Hints & Tips Blog

Tame your ‘to do list’

I admit it, I’m a list person. Not just in business, but at home too. When I’m under pressure I feel more in control as I tick things off the list. When things are less fraught my list gives me structure and focus.

However even as the most ardent fan of ‘the list’, I have to concede its limitations and be aware of its shortcomings. In the words of Stephen Covey, author of ‘the 7 habits of highly effective people “The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” In other words, have you got the right things on your list? To use another of Covey’s analogies, we shouldn’t be so busy trying to climb the ladder of success, or business growth, that we fail to notice the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall!

For most business owners, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done (that they would like to get done). But often new ideas, new projects and the really ‘important things, such as thinking time, continuous improvement and analysis, is squeezed out to deal with ‘urgent issues and trouble shooting.

So here are a few ideas on how to make sure you are in control of your ‘list’ rather than it controlling you.

Prioritise and focus
If you have items on your list that are just moved forward to the next list each time, then you need to ask yourself, what’s really important? Are you focusing on some elements because there is a deadline-driven by others – customers or team? Are you doing it as it’s always been done, and what would the true impact be of not doing it and dedicating that time to something more important long term?

There will of course always be urgent and important things that have to be done, but don’t consistently let the ‘urgent’ override the ‘important’. Identify the things that will make the biggest difference, have the greatest impact on your business now and in the future and be disciplined in delivering those.

Prune or delegate
Identifying what you won’t do going forward can be difficult. We can get a feeling of satisfaction and achievement from doing things we are good at and familiar with. But as a business owner, it’s likely your key priorities should be the things only you can do, and these are often likely to be things you haven’t done before and that feels challenging. After all, if you repeat the same things the business is likely to stand still, not move forward.

So be disciplined about what you might stop doing entirely, and what you might need to ask others to do. Delegation is not only a tool that can free you up for those really business-critical priorities but if approached right it’s also a great way to upskill and motivate others.

Try ‘timeboxing’
In a radical departure from my dedication to the ‘to do list’ in the next article, I’ll look at an alternative way to manage time and priorities, given even I have to admit, ‘the list’ is not right for everyone or every situation.

Our team at BHP Consulting all run successful businesses, we understand that businesses are unique and our approach involves sharing this experience to improve your business. For an initial telephone conversation or face-to-face meeting, click here