Ed. note: In Part One we learned the valuable skill of making lists, in this part you'll learn how to use your list effectively.
• Break large jobs into small ones.
No matter how overwhelming the job, it will be done more effectively when it is reduced to a series of small tasks. Whether the job is producing a directory or writing a policies and procedures manual, spend time with pencil and paper identifying each step of the process. Then, working backward from the time the project must be completed, put the tasks on your list giving each a deadline. Seeing that the whole job doesn’t need to be done in a day, or even a week, keeps things in their proper perspective.
• Allow for lunch and break times.
When you are really busy it is easy to believe working through lunch and not taking breaks will catch you up. Actually, it may get you further behind. Researchers have determined that workers taking a 15 minute break in the morning and a 15 minute break in the afternoon are consistently more productive than those working that extra 30 minutes. Other studies confirm the benefits of a relaxing lunch hour. Fatigued, hungry people just don’t produce very good work. Mistakes are made that must be corrected later, often taking more time than doing it right in the first place.
A good practice is, “When you work, work; when you break, break.” If you compromise by working while having lunch or a snack at your desk, you produce mediocre work and lose all the recuperative benefits of a real break as well.
If you are consistently expected to do more than can reasonably be done, take the initiative in seeking a solution. The tendency is to expect the minister or a committee to recognize the problem and take action. Realistically, the person who suffers from a problem is usually the one who must solve it. As important as your job is, you are more important. Be responsible for taking care of yourself.
If you find yourself spinning your wheels, shuffling papers, or being unable to concentrate, give yourself a change of scenery. Leave the office for a short walk if you can, even it it’s just down the hall. Or slip into the sanctuary for a few quiet minutes. A short break makes a world of difference. When you plan your day, allow for your important “time outs.”
• Keep your list visible.
Your list is a map for your day. Sometimes side trips will be added to the agenda, but your list will get you back on the main road. Having your list in plain sight lets you and others see at a glance if your schedule can accommodate additional tasks. Seeing your agenda makes your supervisors more aware of demands on your time and enables them to evaluate your contributions realistically.
A short stand-up meeting each morning allows you and your minister to compare and verify priorities. Work ahead when things are going your way so those inevitable emergencies won’t find you playing catch-up. Be sure to add to your list things you do that were not on your original schedule. As long as your list is out where others will see it, omit any personal or sensitive information, unless it’s in your own private shorthand.
• Give each item on the list a priority.
Find out when each task is needed before listing it. Never assume a task is an A just because it comes from your executive. Ask. As soon as the list is made, ask yourself, “What can I delegate?” Mark those things D and note names. Delegating is an effective way to check things off your list without doing them yourself. Understand, delegating is not shirking your work. This important management skill frees time for work needing your personal attention and at the same time allows others to develop their skills.
Next, identify on your list the most important two things you must do yourself. These are your A1s. A good rule of thumb is not to have more than ten items on your list and only two A1s. Obviously, there will be days... But do try for those ratios.
Designate as As any other items that you must attend to, ideally no more than two. Use a highlighter to emphasize these high priority tasks. Next, mark as Bs the shoulds on your list. These are important tasks, but not musts. The remaining tasks are Cs, things you would like to do if all goes well, but low priorities. Just on Mondays I make a list of CZs, low priority jobs that I can do with any loose change time during the week.
Give each job a deadline, such as: do before 10 A.M. or a time frame, such as spend 40 minutes on this. This important step keeps you from scheduling too many hours of your day and from spending more time on a task than its priority dictates. Parkinson’s Law, “Work expands to fill the time available,” has never been repealed. If a time limit is not set externally, set a self-imposed deadline to keep yourself moving along. Multiply your estimated time need for the job by 1.25, giving yourself an extra 15 minutes for every hour you think you will need. I don’t know whose law it is, but things always take longer than you think they will.