In today's video I share some of my thoughts on todo lists and why I think shared lists are a bad idea. I want to cover that topic here and address what is sure to be an often raise objection to my point of view.
Shared todo lists are a bad idea because as a rule they allow those delegating tasks to abdicate two primary responsibilities of management.
- The responsibility to confirm the recipient's understanding of the task being assigned and
- The responsibility to hold the recipient accountable
No matter what our intentions we often make assumptions about how other people are going to use (or should use) a shared workflow system. Because if they WOULD use it the way we want them to it would alleviate a lot of stress and menial work on our part. But they don't use it the way we want them to. They use it the way that suites them best, which in many cases means they don't use it at all.
Keeping track of the stuff you need to do in life is about as personal as it gets. So when you dictate to someone else that they have to use YOUR system you should expect some push back. Your system suites your tendencies and habits. One person may prefer pencil and paper while another is only happy with a cross platform app that keeps everything in the cloud. In the end it's not important that everyone use the same system to track their responsibilities. It's most important that everybody has their own system, so long as it adheres to the three cardinal rules of task management.
RULE 1 - Always keep a list
I love the Tom Sachs Studio film 10 Bullets. Bullet #7 is "Always keep a list." It's not just about writing things down so you don't forget them. It's not just about clearing headspace so you can concentrate on the task at hand. It's about being intentional with the stuff you allow onto your plate. It's about curating your world so you and I both know what is important to you. A person without a list is a person I can't trust.
It doesn't matter whether the list is on paper, in an app, on a spreadsheet...the most important thing is that the list is always available. For reasons I describe here I am currently keeping my list on paper. That may change, but my list will always be something I can carry with me pretty much wherever I go.
RULE 2 - Track what people owe you
David Allen popularized this in his Getting Things Done book, but I learned to do it long before that. Allen calls it the @waiting list. It's just an entry on your list that tells you what someone has promised to deliver back to you. If you assign a project or delegate a task it goes on your list with some indication that you are waiting on someone to get it back to you. I note these items with a big "W" and include the date that the commitment was made.
Now, every time I review my list I am reminded that someone owes me something. It could be a document that a client has promised to send me. It could be a date for an upcoming meeting someone wants to schedule. It could be a book I loaned out. It doesn't matter. If someone owes me something it goes on my list.
This is perhaps the single biggest credibility hack available to managers and professionals. If you don't track what people owe you you cannot consistently hold them accountable. But if you do, they will remember it and they will perform at a higher level when working with you.
RULE 3 - Always confirm receipt
This goes to the heart of shared todo lists. If you can't confirm that someone has received your instructions you cannot confirm that they understand what they are supposed to do. Don't take it for granted that just because you assigned someones initials or sent them an email, or left a voicemail or sent a text that they have received AND accepted responsibility for getting the thing done. Always confirm receipt.
I'm sure to get some criticism from businesses that use ticketing systems or dispatching systems. All hell would break loose if they ditched their platform and I get that. But what I am talking about are not workflow systems, they are management systems. Ticketing and dispatch systems are no different than assembly lines. They are the means by which knowledge workers and technicians do the rote and routine things defined in their job descriptions.
I am talking about how professionals manage the shared responsibilities on their team. And in my opinion handing that off to a piece of software or a database pretty much guarantees that thigns will fall between the cracks and people will get frustrated.