Always work from a list.

This might be one of the more obvious rules to follow as most of us already use some kind of self-organization, task management or to-do list approach.

Or at least we should do that, surprisingly few people stick to it however, trying new ways of organizing themselves and losing sight of the goal by trying out dozens of new task, project, to-do management Apps before they realize that they probably should put finding the right tools for self-organization on their to-do list.

But if you already found your way of organizing yourself and it works for you just keep on doing it – but if you have trouble getting things done, you find yourself keep putting stuff off or just plain forget about it then make sure that from now on you work from a list.

A list is helpful in prioritizing your work. It can help you to identify that most annoying thing you have to do first thing in the morning and it will help you identify that other thing – the most important item on your task list for your manager.

It will also help you to focus throughout the day. You have to handle many disruptions every day and the list helps to keep your head free to deal with these minor or mayor disruptions without losing focus.

So how do you organize your list?

This is up to you. But make sure you do not start to make this a complicated method of collecting everything you ever wanted to do. Focus on the day ahead of you – sit down in the morning and make the list. Do not start some elaborate task management system with days, weeks, months and years – this will only bog you down and frustrate you because there is still so much to do and lets face it in your job all these tasks change continuously anyway.

Focus on this day – create your list in a simple way. If you want to use your smartphone for this – fine, as long as the App gets out of your way and makes it easy to work with the list. The only thing you actually have to do with the list is adding items during the day and checking items off as completed. I prefer to use a simple sheet of paper for this as it is the fastest and easiest way to manage my list.

(this is an excerpt from my book “Rise to the top!” - if you want to read more on how to be organized and become a great manager and leader in your organization please get my book)

Why the human race never will achieve its full potential... Meetings.

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.”

(Dave Barry, “Things That It Took Me 50 Years to Learn”)

Most Meetings in today’s corporate culture are the biggest waste of time ever. People got so used to meetings that they use them as a placeholder for an actual social life. As if their motto is: “If you can’t meet with friends arrange for a meeting at work”.

Don’t get me wrong – meetings are not evil, meetings in itself are not unnecessary; but the way we organize and manage meetings is just terrible.

Meetings are often too long, have no clear agenda, too many people are invited and the decision and action to be taken as the result of the meeting are not defined.

There are only two kinds of meetings you ever need to organize or attend:

First – hold a meeting to get a decision you cannot make on your own (for whatever reason).

If you don’t have a decision to make where you need the agreement of others do not call a meeting! It is as easy as that.

If you need a meeting for agreement or support from others make sure that only those people are invited, don’t accept delegation to non-decision makers from anyone you have invited. Ensure that before the meeting the goal of the meeting is clear; provide a fixed agenda and a suitable time slot. Very seldom is there the need for a meeting longer than 15 minutes. Don’t accept the 30 minute default time slot that Microsoft Outlook offers you – arrange for exactly the amount of time you think you need – if it is 12 minutes make an invitation for 12 minutes (by the way, short meetings will ensure that people focus, are on time and actually show up).

Second – hold a meeting to get information (e.g. a project status or simply a review meeting)

Again only invite people who actually can contribute to the topic in question. If you have to invite more than three people the meeting will lose focus – try to split up if possible (even if this creates additional meetings for you). Make sure you let everyone you invited give you their information in a focused manner. Do not ask for “death by PowerPoint” (30 presentation slides in 30 minutes will put everyone in the room to sleep, guaranteed) but rather encourage more lively ways of presenting the current status, situation, progress etc.

Even for bigger projects do not hold meetings longer than one hour – it is better to meet on a regular basis and keep each meeting as short and focused on specific topics as possible. Do not let everyone present all the progress he has ever made – just the things that actual changed since your last meeting (see also “Don’t tell your life story!”).

A meeting should never be a platform for your team members or others to sell themselves - do not encourage show-off behavior.

Start every meeting on time! Do not accept the “let’s wait 5 minutes rule” – that way you teach people that it is ok to be late to your meetings. Take 5 minutes after the meeting to prepare a quick email to all participants about the results and decisions taken – do not ask for corrections or amendments.

If for any reason a follow up meeting is necessary schedule it immediately with everyone there and make sure you have everyone’s agreement.

Although some people might say that for common courtesy the following behaviors are not acceptable, you should stick to them to encourage everyone to be more focused and productive at work:

  • If you are invited to meetings that are unfocused and are wasting your time speak up and make clear that you cannot accept this. Show that you are impatient.
  • Even if you are not the organizer of a meeting do not accept late beginnings – take over the role of the moderator and start the meeting (you already know the agenda and points to discuss from the invitation, if not do not attend!).