The Three Ds
This post is not rocket science however I am prepared to offer a 100% money back guarantee there is some useful wisdom to be found here. This is also not about To Do lists although that’s where is starts.
To Do or not To Do
Over many years the customers that I work with and my own teams always seem to be both impressed and intrigued when they see my huge To Do list and the rigor with which I maintain it. It’s embarrassing but true that I keep an A3 hardcopy of it on my desk so I can scribble all over it before updating it online. I also only print out the ‘work’ To Do list as it’s my most dynamic list within a relatively stable life – but I do have other To Do lists for other parts of my life (oh dear).
My To Do list for work usually prints to at least three A3 pages – that’s hundreds of tasks, and I bring it along to meetings, teleconfs, stand ups – whatever. Pretty much everything I have to do is on the To Do list. My key goal in keeping track of all these tasks (and possibly the first bit of useful information here) is not to track what I do but to always know what I will probably never get to do!! I have found it very helpful to keep track of the status and priority of tasks that I know I will not have time to do as often these apparently ‘top priority’ tasks have a tendency to actually disappear or magically get done without my involvement – and with me not having spent anytime at all on them not actually being an issue – knowing about these tasks that I thought I had to do but managed to get sorted out without me can be very useful for future reference – you see like most of us I am too busy to do everything I am expected to do.
To manage my To Do List I use the app Remember The Milk and I have been using it for years and years. It could actually be the single app I have used continuously for the longest time going right back to the 2000s when I had my very first, very cool at the time, Compaq IPAQ 3800 series ‘Pocket PC’. For Galaxy Note 9 users can I just say here that it had a stylus!! Check it out. Those were the days. I had become a Team Lead and was seriously getting into ‘personal productivity’. This meant I used to spend hours and hours of non-productive time with cables and docking stations getting my IPAQ To Do List to sync with Windows Mobile so I could look at my To Do list in the office but also on the bus – it was a revolution.
These days, like so many things. it’s less about the hardware and more about the content – I am constantly tweeking with and over-thinking the structure of my To Do list. New lists, new categories, new task naming conventions, new priority schemes etc. I even bought a pro edition subscription for Remember The Milk and got my wife and kids to install the app on their smartphones so we could update each other’s task lists – that has not worked out so well…”Dad just send a message to the ‘Squad-Family’ FB messenger group – that’s what we use”. I now have to accept To Do apps are just so Gen X. But anyway this post is really about ‘Time Management’ and The Three Ds so let’s dial things up…
Beyond the Valley of The Three Ds
I cannot quite remember when I established the link between playing with gadgets to improve ‘personal productivity’ and ‘Time Management’. It might have been circa late 2000s in some Remember The Milk article about ‘Getting Things Done’. GTD was interesting and is still around. It was developed by productivity consultant David Allen. You can even read about it here. While you can learn more about ‘Mind Like Water’ I think the interesting bit is that for David Allen there are two key elements to GTD: control and perspective. The task management workflow is the centre of the control aspect. The goal of the control processes in GTD is to get everything except the current task out of your head and into a trusted system external to your mind. Ahh getting more ‘head space’ – now we are talking. You use brief reflection to move things from your mind to the trusted system. Allen recommends reflection from six levels, called “Horizons of Focus”:
Horizon 5: Life
Horizon 4: Long-term visions
Horizon 3: 1-2 year goals
Horizon 2: Areas of focus and accountability
Horizon 1: Current projects
Ground: Current actions
To me it’s a simple process but still feels a bit ambitious. Thinking about which horizons for tasks is a bit like thinking about ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ and I usually don’t think about that when I am really just thinking about a major go live in one week. Life is complex and work is busy, so it’s pretty hard even just to sort out the things for ‘Ground’ through to ‘Horizon 2’ and get through the week. Allen argues many goal-setting theories focus on top-down goal-setting so it can often be difficult for individuals to focus on big picture goals if they cannot sufficiently control the day-to-day tasks that they frequently must face. After years of personal experience, I can confirm he got that right – I don’t spend a lot of time each day thinking about whether something I have to do before I can go home will lead me towards Maslow’s self-actualisation and transcendence. In GTD Allen recommends that by developing and using a trusted system that deals with day-to-day inputs, an individual can free up mental space to begin moving up to the next level. I believe this but guess what? I use my own trusted system and I call it ‘The Three Ds’…
The Three Ds
The Three Ds can apply quite broadly but I find I get all I need from it just by using it for work. By managing my time at work well I have plenty of time outside of work I can use to not be thinking about work – and really getting into some deep contemplation on where I am in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but more often just listening to music, or riding my bike, or wasting time on Facebook.
Over many years now I have tested and retested and confirmed that a good To Do list and The Three Ds work together (make a note of this). At work if I proactively keep on top of my To Do list and apply to it the filter of The Three Ds then I can effectively and strategically manage my time and my career:
So, for any task I must do one of the three Ds:
Deflected tasks are the most important category of tasks for time management. Every task deflected is more time for the tasks that you will delegate or drive. When you consciously and openly deflect a task that someone wants you to do or expects you to do there is a whole art around “How to say no” but the key thing is to show empathy. The structure of your conversation is “Yes I really do care about this task and I want to help ensure it succeeds but you do understand why I cannot do it because…”
Delegated tasks are the most important category of tasks for developing your own leadership skills and empowering your team. Remember that with delegation comes trust. And also remember the difference between ‘effective delegation’ and ‘desperate delegation’. When you can effectively delegate then you are actually building capacity – the capacity to allow yourself to take on more things to personally ‘drive’ towards success for your own benefit or the benefit of your team. For example, you might be building up a strong 2IC who is going to allow you to relax more on your holidays!!, or through delegation you simply move your tasks to free up the capacity to lead more work and increase the success of your team. You still stay close, so your team members genuinely learn and grow. Your management sees not just a strong Team Lead but a strong team, one that the Lead can count on. Finally, and most importantly, the more you delegate the more the trust and loyalty increases between you and your team, meaning your best team members are likely to hang around longer. Seems pretty easy? – I have seen too many Team Leads who feel threatened by delegation with trust and who end up becoming single point failure points and burn out or are moved on. I have moved a few on myself – “sorry you’re just not a team player”.
Drive tasks are the most important tasks of all for managing your career and achieving your strategic goals. Drive tasks are the end-game in The Three Ds. You want to free up as much time as possible for these tasks as ALL the tasks you drive really need to ALL be a success – if not you probably would have been better off to have simply deflected them or delegated them. And if they fail you cannot really blame others as that’s a cop out as you were seen as driving. It is also here where you make real choices on what you want to run with and to be seen to run with. The most important thing to remember with Drive tasks is that if you spend all your time on tasks you could have/should have deflected or delegated then you probably won’t succeed because generally speaking Boards, CEOs, and Executive Management notice drive before they notice a list of completed tasks on a To Do list. By the way carefully managed delegation can help with drive tasks, getting a trusted 2IC to help the most important tasks you are driving hard on is a win-win for both of you.
And what about the backlog? – this is an interesting opportunity. Lots of items on your lists and the lists of others are actually really important stuff but never get a look in because of the never-ending higher priority tasks. I like to put a few of these backlog items in ‘Drive’ and just quietly get on with them – improved documentation, whitepapers, process improvement, team training etc. People really notice when these longer term ‘too hard’ strategic things actually get delivered.
So try an experiment and sort out your To Do list and apply The Three Ds clinically over say a month or two – understand what you deflect and what you drive – and see how you go. And I would love to hear your thoughts.