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Do You Wanna Build a… Better To-Do List?

If you’re like me, you start off each week with plans and multiple to-do lists – one for home, one for each project at work, and so on. When I reflect on what I have accomplished at the end of the week, I realize that my priorities may have shifted and I may not have asked for help in the right places.

As a part of our current efforts at Liberty Mutual to improve the way we work and manage, we are implementing practices and tools to help us more effectively focus on activities that add value to our customers and employees. One of the tools that I have adopted, both in my job as well as in my roles as a wife and mother to two young girls, is the “Four Ds” – Delete, Defer Delegate, and Do.

Evaluate how you are spending your time by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are the critical tasks that I need to do? What is preventing me from accomplishing these tasks?
  • Do I understand what need the work is filling? (For example, if you have been running a report for a long time and you get the sense that no one is reading it or using it, it might be worth a conversation with your manager to understand if this is still a good use of your time and talent.)
  • Are any of these repeatable?
  • Which tasks are easier and which are the ones that end up at the bottom of the pile every week?
  • Am I the right person, with the relevant experience and skills, to perform this work?
  • Am I completing work well before it is “due” to someone? Is this at the sacrifice of other work that should be completed sooner?

After completing the self-assessment, you are ready to apply the Four D’s to identify what needs your attention now and what can be put on the back burner.

Defer

It may sometimes feel like everything is a priority. If you take the time to not only ask when something is due, but also understand the criticality of the work, it will help you make decisions when trade-offs are required.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as, “I have two major assignments with the same due date, each of which will require the same amount of effort. Can you help me prioritize which one I should work on? Would it be possible to extend the due date for the less critical one by a week?”

When people on my team come to me with these types of questions I know they are planning ahead and have a good understanding of what is feasible and are keeping an eye on quality, not just timeliness.

Delete

By all measures this is the hardest one. No one likes to believe that any of the work we do is not important.

Engage with your manager to periodically evaluate what you are doing, who the customer is, and whether it is adding value. If it’s not useful, time to delete it to help you get time back to focus in other areas.

There are opportunities for this D in your personal life too. I found that I was spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, mostly as a voyeur, not a poster. I conducted a little experiment where I deleted Facebook from my phone for two months. Not only did I feel like I did not miss anything, I found I used the time to return phone calls and emails to friends in a more personal and meaningful way.

Delegate

Like every other four year-old in America, my oldest daughter is completely obsessed with the movie Frozen. Leading up to her birthday party, we looked at pictures online for cake and cupcake ideas.

In my self-inflicted pressure to be a cool mom, I decided to make Olaf cupcakes for her birthday party. This required multiple trips to the grocery store, several YouTube sessions, and a trial run. My husband, while happy to sample what was coming out of the kitchen, made a comment about the cake for the party which amounted to, “You’re going to have a professional cake decorator do this, right?”

I was a little bit offended at first, but after taking a look at my calendar for that week and seeing the number of workshops and critical deliverables I had, I made the call to delegate. Considering the stress relief for me and the happiness on my daughter’s face when she blew out the candles on her cake, I would say this decision was worth every penny.

Do

Now that you have deleted, deferred or delegated work, prioritize the work you are responsible for considering due dates and criticality. Be cognizant of your habits and what ends up not getting done.

If you are like most people, you respond in a Pavlovian way every time you see an email come in or hear your phone buzz with a new text message. Give yourself the space and time to focus on the work that you need to do.

If you are in a role where it’s possible to disconnect for an hour, try doing that. Turn off your email. Disable the alerts on your phone. And start with the things you have noticed you push off, either because you dislike performing the work, or it presents a greater challenge.

On a regular basis, review the different elements of your life and the choices that you are making. I find this to be a nice grounding exercise, particularly since as women we may have more of a tendency to take on too much. We also have a tendency to feel guilty when we can’t be 100% in every area of our life.

Whenever someone says, “I don’t know how you do it all,” my response is, “I don’t do it all. Some days I am really great at my job, but not so great on the home front. Other days I am really on as a mom, but may need to reprioritize a few things at work. It’s impossible to be perfect. It’s more possible to be balanced, but you have to own your choices. You can’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”

I would love to hear your experiences adopting, applying, and optimizing these techniques. Good luck and happy doing, deferring, deleting, and delegating!

Critical task What does this accomplish? Repeatable? Difficulty (Ranked) Right Person? Only Person? Delivery (early, on-time, late) Which D?
TPS Reports Keeps Lundberg informed of what I do Y 1 N N Late Delete

 

Precillia-RedmondPrecillia Redmond is the senior director of corporate human resources and administration at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Precillia earned her MBA from the Olin School of Business at Babson College and specializes in human resources strategy. She already has her dream job and enjoys Forté events.

One Response to “Do You Wanna Build a… Better To-Do List?”

  1. Shannon Tanner

    Thank you for this helpful post! I appreciate this!

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