One of my clients implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) asked me today how he should handle his overwhelming to do list. No doubt, this is an affliction impacting most if not all of us. We have more things than we can ever hope to accomplish and every successful action begets more tasks that we should be doing.
Before I copy my answer to him, here are my interpretations of a few EOS terms I used in my reply:
Rocks: Initiatives outside of your normal routine that take approximately 10 hours or more of focused effort to accomplish.
To Dos: 7-10 day action items, that can be accomplished as part of your regular daily work.
Future Rocks: Rocks that have not been picked for the current quarter but could become priorities in the next quarter.
Issues: Problems, opportunities or challenges that require exploration and discussion by your leadership team, followed by a decision and in most cases an action item, such as a To Do or a Future Rock.
Often, people don’t recognize Rocks for what they are and designate them as to dos. They then end up with the exact situation that they want to avoid, which is to be overwhelmed with tasks without prioritization.
Sometimes people genuinely have too many To Dos. Often these can be combined into Future Rocks for the next quarter.
Having unresolved Issues can also cause you to have many To Dos. An underlying reason may be that you are micro-managing people and create To Dos for them, instead of communicating your objectives and letting them figure it out. This can be challenging with less experienced employees, who need to be coached to get more done on their own. Unfortunately, coaching is a long term strategy that involves some risk taking, but there is no easy way when you are building a company.
Perhaps you could build some processes that would create leverage in delegating To Dos. Technician-turned-entrepreneurs often don’t realize that what is second nature for them to do, thanks to decade of experience is a tall order for less seasoned staff. The good news is that complex tasks can be processized and sliced up, so that they can delegated to junior employees, who will appreciate the opportunity to work out of a blue print. (At my investment baking firm, we managed to delegate the production of complex information memoranda and financial models to graduates with 1-3 years of experience, by braking them down to modules and creating a quality control process. After 12 months we had a consistent and fast process to produce a high quality product at a fraction of the cost and without partner involvement.)
If none of these strategies work or seem appropriate, then just prioritize To Dos and decide to do the less important ones later. I personally have a to do list that I prioritize daily, picking up to 6 items for myself to do on any day and most days I won’t be able to do all of them. When the list grows overwhelmingly large (over 20 items), I remove the items that have not become a priority for at least 2 weeks and put them on my Future Rocks and To Dos list for prioritization later. I use an app on my phone that helps with the daily prioritization, called: TomorrowHD. I have used it for the past 3 years and highly recommend it.
As long as you are always working on your highest priorities, you are doing fine and should not overly worry about not getting everything done. This is life and life is messy, especially for entrepreneurs. If one accepts that fact and stops worrying about criticism or beating ourselves up, life becomes much more manageable and fun.
I hope this helps.