Leadership tips: The to-do list

When I found myself out of work back in February, I wasn’t sure what the right course of action was, other than my obvious “look for a job” plan. With some useful advice, I tried a number of things daily to stay focused and work on getting back in the job market:

1. Wake up on time
2. No daytime TV
3. Read the local paper (particularly the business section)
4. Take any interview that came my way
5. Have a to-do list

What I tried to do with the to-do list was unique to me. This specific idea was to start a new list each morning with no more than 10 tasks on it. At the end of the day, anything not done was crossed off as “move to tomorrow” and the list was complete, then thrown away. The next morning, a new list is created.

While I was at the professional speaker’s Champ Camp this summer in Connecticut, Ed Tate mentioned his tactic of starting each morning with 3 “MITs” – which he refered to his must dos. MIT stands for Most Important Tasks. These were tasks that were the first items for him to take care of each day. Not a standard maybe-I’ll-do-this-list, but a committment to himself to complete these tasks each day.

If you’re thinking this sounds like something Stephen Covey would say (i.e. Habit 3 – Put First Things First), you’d be right. This leadership tactic does mirror some of his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Great book, by the way. It’s worth 10-times the price.

For me, I haven’t put Ed’s specific advice into practice like I thought I would. I do consider posting to my blog as one of my MITs, but I’ve always managed to work on it late in the evening.  Since I under-slept this morning, I like the idea of posting first thing to help activate my brain.

One of Ed’s MITs he mentioned was to “reach outside of my 4 walls and ask for business”. I think I like that as one of mine as well, and starting today I’m going to include it in my MITs. Now I have two, so I need to determine what my third one will be. Since my brain is still powering up, I’m going to use today to think that one through.

During my 4-month job hunt, I found the steps I mentioned above to be both useful for staying on track and, frankly, critical to my sanity. But creating that to-do list really made a difference in how I focused my time, and gave me a sense of accomplishment for “getting things done” instead of just passing the time with generic job-hunting tasks.

It doesn’t really matter what format your list takes, whether it’s your top 3, top 10, or some other format. Taking the time to plan out a few important tasks each moring can help energize your thoughts and set you up for a successful day. More importantly, you can look back on the day and feel like you did what you needed to do, not just “stuff”.

If one of your “to-do” items is “Read Rob’s blog”, that’s okay too…

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