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The Power Of The Master List

The Power Of The Master List

My brain functions in overdrive mode 99% of the time. It is as if I have a 6th gear just beyond my reach which it auto slips into, without me willing it in that direction. I am highly responsive to stimuli in my environment and I find that most events, people, and discussions spark a myriad of ideas off inside of me. My brain races with these concepts, builds legs onto them and before I know, a fully fleshed out, actionable plan is making itself at home. If this crazy web of ideas is not contained or channeled, my productivity nosedives and I struggle to pull myself back into a place of focus and directed work time. I have learned to develop a system that helps me to not only manage the flow of ideas, but also to stay focused to get the critical work out the door.

The master list is the most important part of the system I have developed:

The master list has come to define my every day working life. It has in fact come to form the very backbone of my week. The master list is the list of all lists, the list that ties all other smaller lists back together. It is the place of consolidation where your brain can dump its over-stimulated, multitasking self and have a cup of tea.

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A Master List Needs to Be:

  • Accessible at all times
  • Within easy reach
  • Easy to edit

Think: “What object is always with me?” In most cases, it will be a diary or mobile phone. My preference is a digital list on a mobile as notebooks and diaries often get left behind on desks, in drawers, next to beds and in vehicles. Your mobile tends to be with you for the greater part of every day.

I use my Master List as follows:

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  • I add every possible item in my life that needs doing onto it (yes, it’s a long list).
  • In order to clear my mind, I jot down ‘to-do’ items systematically according to work/business/clients, family, relationship, friendships, home, fitness, admin, hobbies, and travel.
  • Every Sunday evening or Monday morning before I do anything else, I take out my master list and determine which 10 items relating to work and business I am going to focus on for that week.
  • I then create a new ‘to-do’ list specifically for that week and transfer these items onto it.
  • I prioritize these items according to their revenue value, the closer they are to revenue generating, the higher prioritize they are.
  • I then transfer five other admin or personal items from the master list onto my weekly list.
  • Every Friday I review my list to either carry forward or mark complete the items that were done.

I own a business so sales and revenue are very important for me. If you work as a creative director in an advertising agency, other activities such as client briefings, brief write-ups, sourcing of artwork suppliers and team management will be the core functions within your workweek. These core work functions are what should be priorities on your list no matter what your vocation is. To determine what your core work functions are, ask, “What was I employed to do?” and “Why am I here?” Make your core functions the highest priority in your working week. After this, you are able to pad up the week with peripheral ‘to-do’ items that matter but are not critical to your core job.

I choose to transfer 10 items at the start of every week because I have found this to be my optimal productivity space. If I complete two highly critical tasks for the day that lead to revenue and then attend to less urgent matters, I am able to bring in a good revenue stream and still experience a work/life balance. You will need to analyze your own rhythms to see what your optimal space is. This takes time but soon becomes very apparent when you are either completing your to ‘do-list’ by Tuesday or only getting to three items out of the 20 you listed every week.

I have discovered many benefits from using this system. The benefits specifically related to productivity include:

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  • I can empty my mind of everything that is whirring around inside of it
  • I can focus on what really matters on any particular day without stressing that I will forget something
  • It is always with me
  • It syncs up to all my electronic devices when I update it on one device
  • I can easily share it with other people who need to be kept up to date with a particular list
  • I can assign lists to freelancers and employees that I am working with
  • I can create multiple lists in one place without losing any of them
  • I can back my lists up
  • I can share interesting lists with blogs and Twitter people who highlight interesting lists
  • I can use a tool like idonethis.com to see visually over a year how many items on average I cross off every day, which are my most productive days and which are my least productive days.
  • I can view the word clouds in idonethis from my lists to see what activities dominate over others.

I use two tools to manage my Master List:

  1. Wunderlist: This is an iPhone application that allows you to very easily create, share, and manage lists.
  2. idonethis: This is an accountability tool that sends you an email at the end of every day, asking you what you did for that day. I decided to use it to keep myself accountable. I look forward to replying to the email with all the items I ticked off of my list for that particular day.

Implementing this system has not come naturally to me but I have increased my productivity (which I track using Rescue Time) by 34 percent to date. That has reflected back onto my revenue that has also increased by approximately 30% since I have deliberately become more sales focused. I find that I have to keep reminding myself to come back to Wunderlist and idonethis. My natural inclination is to revert to sticky notes, scraps of papers and journals that all just amount too many plans and no actions. However, I remind myself that this way, I am happily moving forward ten steps every week.

Tell us about your lists. Do you use them and if so, how do you manage them? (Ed: We’re building Listible to help you create lists)

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Featured photo credit:  Young dark woman writing on notepad via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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