping onto a stage (literal or figurative) to make a presentation to some of your ideal clients, if you don’t risk, you don’t get.

Where is your aversion to risk causing you to stop? After I talked with my client, I challenged myself to write down all of the things I’m holding back on doing because I realistically think I might fail, and then to come up with a way to mitigate that risk.  I quickly produced a fresh to-do list.  Even though I might fail, I also may succeed on my first shot with those items, thanks to this five-minute exercise.

Today, I invite you to do this quick exercise yourself, specifically in the realm of business development: 

  1. What are you avoiding for fear of failure? List three to five items, both general (attending a networking luncheon) and specific (calling the promising contact you met last week who promised to call you but didn’t).
  2. What are the consequences if you do fail? Consider the financial, professional, reputational, and emotional risks.  Don’t overstate them; despite your first response, chances are good that you won’t actually die.  However, if a misstep could constitute professional suicide (with an ethics violation, for example), you need to get absolute clarity before you move forward.
  3. How might your mitigate the risks? Consider steps such as running a limited test, having a conversation to try out your idea on clients and/or former clients, or launching your idea in phases.  If you’re not sure what to do, seek help from a mentor or consultant.
  4. Choose one or two actions to take, with the modifications you made in step three. 

I don’t encourage failure. However, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  Take some calculated risks. If you fail (as sometimes you will), make it your practice to just back into action quickly, with a better appreciation of what you might do differently so that each attempt increases your chances of success.