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Don't Try to Do More in 2004

Copyright � 2004 Michael Hudson, Ph.D.
Everyday Leadership Network

The holidays are quickly fading into memory and the New Year is now in full swing. No doubt you have returned to your disheveled workspace and your daily routine. Perhaps you've even tackled that resolution you made about getting organized and cleaning off your desk.

But wait. Did you do it again this year? Did you create the list?

You now the list I mean. That list you created in the midst of your year-end/new year clean-up effort. The list that includes all those things that you intended to get done in 2003 but did not, AND all those things you are firmly committed to for 2004. The list that has the nice check boxes and the specific deadlines for completion for every item. Yes, that list.

Don't get me wrong. Creating the list was a very good idea and merits a round of applause. You invested your time wisely and assembled all the carryover items in one place, while defining a clear plan for the year ahead. But you can not afford to stop there.

Realize that when you created the list you implicitly committed yourself to do more in 2004. Think about it. Not only are you committing to do the things you planned for 2004, but you are also carrying over all of the things you did not finish last year. And chances are, if you are like most people, the list is already too long to be accomplished in a single year, and we are not even half-way through the first month!

But that is not inherently bad. There is great value in setting ambitious goals that will stretch you and make you grow. Here is the problem: There are likely to be many things on your list that simply do not belong. Here's why.

Some of the items you carried over from last year would merit your effort--if that effort had been given last year. Now they are merely things you feel obligated to do because they are on your list. But in the context of what really matters in 2004, they do not justify any additional effort.

Other items on the list are no longer relevant. Allocating your time and energy to them will at best make you feel good because you followed through and will at worst make you look bad because it took you so long to get them done. If you were to abandon them completely and never touch them again, almost no one would notice (and you would rest better because they would be out of your sight and your mind!).

You get the point. A list of carryover to do items and new to do items for the year ahead is an important first step that many of us take each year as part of our fresh start. But if we stop there and begin to tackle all of the items on the list, we doom ourselves to repeat the process again in 12 months.

Here's a better solution for the everyday leader.

  1. If you have not already done so, create your composite list. Include everything that you planned to do in 2003 that was not completed, along with all the things you plan to do in 2004.

  2. Examine your list carefully and rate each item either:

    • Urgent--it needs to be completed within the next 60 days;
    • Not-Urgent--it needs to be completed within the next 9-12 months;
    • Not-Yours--it needs to be completed but not by you; or
    • Not-Important--it does not really need to be done at all.

  3. Delete all of the items you ranked Not-Important from the list--only a fool would allocate energy to doing things that are not important!

  4. Create two lists from the remaining items:

    • YOUR LIST: Includes all of the Urgent and Not-Urgent items from step 2 sorted by their Urgent/Not-Urgent ratings;
    • THEIR LIST: Includes all of the Not-Yours items from step 2.

    NOTE: If you are self-employed or do not have direct reports, you may find this step a bit awkward at first. But chances are there are items on your list that you cannot and should not do, and they need to be passed along to those who can and should do them.

  5. Review THEIR LIST and assign the tasks to the relevant people, i.e., the people who are going to be responsible for their accomplishment. You might assign some items to your administrative assistant, others to your direct reports, and others to vendors and suppliers with whom you can outsource the task. The objective is to develop a clear alignment of responsibilities for these items so that you can monitor their completion rather than doing them yourself.

  6. Review YOUR LIST and prioritize the items in terms of when they need to be completed; keep the ratings in place for Urgent versus Not-Urgent, as you will use them again in steps 7 & 8.

  7. Using YOUR PRIORITIZED LIST and your calendar, schedule appointments with yourself to work on all of the Not-Urgent items on the list so that they will be completed at least 3-4 weeks prior to their due date. Let nothing interfere with these appointments with yourself and commit to getting these things done in advance so they do not become urgent items like the others on the list.

  8. Review the urgent items on YOUR PRIORITIZED LIST to:

    • Eliminate the ones you can, i.e. the ones that will not have an adverse impact if they are never completed. This will not be an easy task, but there are probably some things on the list that can be dropped, so take them off. Be brutally honest here and eliminate as many of the items as you can.

    • Defer those that are not really urgent. There are often items on your list that seem urgent because you have been wanting to get them done for a long time and have not, but they really are not all that urgent. Defer these items by re-rating them as Not-Urgent and scheduling them at a future date.

    • Delegate anything and everything that can be passed along to someone who can do it at least 75 percent as well as you can. Even if you have no direct reports, there are ways to move items to others for completion. Outsourcing to temps or vendors and passing opportunity oriented items on to up and coming colleagues are two quick strategies that work. Be sure to add these items to THEIR FINAL LIST as they are now items that you have moved into the Not-Yours category.

  9. At this point you have two lists:

    • YOUR FINAL PRIORITIZED LIST which includes the urgent items that you are going to do in the next 60 days and the not-urgent items that you have scheduled throughout the year, and

    • THEIR FINAL LIST which includes the items you have passed along to others and are now merely monitoring.

    Combine these to create YOUR 2004 TO DO LIST by adding THEIR FINAL LIST as an item on YOUR FINAL PRIORITIZED LIST.

  10. Focus your energies in 2004 on completing the things on YOUR 2004 TO DO LIST, adding items as appropriate using the ratings screen from step 2 to determine what to add and what not to add and being very assertive about not putting things on your list that can be done equally well by someone else.
There you have it. A simple 10-step process for making sense of that lengthy list that emerged during your yearend/new year clean-up process. If you do this effectively, your productivity will improve significantly during the year ahead as your stress level is reduced by working on things before they are due. Best of all, when the end of the year rolls around, there will be fewer carryover items for next year's list!

Michael Hudson, Ph.D., known as The Everyday Leadership Authority(tm), is the founder and principal of the Everyday Leadership Network--an organization devoted to developing leaders of growing businesses, non-profits, and government agencies. Visit for information about Michael's keynotes, seminars, and workshops, and to sign up for his bi-weekly ezine, The Everyday Leader!

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