Managing Your and Others' To Do Lists

If you are anything like me, you are juggling work, home life, relationships with family and friends, and whatever "me time" you are able to fit into your busy schedule.

  Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I find myself surrounded by lists -- to do lists, grocery lists, packing lists, invite lists. I love lists, as I mentioned at the start of my Listful journey. I really do not know where I would be without them! And the act of crossing something off a list is so very satisfying -- a real sense of accomplishment!

But as my to do lists get longer and longer, I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed -- not knowing where to start and/or not feeling like I have made a dent in anything. It is sometimes more discouraging to still have so many things to do, even though you got some things done.

So I tried something different this weekend. Out of the dozens of things I had to do, I put only the absolute critical items that needed to get done on their own sticky note. And guess how many items were on the list... two! 1, 2, - that's it. And I was able to cross them both off the list. I felt really good that I accomplished what I needed to do for the weekend, knowing that nothing critical was outstanding and that anything else I decided to do was an added bonus.

Similarly as a project manager, as you manage action item lists, you need to help your team identify what actually needs to get done. Here are the very basic, but very important, aspects of developing and managing an action item list.

  • Clarifying the "what" -- Clearly articulate the action, adding any context needed to make sure none of the meaning is lost when you look at the actions weeks later.
  • Confirm the appropriate due date -- Your team has a lot going on, and they cannot always manage their time effectively with their busy schedules. By giving them realistic and relevant deadlines, they will be able to prioritize the right things and not feel unnecessarily overwhelmed. 
  • Identify the owner -- While the team may collaborate on many of the actions, assigning one person to own the task helps eliminate any finger pointing or thinking that someone else was taking care of the action. 
  • Manage the status -- Once you have the above three items (i.e., the action, the deadline, and the owner), you can begin to actively manage the action item list. Keeping an accurate view of the actions will help your team continue to prioritize and understand where they should spend their time.

While an action item list seems pretty basic, you can be sure that the team would not really know where to begin without one. So make managing it a robust and interactive process, where you are responsible for helping people understand what needs to get done and when, and the owners keep you informed and raise any issues they see in completing the action by the assigned date.

Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference!