By Jason L. James Jr.
From personal observation, there are those who have the natural ability to get things done, and there are those who don’t. There’s a fix for those of us who live on the latter side of things—task or to-do lists. Some training professionals are specialists, in that they do one of the following: manage projects, design, develop, or facilitate. Others work in the generalist model and do all of those tasks. I work in the generalist model, so the more responsibilities I have, the more important task lists become because there is so much to keep track of.
The notion of a task list could seem somewhat juvenile, but it is important to consider in terms of getting things done. Our current economy catalyzed the majority of us to do more work with less human resources. The section in many job descriptions that reads “additional responsibilities may be assigned based on changing business needs” has come alive as of late because of down-sizing; task lists keep things in order and help us stay focused while our responsibilities are changing and growing.
I’ve heard it said before that “If I can see it, then I can do it”; likewise, if “I write it down, then I will do it.” It works the same way with task lists. If the “to-do” is written down in front of you, as a constant reminder of what needs to be accomplished, then you’ll eventually get tired of seeing it or be motivated to complete it.
I’ve seen many versions of task lists—from the simplest forms to the ridiculously intricate—but do whatever works for you. The most user-friendly setup for me is:
1) Listing the high-level tasks.
2) Briefly listing the major details.
Notice I said “briefly.” Too much information creates what I call “task-list clutter,” which results in distractions and delays (yes, I’m speaking from experience). For example, on a list pertaining to conducting a training session, you would include “prepare materials.” You would NOT include make copies, staple copies, place copies in the classroom, and hand out copies before class begins, etc.
What goes on the list? EVERYTHING that has a deadline or completion date attached to it. For example, as the project manager, designer, developer, and facilitator at a project meeting, you should jot down the milestone dates and details, but don’t get too bogged down with the neatness or appearance of this document because you can transfer that information to an online task list. Have you ever written down some important information on a sheet of paper or even a napkin and then somehow lose it on the day you need after seeing it every day? Me, too! A great thing about most online task lists is that you can set reminders or ticklers. The reminders add to the conviction that something has to be done.
In the late 1990s or early 2000s, a noticeable trend increased in the workplace: the use of whiteboards. To be fair, whiteboards have multiple uses: information collection, diagram display, presentation display, etc. However, one of the uses is to keep track of tasks or to-dos. How many of you have a small whiteboard at your desk or in your office? Some say they like keeping their to-do lists on their whiteboard because they can easily see the tasks—it’s right in their faces.
Post-it notes—what I call second cousins to the whiteboard—are another favorite to-do list venue. Post-it notes are much more transportable than whiteboards but are easier to misplace and not as reusable. If you work in multiple locations, Post-it notes may work for you, but you may find better results with day planners or any online task-list features offered by your workplace.
A task list can be something as simple as a chart or table with deadline dates and corresponding tasks or something as complex as a project management application. Here is an example of a simple task list:
Training Project 13
By week ending 07.03
1) Kickoff meeting
2) Task assignment
-understand the project group’s expertise
-match skills with assignment
By week ending 07.10
1) Discovery and development
-meet with members of the project team to understand business processes
2) Design phase
-decide on a learning model that will accommodate the necessary learning to address what was discovered
By week ending 07.24
1) Draft learning material
-create a new template or use an existing template
-determine knowledge delivery sequence
2) Obtain subject matter sign-off
-provide subject matter experts (SMEs) with several versions of the learning material until final marks-ups are completed
-finalize training materials and prepare them for delivery
By week ending 08.21
1) Pilot the training program
-select a small, targeted test group
-obtain feedback from the group
-implement recommendations from the pilot group
2) Full rollout of training program
-schedule training sessions
-obtain Level 1 survey data and continue to refine and facilitate the training
We can only remember and recall so many things at a time, so why not write it down? I can clearly remember a few things I did not accomplish on time. It wasn’t that I was opposed to completing them or being lazy; it was that I just didn’t remember to do them. Write tasks down, and you willcomplete them.
Jason L. James Jr. is a corporate trainer with an international financial services company. His professional experience is in classroom instruction and instructional design, project management, accounting, and compliance. He can be reached at Jason.L.JamesJr@gmail.com.