Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list — until you do them, until you forget them, or until the people who gave them to you forget them. Since To-Do list items are sources of stress, if not workload, it pays to find a way to avoid adding them to your To-Do list. One approach is to provide another place for them to go — the Not-To-Do list.
If you're typical, people sometimes ask you to do things that are actually their responsibility, not yours. In "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001, I related a hula-hoop metaphor, due to Jean McLendon, that illustrates how we can sometimes fool ourselves into taking on burdens that actually belong to others.
In the metaphor, we're all hula-hooping as best we can. That's difficult enough, but we really get into trouble when we try to hula somebody else's hoop too. To "stay in your own hula-hoop" is to look after your own responsibilities, and to let others look after theirs.
For example, if you're a project manager, and Marketing asks you to compile some project data that's readily available for everyone on your Intranet, you would be stepping into their hula-hoop if you actually retrieved the data for them. A more appropriate response would be to remind them that the data is on the Intranet.
Having a Not-To-Do list
reminds you that some
things are really not your
problem, and you can decline
to accept responsibility
for themMy colleague Peter Hayward has suggested a way of using the hula-hoop metaphor with his day planner. Each day's page has two columns — "My Hula Hoop" and "Their Hula-Hoop." When someone lobs an action item in his direction, he decides where it would belong. If the item is in "My Hula-Hoop," he accepts it. If it belongs in "Their Hula-Hoop," he declines, if he can. If he can't decline, he adds the item to "Their Hula Hoop." In effect, he has a To-Do list and a Not-To-Do list.
A Not-To-Do list helps you in several ways.
- Having a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem, and you can decline to accept responsibility for them.
- A Not-To-Do list helps you notice patterns. You can be more alert when you're working with people who tend to shift their responsibilities to you — if you know who they are.
- You can keep the items on your Not-To-Do list at a lower priority than the items that really are your responsibility.
- You can focus more easily on items that really are yours. See "The Zebra Effect," Point Lookout for January 31, 2001.
- Unlike items on your To-Do list, items on your Not-To-Do list tend to age gracefully. When you leave them alone, the people who really are responsible for them tend to see that they get them done somehow.
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
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- Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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