Thursday, March 12, 2009

Make a list

Everything feels more complicated in 2009. No one really knows what will happen tomorrow, let alone next month, or heaven help us, next year. When it gets this complex, I always reach for one of the oldest and surest ways to focus: the list. Nothing inspires action faster than a sharp list. I often end my presentations with “5 Things to do Tomorrow”. After all the ideas and visuals and discussion, summing up with “5 Things” sends people out the door with a mission. Breaking what needs to be done into its component parts is the foundation of great execution. Eating an elephant seems impossible, until you see the list. Trunk, ears, back fillets (just kidding).

If you ever need practical proof of the power of lists, consider Jeffrey Skiles. He was the co-pilot on US Airways Flight 1549 that made a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River. I have posted about the extraordinary flying skills of Captain Chesley Sullenberger, but let’s also tip our hats to Skiles. He turned a moment of terror into a calm set of decisions by carefully working through his emergency water-landing checklist. Instead of seeing disaster, he saw a clear plan of what to do and the step-by-step order to do it in.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we use 100 Day Plans to keep us focused on the three or four big things we need to do. A list pares away the minutia so you can concentrate on what really matters. It’s not about argument or debate or alternatives, it’s about action. Now. Young people new to the work environment often get bogged down. There’s busy work out there stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see. They start by feeling responsible for all of it – until they give up and don’t feel responsible for any of it. This is not only a failure of management, it’s a failure of imagination. The imagination to know what will make a real difference.

So in the spirit of list-making, 5 Things to do Tomorrow:

  1. Refer to your 100 Day Plan.
  2. List what needs to be done next.
  3. Start each item with a verb. You want a list of real, physical actions you will take.
  4. Cross off at least half the items on your list. Decide what’s to go and what’s to stay based on importance, not urgency.
  5. Get started.

1 comment:

Kate said...

I've made use of your 100 day plans before - not only did it get me up and moving, I achieved more in the 100 days than I thought I'd be able to.

Admittedly, it was largely due to lucky timing, but if I hadn't had the kick to start, that wouldn't have been the case!