Why you need to master daily tasks to achieve big goals

Why you need to master daily tasks to achieve big goals

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big list writer. I always have been.

Perhaps because I’ve always had a pretty bad memory but also because I’m a planner — I need to know how I’m going to get from here to there.

If I don’t have a list, I get overwhelmed by the details — “Yes, I know I need to do that, but first I have to do this, or I can’t forget that, or what if this happens, or that changes? Aaaagghh”

As coaches we’re acutely aware that different people see the world differently. In some cases, folks don’t need a list, or a plan, to feel comfortable.

However, we coach a lot of amazing leaders throughout North America and Asia and we’ve noticed a couple things — effective leaders often have a list to focus them on the bigger picture and to relieve their mind of the daily stuff. We’ve also noticed that no matter the behaviour profile of the leader we’re working with, starting some form of list making often helps them focus on what’s important.

Knowing ahead of time what your most important tasks are is a game-changer.

How many times have you sat down at your desk only to feel like a pinball, completely out of touch with what you should be doing? Or, how often have you finished a day at the office and realized, “aaarrrgghh, I didn’t finish any of the stuff I needed to finish but I was busy all day!”

If you don’t have a plan, other people’s priorities become your plan. You spend your day doing things that feel urgent but may or may be important (which we talked about in detail here).

So what are some of the daily habits and practices that can help you master your daily tasks?

One of the tactics we see helping most often is to clear your desk at the end of each day, review the list of priorities you had for today, cross off what you have achieved and start tomorrow’s list on a new page.

Note: there’s something to be said for paper lists and I always keep a paper list but this can just as easily be done in your favorite task management tools or apps. Here’s a great list of tools if you’re looking for a new one.

Writing out what’s most important at the end of the day helps because you can “leave it behind” when you leave work and because you know it’s there for you, highly visible, first thing the next morning.

So that might be helpful to you, or to someone you’re leading in your organization. But, you might be wondering, are there tips on HOW to write a good list? Glad you asked!

  1. Write each action item as if you were delegating it to someone else. No shorthand. The more shorthand and code you use, the easier it is for you to gloss over it as you read the list tomorrow. Or, if the item gets punted for a few days, or weeks, you’re quite possibly not even going to recognize it later.
  2. Use a verb and a noun in every item. Don’t just write “client proposal” — try “Draft client proposal,” which perhaps leads to “Send client proposal” as the next step.
  3. Break things down as much as possible so that they’re bite-size and actionable, make it easy for you to check things off.

That leads me to the next three tips:

  1. If there is a time deadline, include it in your list “Draft client proposal by noon” and “Send client proposal by end of day;”
  2. Be clear about ownership — if you’re leading a team and you need “somebody” to send the proposal then get specific about who “Assign Chris to send proposal to client by end of day.”It’s so easy as a leader to expect “someone” will take care of something but never assign it to “someone” and be faced with doing it yourself when the best use of your limited time isn’t on personally writing the proposal.
  3. Be clear too about “relay items.” Relay items are things that need to move through the “system” or the team. In our example above, you are drafting the proposal by noon and then “Chris” is sending it out by the end of day. That makes it a relay item — you have to send it to Chris, once it’s drafted, or the system will stop.

    If you’re writing the list only for yourself you can trust yourself to know that. If you’re delegating items from a list, you have to decide if you can trust the team to keep the relay going, or you need to be specific.

  4. Sometimes we have to start specific, with an extra step. If, for example, someone else was writing the proposal I would be clear with them that we need them to “Send the proposal to Chris by 3pm,” eventually dropping that step once you’re confident that it’s understood.

Finally, I find dividing my list into sections, based on bigger goals, helps me focus on why I’m doing the thing I’m doing, and keeps me focused on the big picture, visionary items.

So my list might look like:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

❏ Finalize the website layout with the designer

❏ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

❏ Schedule time with videographer

❏ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

❏ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

❏ Send information package to VP of HR

❏ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog

❏ Mail the insurance cheque

❏ Schedule the dog training

At the end of the day it might look like:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

✔︎ Finalize the website layout with the designer

✔︎ Confirm with editor that the content will be ready for the site by Friday at noon

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

✔︎ Schedule time with videographer

✔︎ Assign script writing to Shirley – to be complete by Friday

❏ Review the software choices and choose one

✔︎ Talk to Gary about how he created his videos

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

✔︎ Send information package to VP of HR

✔︎ Call David to ask his insight

❏ Schedule lunch with VP and CEO

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog

✔︎ Mail the insurance cheque

✔︎ Schedule the dog training

So I would then write a new list for tomorrow:

LAUNCH THE NEW STAFF WEBSITE in September

❏ Review the beta draft of the website and send notes to editor

❏ Finalize the colours with Jess and then send them to the designer

CREATE COACHING VIDEOS

❏ Ask Fred for his thoughts on the software choices [NOTICE I added some clarity here on how to choose the software — Ask Fred for his input.]

❏ Choose the software [NOTICE I split the “review and choose” item into two separate items.]

❏ Have purchasing proceed with the purchase

SECURE CONTRACT WITH ACME CORP

❏ Ask Mary to finalize and schedule a lunch with VP and CEO [Notice it became clear to me I had to delegate this task to “someone”]

❏ Prepare notes for meeting

DAY TO DAY STUFF

❏ Write next week’s blog !!

It’s so easy to get stuck in a reactive state or lose momentum from the day before. Writing and keeping an ongoing, centralised to-do list allows you to capture and harness your progress and focus from the day before.

Sitting down at your desk in the morning with a clear plan on what you need to do to move forward on what’s IMPORTANT as opposed to what’s urgent can make all the difference.  If you’d like a refresher on Important vs Urgent, click here

Coach’s Question:

How might you use lists to keep you on track to your long-term goals?

Who on your team might benefit from lists and how can you help them with it?

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