Every tick is not made equal – considerations around your to-do list (and how to discuss it with your teams)

If you’re someone who finds annihilating things from your to do list incredibly satisfying, then I’d put you firmly in the majority. Personally, I’m a fan of a rather aggressive squiggly line upon completion of a task, and I’d place a bet that almost every single person in your team has a to do list of sorts – digital or otherwise. 

It’s perhaps this universal love of box ticking that makes this simple leadership idea / productivity hack worthwhile for leaders. 

The problem with to do lists – or ‘don’t forget lists’ as I call mine – is that completing as many things as possible may trick our brain into believing that we are being productive, triggering the dopamine release to make us feel good and motivated. In actuality, the needle has not been moved much, if at all. There’s a tendency to see three ticks as three things done, rather than considering if they are the best three things, or the most important three things. The truth is, not all items on your list are created equal, so assigning them the same priority will jeopardise progress towards your ultimate goal.

A sharing opportunity 

As a leader, you don’t need all the solutions, but you do need to recognise problems and drive communication. There’s something here for leaders around simply observing to-do list behaviours, humbly acknowledging it as collectivist human behaviour and opening up the discussion with teams to share new approaches.  

There are practicalities about how to make to do lists work better:

  • Use your time first thing to brief in any tasks on your list that require other people to undertake tasks, avoiding you becoming a bottleneck. 
  • Break down big tasks into smaller tasks and prioritising those (avoiding the ‘big task avoidance’)
  • Delegate tasks to those who have more capacity
  • Create a don’t forget list (which has every single thing on you need to do) and then a shorter, refined ‘to-do’ list which has your essential daily tasks. Our brains are terrible at estimating the time it needs to complete something – so working from a huge list means that those unticked items on our to-do-list will snowball, denying us the sense of accomplishment to keep us motivated. 

…the list goes on. 

The point is, as a leader there’s a real opportunity to observe behaviours, be humble and invite teams to a short session to share ideas. 

I hope this resonates with you and your teams and helps you to prioritise your ticks.

Andy

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