“Anything that is wasted effort represents wasted time. The best management of our time thus becomes linked inseparably with the best utilization of our efforts.”
-Ted W. Engstrom
Are you action oriented? Do you get things done in an efficient and timely manner? I know this may appear to be a silly question for leaders and managers to consider, but sometimes perfectionism, procrastination, or risk avoidance can lead each of us to be overly methodical, slow to act on an opportunity, or lack confidence to act because the issue is extremely complex. When this happens, we may miss a deadline or avoid presenting our ideas or opinion, resulting in appearing to be either unmotivated or unorganized.
According to experts, most successful senior managers count action orientation as one of their strengths. As we plan for our future leaders in our organization, it makes sense that we will be looking for those who can act quickly, take initiative, and just get things done. Here are some tips I have captured through trial and error, and research on the topic, to help you take quick and timely action.
1. Capture ideas and tasks in order to act on them. I grew up in a ‘green book’ culture where every junior officer carried a notebook so they could write things down, take notes, and journal ideas and thoughts. This method helps us keep up with ideas, to-do lists, and record what happened with helpful information from meetings. I have also learned that writing things down helps me maintain focus – if I don’t write down a promise or task, it is certainly at risk to be forgotten or missed.
2. Break down requirements into projects and tasks.I maintain two to-do lists, a Project List and a Task List. As a general rule, tasks are simple things that can be accomplished in 5-10 minutes, such as a phone call, e-mail, or discussion to check on the status of projects. A project then is something that is complex, takes many steps, and can be broken down into simple tasks. Confusing the two can lead to paralysis by analysis or not knowing what to do next.
3. Develop a Deadline/Suspense System. For me, capturing tasks isn’t enough; I also maintain a suspense list to ensure I remain action oriented. Most email apps have attached calendars and task features. A well-organized calendar ensures I don’t miss important meetings or events, and the tasks tool allows me to create categories, maintain relevant information, and set task deadline or suspense dates.
4. Organize, Organize, and Organize. Spending time organizing with a good filing system for example is one way to ensure you are working on important actions, rather than wasting time looking for that lost piece of information or document. Consider using three filing systems to stay on track, a hard copy filing system (in your desk), a digital filing system (on your computer) and an e-mail filing system in Outlook.
5. Develop a weekly personal planning session. Firefighters believe in fire prevention, so they spend a considerable amount of time educating and inspecting to avoid fires, rather than spending more time putting them out. I try to maintain this mindset with a weekly personal planning session, where I review my calendar and projects, update tasks lists, and also file away documents and e-mails. I find that if I can carve out a little time each day to do this, and then spend an hour of ‘personal time’ concentrating on “next steps” each week, I avoid missing deadlines and spend time preparing, rather than reacting.
There is a tremendous amount of information available on this topic, so these are just a few tips that can help you to maintain momentum and an action orientation in your professional and personal life. Capturing, tracking and organizing your tasks and work aren’t going to be the most exciting thing you do each week. However, I find that I have a better chance to stay on track, and avoid missing opportunities when I am disciplined to actively manage and plan necessary work for myself and others.