31 August 2008

To do or not to-do? Managing with the to-do list

My sister told me she once worked with a manager whose first question when meeting with her staff was, "What does everyone have on their plate?" Everyone looked at each other and mumbled something or other, but nobody was really prepared for the question. The manager then told each member of the team to go back to their desks and type up a to-do list of everything they were doing and the status of each item. She told them that each time she met with them she wanted them to bring their to-do lists so she would know who she could give work to and where everyone was at. She was then able to prioritize jobs and know what everyone was doing and what other jobs they were able to take on.

It made sense to me and I have been using to-do lists ever since. A to-do list for yourself can be an invaluable tool so items do not get forgotten, but it can be an even greater management tool, whether you are working in a team of two or many more.

As my sister's manager suggested, it is a good idea to meet regularly with your team and go over what everyone is doing. One of the greatest benefits of doing this is to keep everyone on the same page and to ensure the manager knows what each of their staff is doing. It can also be a great accountability tool to keep everyone on track and progressing through each job.

I find it is best to put your to-do list in electronic form and typed in order of top priority. I do print out my list occasionally, but I update it electronically on a regular basis. If you are working with someone, it is nice that each of you can go through the list together when you meet, but also if you are both updating and revising the list electronically, then you are able to get updated quickly when you go on-line to check the list.

I also like the to-do list as a reminder come appraisal time of everything I have done throughout the year. It can also be a tool to evaluate how the other members of your team are performing and if they are meeting deadlines.

Try to make your to-do list simple and easy to follow. If you make it too complicated it will not be useful. I use a table format and put the Item #, Task Description, Due Date, Responsible Person and Status.

I have different to-do lists for many projects. I usually put a subfolder in my project file for the to-do list, or if it is a small project, I staple it to the inside of the folder.

I have always found the to-do list to be a great tool to keep myself organized, but recently have found when working with someone else, it helps us to work as a team and to follow up on items. It is also a good way to keep track of who you asked to do what and when and if the job was completed.

As our mother's used to tell us, "Try it, you'll like it!" And in this case, you probably really will...