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 February 8: Kerfuffles That Seem Like Something More
- Much of what we regard as political conflict is a series of squabbles commonly called kerfuffles. They captivate us while they're underway, but after a month or two they're forgotten. Why do they happen? Why do they persist? Available here and by RSS on February 8.
- And on February 15: Four Razors for Organizational Behavior
- Deviant organizational behavior can harm the people and the organization. In choosing responses, we consider what drives the perpetrators. Considering Malice, Incompetence, Ignorance, and Greed, we can devise four guidelines for making these choices. Available here and by RSS on February 15.
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