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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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
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