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Do you have a snag log? How about a continuing “stack rank” list or an “It’s Only the Weekend When” Post-it note? Those are productivity tools that writer-publisher Brie Wolfson believes should replace – or at least supplement – your to-do list, as you seek to be more effective.

A continuing stack rank is a list of things you are working on or could be working on over a given time period. It captures in one place all your priorities and the status of each. Her template has factors such as the expected completion date, the current status (still assessing the project, kicking off, in progress, ready to go, or punted indefinitely), the size of the project in time (extra-small to extra-large), as well as the “flavour” of the work. On this spreadsheet, she can order the items by priority.

“We all work on many, many things at once, each with their own set of dependencies and quirks. Things might move up and down on this list or get added to or removed from it,” she writes on First Round Review. “This simplified list will provide clarity when things get especially messy and keep those higher-order goals top-of mind.”

It answers questions for her such as: How much work do I have in “flight” right now? Is it too much or too little? Am I getting stuff to completion or just inching an endless number of things forward? Am I owning a lot of work or contributing to the work others own? Should I say yes or no to this thing someone is requesting of me? If I’m saying no, how can I show others why? What flavours of work am I over- or under-rotated on right now? How proactive versus reactive is my work? What should I work on next?

She shared the list with one supervisor every Monday morning, and together they worked out the best order for the days ahead. “Having clear direction for the week helped me stay calm and focused, when I think I otherwise might have felt more frantic and chaotic. It also helped my manager understand my bandwidth, speak intelligently to my priorities, and advocate for me accordingly,” she notes.

At the end of the week, she pays extra attention to a Post-it note with a list of up to three things she would be very disappointed to go into the weekend not completing. She prepares the “it’s Only the Weekend When” list on Monday, putting it on a brightly coloured Post-it note to make it stand out. “Throughout the week, I’ll move it around and stick it various places – in my notebook alongside my daily to-do list, on the cover of my notebook, in the corner of my monitor, at the bottom of the keyboard, or even on my bathroom mirror if I’m getting really desperate as the weekend nears! " she says.

Her snag log complements a list she keeps of what she’s proud of. This one details the things that bogged her down instead of lifted her up. It’s an outlet to express her annoyance, frustration or disappointment after she botched something or slid into a morass. It also helps to illuminate patterns in her life.

Her other tools include a “Today I Learned” bullet-point list capturing insights on people or technical details of work items; a Me-Sat evaluation of her satisfaction with aspects of her work life that she completes monthly; and a quarterly personal press release that sums up what she has accomplished. None are as well-known as a to-do list, but maybe they should be.

Quick hits

  • Consultant Wally Bock recommends another organizing tool: An ideas list, on which you capture the ideas you come up with or hear from others who don’t get much attention and might slip away, an opportunity lost.
  • A study of couples by INSEAD professor Winnie Jiang and Yale School of Management professor Amy Wrzesniewski found that when a job seeker and their significant other were completely at odds in terms of the meaning they assigned to work – such as a money-focused banker married to a purpose-oriented social worker – the unemployed partner was 55 per cent less likely to secure a full-time position after six months, compared to the unemployed partner of someone who agreed with them on the role of work.
  • What you avoid today is harder to do tomorrow, notes Farnam Street Blog’s Shane Parrish.
  • Communications consultant Jezra Kaye says an essential rule of “office speak” is give information on a “need to know” basis – not everything you know, but the information they require. And when sharing important information, “be bold, be bold, be gone!” When sharing inconsequential things, be brief.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

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