February 27, 2010
Blow up your to-do list
In my last post, I mentioned working smarter in today's "do more with less" business climate. Employees, managers, entrepreneurs, and workplace experts I've spoken to this month have confirmed what I've long suspected: letting go of the notion that you'll be able to finish every last crumb on your plate helps take a big weight off your shoulders.
"Don't fool yourself into thinking that just working more will solve the problem," says Katherine Crowley, a psychotherapist who specializes in workplace issues. "You have to live by the credo that concentrated effort will deliver more results than a scattershot approach to your work."
Ray White, COO of interactive marketing agency Range Online Media, agrees. "Priorities used to be As, Bs, and Cs," he says. "But now in the fast paced, e-mail filled, immediate gratification age, everything is an A. Unfortunately, you can't get to all of it."
So how do you turn an unruly to-do list into one you can actually tackle? Some suggestions from these experts:
Ditch the reactive mentality. It's far too easy to get so caught up in day-to-day business dealings (meetings, e-mails, status reports) that you let critical money-making tasks slide, says Crowley, co-author of the bestseller "Working with You Is Killing Me" and "Working for You Isn't Working for Me."
"If you need to do new business development, don't wait until you have a free moment," Crowley says. "Take those actions first -- before you spend hours culling through e-mails that are more concerned with business maintenance."
Let non-essential tasks go -- permanently. Tackling the most important tasks first may sound like a no-brainer. But if you have 20 urgent tasks at the top of your to-do list, Houston, we have a problem. To help his employees prioritize, White preaches an idea he calls "$100 rocks."
"Picture two rooms: one full of rocks and the other one empty," White explains. "The rocks range in value from $1 to $100. Your job is to move the [rocks of] most value from one room to the other each day. Once you have moved all the $100 rocks, move to the $99 rocks, then the $98 rocks, and so on."
Think of each item on your to-do list as having one of these rock values, White says. "Decide which task provides the most value for your clients or your team," he explains. "$100 rocks are the most important. $95 rocks are also important and still need to be done, but not until the $100 rocks are handled. If you make sure the $100 rocks are taken care of, you can be confident that you have created the most value possible with the time you have spent."
Focus on tasks that will have the greatest impact. By narrowing down his to-do list, Danny Wong, marketing manager for Blank Label, a custom men's dress shirt startup, has managed to boost his company's sales and publicity hits.
"Instead of pitching [our business] to 1,000 small-time bloggers, I've switched to pitching 300 medium-sized bloggers who have at least 10 times greater reach," Wong explains. "I have noticed a higher conversion rate from cold e-mail to conversation to article after targeting bloggers and Web sites better." By concentrating his efforts on sites with a broader reach, Wong estimates he's spending 10 to 15 percent less time on his PR efforts -- but yielding better results.
In addition, Wong says, "Instead of spending all my time marketing for new consumers, I focus more efforts on reselling to current consumers." The result? "The number of shirts per customer has increased," he says.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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