The TO-DO List Is Your Enemy

Posted by amy.

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“OK, I got it. I will put it on my TO-DO list”. Tom said it with all the sincerity he could muster. He entered the activity in his iPhone. Later, I saw him write it down in his Moleskin. He had plans to get it done. He really did. When I asked Tom about it a few weeks later, he said it was still in the TO-DO list category. As in, not done.

Some might say Tom’s inactivity is a good example of procrastination. Granted, others might say it is a sign of a person too busy to get things done. Or, maybe he is the guy who always over-promises and under-delivers. The world is full of those. But as I see things not getting done in organizations, I see something even a little more evil than the afflictions already mentioned. That is, confusing the TO-DO list with the DONE list. Putting an activity on the TO-DO list is not the end, it is the beginning. DON’T CONFUSE PUTTING SOMETHING ON THE TO-DO LIST WITH GETTING SOMETHING DONE.

We are all guilty. We check the easy things off the TO-DO list. Instead of checking off actions like “Complete Strategic Plan”; we take satisfaction in checking off “Coffee with Joe.” Instead of checking off “Schedule Performance Reviews for Team,” we check off “Send Flowers to Jenny for her Birthday.”

It is easy too to create a wasteland for activities. A good example is when we move emails into buckets that we will never check again. That is not a spot from which things will get done. It means an activity does not even make it to the TO-DO list.

It is also noteworthy that the number of things on some TO-DO lists never goes down. The list is always long. That’s because the big things stay on the list and more little things replace the little things that are checked off.  If your TO-DO list always stay at about the same number of things to do you may have a problem.

Are you proud of how long your TO-DO list is? Get over it. It is not a contest. I used to boast about how long my TO-DO list was. Now I see it as something private to me and something that needs to get down to zero.

There is joy in doing. There is not much in a TO DO List. Don’t worry so much about the TO DO List. There is no substitute for doing.

A REDO On First Impressions

Posted by amy.

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The first time I met Tom we both said “Hey!” and extended our hands to shake. Maybe neither of us had eye hand coordination that day or we weren’t paying attention, but, we missed. We didn’t miss each others outreached hands altogether, but the shake was not quite right, the hands didn’t quite clench together. There were awkward thumbs and angles. It happens all the time but with Tom, he said, “Wait a minute, that’s not a good one, let’s get a proper handshake. Come on.” And with that, we shook hands again and it was a good handshake. We became good friends and I always respected his honesty and forthrightness.

Tom and I had a REDO on the first impression. And what was an awkward first exchange became a positive one. The lesson is not in the handshake but in the REDO. Tom taught me long ago that if something is not quite right in that first minute, sometimes it’s ok to pull the REDO card out.

The old adage “You only get one chance to make a first impression…” is true. Mostly. Lots of times we know when the first impression is not good. If you know right away that you did not put your best foot forward, don’t just accept it – change it.

Like, if you spill your coffee walking into a conference room with colleagues, don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Say something about it and go for the REDO.

Or, in an interview if the first five minute just goes sideways and the interviewer is about to mentally check out, stop the interview. Say something like, “Wait, I am just not presenting myself as I would like, and I am not giving you a true impression, let me start all over.” You have nothing to lose in the interview, why not try the REDO?

Conversely, the REDO can work when you suspect someone is about to go in the wrong direction in the initial interaction. In a recent meeting with a junior PR person, she started out by asking me, “How would you describe your job?” I replied, “College President.” Her follow up question was, “What are your duties?” At that point I stopped the meeting and helped the PR person better understand first impressions (as well as how to do a little research). I did the REDO for her and she was thankful. We now have an honest and productive relationship.

A handshake is one of the first things we do when greeting someone new. It is a metaphor for what can go write or wrong in those first seconds and how we can get second chances for that first impression. Sometimes.

A REDO can save a career.

Olympic Lessons – Stay Out of Riptides

Posted by Richard Moran.

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No piling on intended here. It’s just that lessons come out of the headlines every day that can be instructive when it comes to work. Of late, some Olympic athletes are a case in point. In the midst of all the commotion and TV interviews what can we learn?

From most athletes we learn that years of hard work can pay off and provide a route to medals and glory. What joy we share when an athlete realizes that a lifelong dream is being fulfilled. It can be a lesson for us non-athletes to rededicate ourselves to our profession, our family, our commitment to making the world better in the hopes we might realize some sliver of that same joy.

From others, we can learn what not to do. A few illustrative cases…

  • From some swimmers we can learn that when it’s time for an excuse, the phrase “alcohol was involved” is not a good opener. Not much good happens after that introduction.
  • We can learn too that video cameras are everywhere – at service stations, at work, in parking lots, even in places where you might not suspect cameras. And this phenomenon is true in all countries. Assume that there is video footage capturing what you do wherever you go and the video footage doesn’t lie. In short, you will get caught.
  • Last lesson from the headlines: the more well known you are, or the higher you are in the organization, the more likely it is that you will get caught. If you are one who brings attention to yourself through flamboyant dress or hair, you will get caught faster.

It’s a shame. Careers and reputations can take years to build, but only a few moments to destroy. Re-do’s are not an option. Once a reputation takes a hit, it is possible to resurrect it but it is difficult task and takes a lot of effort. Think about that before the last drink at the company picnic or holiday party. Lessons are everywhere that can help us be more successful and not waste time on “wish I hadn’t done that”. Be careful out there!