No. 2 Idea of Five Ideas to Jump Your Professionalism Right Now

The first idea was Read--read for an hour (at least an hour) in the morning on something related to your field--whether it's sales, consulting, leadership, management, project management, innovating, etc.

We are on to the second idea. Work every day from a To-Do list. You may be screaming, "Is that it???? Are you kidding me?

Yes that is it. No, I am not kidding you.

This one idea will transform what you in different ways so positively that your personality and your image and your ability to be reliable and get things done. It will make you the "go-to" person and best-in-class.

Big Mistakes
Our biggest mistakes around time management and getting things done are as follows:

  1. Treating every activity the same as all the other activities. 
  2. Not understanding what you were hired to do and therefore not doing what needs to be done.
  3. Not setting priorities on your work and activities.
  4. Not writing things down on paper, that is, believing you will remember everything that needs to be done.
  5. Not following through on what you committed to get done.
  6. Feeling overwhelmed because you believe you can remember it all
One of the biggest lessons to learn is prioritization. You can't do everything but you can do the important things. Understanding what is important takes some time to get into your head. One of the tools to use was made famous by Stephen Covey and it looks like this diagram below.

This is a simple chart. It breaks up the important, urgent, not important and not urgent. As simple as this next sentence sounds, it also sound contradictory. Focus on the important (Quadrant 2 in the diagram above) and allow everything else to slide. Yes, that's right. Skip the Urgent (where possible) and skip anything Not Important either all the time or all the time (yes, I said that on purpose). 

There should be very little if anything in the Important & Urgent Quadrant. Of course if there is, you must get that work done now. But remember this: you can be tricked into thinking or believing that the urgent is important--when in fact it's not. Urgency or the urgent creates a feeling that this item is important and therefore, that where you should be spending your time. Don't be tricked into this. The urgent is seldom important. And important is seldom urgent. This is why we allow the important to slide.

Examples In Prioritizing
Here's an example we all can relate to. You know exercise is important. You read about it, to hear it on the news, and even your body craves it. Yet, it's hardly ever urgent. So it's easy to skip if you believe you should be focused on doing the urgent. Does that make sense? 

Now let's talk about Urgent & Important and how it pertains to work. Here's an example: A client is ticked off--something failed. It's urgent that you get this addressed, because the client's network is down and no one there can work. Now this is a great example of important-- and also urgent. You have got to get the client's network up and running again--now--or as soon as now as possible. Now that make it urgent. It's now, now, now. 

What makes it important is that your reputation is on the line. It is your client after all. They entrusted you with their network. They have repeat business. Other prospective clients may hear about the disaster. Are you with me? Often we blend urgent and important. It is key we start separating why the two are different.

If on the other hand, the client's invoice is incorrect, and someone from accounting is calling you saying, "This is urgent to get fixed" and they are almost screaming "It's important"--you may feel compelled to fix it now. That is, you may feel compelled to drop your important stuff to do theirs. 

It feels important and it feel urgent. Certainly someone from accounting is pushing you. However, if instead you ask the person in accounting if this has to be done now this very second, or even today, the person--if she or he is calm and rational and isn't trying to create a mountain out of a molehill, will probably say, "No, you don't have to get it done today. But I have to send out new invoices Friday, can you get it done by Thursday?" Now you have something that is important to the person in accounting and they are relying on you--and of course you are a person who can be counted on--but it doesn't bubble up to a crisis and it's not that important. So you can fit it into a slot on your To-Do list or calendar when you have "downtime." Or said another way, when you have time on your calendar rather than dropping everything else you have to do. 

By the way, if you have the accounting person's action "fix the invoice" and the client's issue "their network is down"--which one is a higher priority? Of course, the network. However, unless you are the network technician, once you have gotten the best and brightest addressing the client's network there is little else you can do. Except to go over and reassure the client you understand the critical nature of their network being down. This means you can fret and wait or you can get on doing other things you need to be done. Opt for the later.

Memorize the Diagram-And Focus On Quadrant 2
The diagram below goes into more detail and provides you a guideline as to how to approach this concept of focus, manage, avoid and limit. Take a look and mentally absorb this concept right now into your mind.

Now this is very important: We typically avoid Quadrant 2 because the important is seldom urgent and it hardly ever feels fun and exciting to do. In fact, things like going to lunch fits into Quadrants 3 and 4--depending on how you justify lunch with colleagues. We can even make it fit into 1 or 2--with a bit of rationalization can't we? 

Or how about the one like picking up our dry cleaning. We can make that one fit any one of the Quadrants. "I have no shirts to wear tomorrow" makes this seem urgent and important. We can fool ourselves by going to the dry cleaners in the middle of the day and we drop everything else because we apparently don't have anything to wear tomorrow. Have you been there? 

What Were You Hired To Do?
This is where we get into: What were you hired to do in the first place? If you aren't sure, go back to your job description. Or go ask your boss. It might freak her out if you ask, "What was I hired to do?" It might freak her out because she may ask, "What the heck have you been doing for the past four years?" Or she may say, "I can't remember. Why are you here?" Or worse, she may make something up on the fly and not give much thought to it. 

So let's try and talk this through for a minute. Why are you here?

I am going to take the role of sales person as my example. You know a sales person has to sell. Selling is the life blood of the organization. No sales equals no business. No business equals no revenues. No revenues equals no way to cover costs. And guess who is a cost? I am sorry, it's you. You are a cost. You are on the P&L as a cost. You are lumped into a little line item with all the other "costs." You, therefore, may be in jeopardy of losing your job, if there is no revenue to offset you an your friends. This is simple organizational economics. As scary as this sounds. And by the way, no one ever explains it to you when you are interviewing. Now that you understand this you are as smart as most MBAs. So congratulations, you are an MBA now. Well, maybe not quite. Sorry MBAs.

So back to the sales person role example. What do you think a sales person does, besides goof off, fly to exotic places, eat big meals, and back slap a lot? If you are a sales person what are the activities you have to perform to be successful? Let's look at the list below. Are these what a sales person was hired to perform?
  1. Cold call to get appointments.
  2. Present products and solutions.
  3. Get accounts receivable invoices corrected.
  4. Build proposals.
  5. Deliver customer satisfaction reports.
  6. Pick up dry cleaning to have clothes in order to look sharp.
  7. Eat lunch with your buddies at work.
  8. Meet with various people in the client account to understand their issues and needs.
  9. Go to day care and meet with the teachers because your child is throwing spaghetti-o's at other little kids.
  10. Understand how the client buys and provide a winning solution to seal the deal.
Okay. If you are in sales-can you see what items you were not hired to do? Even if you are not in sales, can you see what a sales person should not be doing

Yes, I see you have to check out your child at day care. I get that this is important. But is that what you were hired to do? The answer is a resounding no. 

If you grab the items above that you should not be doing, the list left over are a list of things that fall into the Quadrant 2 work--the things you were hired to do. Items 1, 2, 4, 8, 10 are what you were hired to do. For those of you who are not in sales you may think that these things are easy to get done. This is absolutely incorrect. A lot of work is required prior to actually doing these items. For example, in order to do item 8, you have to figure out who are the important people to meet with. Then asking for appointments doesn't occur with one phone call or email. It takes sometimes a dozen calls and emails to get hold of someone and convince them to meet. And that's just the beginning. Once they get the appointment, the client reschedules, invites others into the meeting and asks questions that are off-topic. Meaning: getting prepared for a meeting takes a lot of prep work and planning. 

So when you are wondering why the sales person can't get an account receivable item straight--it's because they have a hard job. Also a poor sales person will jump on this activity--the activity of getting accounts receivable straight--because it is tangible and it is not as difficult as the other things they have to do. It's a mistake to give sales people these "easy" and not-on-their important things to do list; but this is an entirely different point and I could take this off topic.

Everything else? Those fit into 3 and 4 Quadrants. This sounds cold--so what about thing like eating with your buddies (item 7)? This item is not important and not urgent. What about dry cleaning on the list? Not important and certainly not urgent. And just because you have the time and freedom (yes, you are out and about) doesn't make it important. 

And if you have your To-Do's done today--don't start doing unimportant stuff. Work all the time you are at work. There's a novel concept for some of you. To keep you on track and keep you from straying into doing stuff you aren't being paid for, allow me to reintroduce the "To-Do" list.

The Power of a To-Do List
From this moment forward--I want you to write down everything you have to do. In fact, write down on a piece of paper everything you have to do. Everything. Do this now. I truly mean it; stop and write down everything you can possibly think of you have to do.

Did you do it? Probably not. But do this after you complete this reading then. I will go into why in a few moments. I want you to create a main list, a "Master List" of everything you have to get done. Everything large and small. Things you have to do at home and at work. This is where you capture everything you have to get done. You can capture it and should capture it on clean piece of paper. Don't use our laptop. Write everything you believe you need to do down on this paper. It may take several sheets. Include things like picking up the laundry and meeting the teachers at day care. Everything.

When you write things down, even the urgent, things--activities--requests, all things tend to lose their sense or feeling of urgency. You can look at these items on paper, things feel more rational, they lose their potency most of the time because they are out of your head attached to emotions of fear, dread, and urgency. When you look at your list from the lens of Quadrants 1, 2, 3, or 4--you can see the urgent is not the important. 

Prioritizing the To-Do List-Jump Starting Your Career
A simple way to help you fit these things into a prioritization is the method I learned from an author who wrote a book that is about 80 pages long. It was a great little book: If You Haven't Got the Time to Do It Right, When Will You Find the Time to Do It, by Jeffrey Mayer.

He suggests taking the list of your things to do and examine each item. On the items that are going  to take longer to do, place the number "1" next to each item. On the items that take a medium amount of time place a "2" next to the item. On the items that take a short period of time to do place a "3" next to those items.

So a phone call may have a 3 next to it--if it's a relatively short call - say five or ten minutes. Since it takes a short period of time to do and get done--that activity earns a 3. A report may have a 2 or a 1 next to it. A report takes time--the amount of time depends on the complexity of the report, who you have to get your information from, and the length of the report. 

Are you with me so far? So, picking up your dry cleaning gets a 1, possibly a 2. Why? Because it takes a lot of time to drive across town to do this. Unless of course you are on your way home and you pass by the cleaners. But it still takes time. So perhaps it becomes a 3 (not much time at all), but more than likely it will get a 2 (it will take some medium amount of time). 

Remember the first labels of 1, 2, and 3 is the amount of time it takes to accomplish.

Now, after you've gone through your list and placed a 1, 2 or 3 you are going to do another 1, 2, 3 type thing. It might seem weird--but stay with me.

Place a 1, 2 or 3 next to the items you've already labeled. A "1" in this case means this is critical to your job.  It is extremely important. A "2" means that this is somewhat important and a "3" it means it is not important or hardly important to your job. 

Picking up laundry is a what? It is a number "3." So picking up laundry would have a label next to the line item on your To-Do List of "3-1." A 3-1 says: it's not important and takes a lot of time. Are you with me?

Let me say this at this time. You may be wondering why not just A, B, C the list instead of 1, 2, 3? That's right--it's pretty similar. If you prefer A, B, C--I am not the one in control, you are. If that works for you, then do it. The key words there are "do it." You don't need anyone's permission to do something different. The problem with most people, including me, is sticking to something and making it work. 

The Power of This Concept Will Blow YOU and Your Colleagues Away
This idea of a listing out all your "to-do's" in this manner is so powerful, that it will turn your life inside out, upside down, and then right side up. You won't recognize what happened once you get into the habit. And this is not hyperbole.

You will find that you are so focused that you cannot believe how laser like you are in your activities and results oriented you are. People will take notice, which is not what you are after, other people noticing that you have your act together is a by-product of having your act together. This is another topic by the way. The word "this" being "image management." This is more about psychology and our dependency on others and wanting their approval and recognition. But let's skip that one for now.

Priorities Become More Clear--and You Become More Focused 
As you capture everything you have to do on this piece of paper, your list will grow. And your priorities will actually lessen. In other words, all those things that were so very pressing and important, are actually not as important as you thought. And you want to capture everything on this paper until the point you have multiple pieces of paper with activities that are prioritized.

What happens when you complete an activity? You draw a single line through it. One line please and not several. You want to be able to go back to the list again if necessary to see the activity in case you need a phone number or recall what the activity was about. 

When I say capture everything--I do mean everything.

The Master List and the Daily List
Another note: you will have a daily to-do list. This is where some people freak. "Two lists??" they cry. Yes-two. You copy over from your large list--the Master List--to your daily list those things you need done today. Yep. A little writing and seemingly redundant. However another powerful way to focus your attention on matters that are truly important. 

Here is the Master List and what it may look like:

Now here is what the Daily To-Do List looks like:

Note that the Master List is on a piece of lined paper. Nothing spectacular. Also note that this is not my To-Do list for real. So any interpretations and judgments are not required--the same for my Daily To-Do List.

The list keeps what I have to do in front of me--so I don't become someone else's priority. I focus on what I need to get done--what I was hired to do. I don't put this on my iPhone, my iPad, or my laptop. I am not trying to get too fancy or too automated and there are a couple of reasons. I want to be able to carry my Daily To-Do list with me wherever I go. 

The Daily List
You will note that this list--the Daily List is on a nice leather case. And it is on a Daily Calendar from Day-Timers. It is small enough to place on the restaurant table if I go to lunch with a client so I can take notes. The notes are on the flip side of the page where my To-Do's are. It looks professional, neat, and it appears (here it comes) that I have my act together. I am a serious student of the business world. People get that and have said, "I am one of the most organized people they have seen." My response: if they only knew. Staying disciplined, takes discipline and practice. I do drift off course every so often. I am what they call "human"--for the most part.

Other Ideas On The Daily List
I like to create my Daily To-Do List in the morning. I keep it by my side when I am reading so if I have as stray thought I can capture it then and there. Others like to the do the list the night before. I have found when I rewrite my Daily To-Do list in the morning it energizes me and refocused my attention on the important matters. It makes me rethink what is to do first.

What to do first? Do as many "1's" as possible. The 1's I am referring to here are the important critical to the job 1's. I may do a number of 1-3's first to kick start things. Or I do the 1-1's first--which truly tend to be more important than the 1-2's and the 1-3's. I eat the frog first thing in the morning. I get the important out of the way.

Also--I batch my tasks. This means, if I have a number of things that are similar, I batch them together and do them. Here's what I mean: I batch all the phone calls together and I make them. I batch all the emails together and I write them.

Make Other Get On Your List--Get Off Theirs. Their Priority Is Not Your Priority
This leads me to another thing. Emails. What a nightmare. People want to write rather than talk. But that's the way of the world and rather than fight it and criticize it--I need to learn how to manage it and use it to my advantage. So I can allow email to dominate my life--and we all know how many we get--as I am not as fortunate as some of the politicians who don't write any or who have only written two in their entire life--I live and die by emails in my company. So, I sort through them at different times during the day. This doesn't mean I don't check my emails to see who sent what. But it does mean I don't have to read them at that moment. I do read clients' emails right away, my boss's emails right away, and my boss's boss's email right away. Others? I leave until later. I am not going to be on someone else's To-Do list. I have my own dependencies and I have my own work to do. This may sound harsh--but I am here to say--I have serious work to do.

I am going to place a stop here for now. There are many other things I can tell you like:

  1. Keep your Master To-Do List in front of you on your desk
  1. Carry your Daily To-Do List wherever you go.
  1. Schedule blocks of time on your calendar (laptop) and block the time out from others in order to work on your Daily To-Do's and long term projects.
  1. Block out time for exercise - a daily routine that you need to make a 1-1.
  1. Get into the habit of making this work for you. It will feel unnatural to capture everything on your Master To-Do List. It will feel even more unnatural to rewrite your activities on your Daily To-Do list and it will feel as if you are wasting your time. You are not. I can assure you of that.
  1. Don't fall prey to technology. Trying to automate this will actually make it more complex than it needs to be. And as I have said before, writing to power to the brain and to the process of thinking, which few people do any more. When was the last time you left your iPhone or Droid device at home? Or in the trunk of your car?
  1. Do first things first, second things hardly ever. In other words, do those things that have a "1" in front of them. Remember the "1's" are the first for a reason. Also the 1-1's are perhaps the most important to do and require blocks of time which require you to block out those blocks on your calendar.

Good Luck.

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