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Research Triangle Business Advisors 
January 2012 Newsletter


Five Hints on What Does or Does Not Belong on Your To-Do List

By: Bob De Contreras

One effective but often overlooked productivity tool is making a daily to-do list. Sounds simplistic, but it helps busy leaders to experience less stress and frees them up to focus on business issues more successfully. However, I’ve noticed recurring problems with the to-do lists I see from my clients. Let’s explore some common problems:

1.       Non-root causes. A "root cause" is a harmful factor ("cause") that is deep, basic, fundamental, underlying or the like ("root"). For example, the root cause to missed revenue targets could be: poor sales training, poor sales lead generation, lack of brand recognition, uncompetitive pricing, uncompetitive product, poor customer support, poor consulting services, etc. Simply put, “grow sales revenue” does not belong on the to-do list, but the root cause, “implement sales training program” does.

2.       Putting too much on the list. Many CEOs and business owners are very creative. They’re full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm. If they have a to-do list it tends to be very long because of all these creative ideas. Then because the to-do list is so long it gives the impression that they didn’t accomplish anything as they cross off the one or two items they completed.  At the end of the day, instead of feeling pleased with what they’ve accomplished, they’re disappointed in themselves for not finishing everything. You can avoid this trap by managing your list to not exceed the number of items you can keep in short-term memory in your brain.  That turns out to be 8 plus or minus 2 items.  With this approach you will accomplish more and feel good about what you have accomplished.

3.       Failing to prioritize. Executives often accomplish little or nothing from their to-do lists because they spend too much time on tasks they “want” to work on instead of tasks they “should” work on. If an executive’s job can be divided into say 10 areas, maybe 2 of the areas hold his interest or he is skilled at accomplishing.  This leads to the executive focusing on these two areas even when the other 8 may be more important to the success of the business. The goal is to make sure you’re spending your valuable time on high priority tasks that will deliver bottom line results for your company. If it’s not a top priority item for you, then delete it off your to-do list.

4.       Revenue not always high priority. Working with my client executives two facts seem to always be true – revenue is always on the to-do list and it’s always first on the priority list. How can this be happening?  It’s the tactical or short term view that ignores the importance of focusing on items today that will enhance the business success in the future.  Examples of this are hiring certain skilled resources, opening new sales offices in high opportunity markets, investment in computers, software, copiers and other productivity enhancing tools. Your to-do lists should be balanced in focus and timeline.

5.       To-Do list is not cross functional. A marketing executive, for example, has responsibility to drive brand recognition, generate sales leads, support sales activities, participate in industry conferences, develop marketing collateral, drive advertising, manage the marketing budget, collect customer and market feedback, and more.  As I have reviewed client marketing executive’s to-do lists I seldom see any items on the list related to budget, brand or sales support. The honest answer on why this happens is that the executive believes these unlisted areas are “under-control” or “not important right now.”  That cannot be true all the time – your list needs items from across your areas of responsibility.

Follow these helpful hints and you can easily increase your productivity by more than 20%.  Use a to-do list of prioritized root cause items and you will be consistently delivering to your company’s bottom line and fueling the growth of your business.



 


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