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The Death of the "To-Do" List?

The Death of the "To-Do" List?

If you're like most people managing a work list, you depend on a To-Do list to keep you on track. The To-Do list has traditionally been a powerful tool. Pilots rely on a To-Do list (or Checklist) to make sure their planes are ready for takeoff; and NASA used the same method for sending men to the moon, putting the space shuttle into orbit and the construction of the space station. What's more, a search on Google or the App Store will reveal hundreds of potential To-Do applications that can be downloaded and used for free or very little cost.

Unfortunately, the organisational need to facilitate more effective collaboration and have real-time visibility into projects and deliverables is relegating the To-Do list to Saturday projects and other non-critical endeavors for many.

What Am I Doing Now and What Should I Be Doing Next?

The answer to this question is critical for organisations that depend on people to execute projects and other initiatives. When team members aren't sure about what they're doing now and what's next, they flounder and become less productive. An effective task list enables people to see the complete picture, allowing them to take ownership of what's happening now as well as what's in the queue. The To-Do list doesn't do this very well.

Easy as this sounds, particularly for organisations that depend upon project-based work to get things done, it's sometimes easier said than done. Managing the queue of tasks and projects in today's organisation can be challenging with cross-functional teams stepping over organisational boundaries to make requests, ad hoc work that demands immediate attention and fewer people trying to get more and more done. I have sometimes felt like I wanted to put a fence around the team to insulate them from the constant barrage of requests that have nothing to do with the objectives they are held accountable for. A "just get-er done" mentality doesn't work anymore either (if it ever really did)-adding more and more tasks to the To-Do list actually makes it more difficult to get work done.

Earlier this year Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer in their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work[1], suggest, "People need to know what goal they're trying to reach, but they have to have autonomy in order to get there. It's a delicate balance. You do want to make sure people understand what their mission is, but you don't want to micro-manage them. If you do, their creative thinking shuts down and you lose the value of their unique talents, expertise, and perspectives."

Are My Accomplishments Recognised?

Unfortunately, as important as the answer to this question may be, in most organisations, the answer is "no". To-Do lists don't do a very good job of capturing the accomplishments (or at very least the competed tasks) associated with a project or other work. In a study commissioned by AtTask[2] and conducted by Forrester Research, it was interesting to learn that 40 percent of knowledge workers surveyed didn't believe that their managers understood the value of their contribution to the goals and objectives of the organisation. The number was even worse when they were asked about the executives. 60 percent answered that they didn't believe the executives within their organisation understood their contributions either.

Most people take pride in what they do and want to contribute to something worthwhile-bigger than themselves. They want to feel as thought their contributions are of value; and that the organisation values them. Capturing accomplishments is important, but only part of the equation, facilitating an transparent environment where contributions are visible to both managers and peers is critical and something a To-Do list doesn't do.

Do I Have the Tools I Need to Do My Work Right?

Simple as this may sound, it's amasing how some of the tools we regularly take for granted can help or hinder teams. Sometimes it's as simple as the right phone system or email client. It also includes the tools we use to manage work.

Collaboration is an important part of successful projects and other work. Regardless of your work management solution, if it doesn't facilitate a collaborative environment, provide visibility into tasks, issues and projects to everyone on the team, and facilitate a means to recognise accomplishments, it falls short.

Empowering people to do what they do best requires we give them the right tools for the job-organisations that do that are able to increase efficiency, enable teams to better collaborate and ultimately become more successful.


[2] Social Project Management/PPM, Tim Harmon and April Lawson