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The dangers of to-do lists, why employees leave good bosses, the power of overpromising – and much more.

Are you just submitting to the demands on your time or managing them? If you say managing, that's actually not enough, according to Google sales executive Thomas Davies. He says you need to design your time. "Sure, it's partly just a shift in mind-set – from small-scale tactics to big-picture strategy – but it can be transformative," he writes in FastCompany.

Specifically, divide your work responsibilities into four quadrants. For him, it's people development, business operations, transactional tasks (one-off things like responding to an e-mail or reviewing a budget), and representative tasks, in which he serves as a face for the business, such as having drinks with customers. Your quadrants will almost certainly be different but he advises restricting them to four. Figure them out by analyzing your work.

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This division will highlight that not all tasks are of equal importance – some quadrants are clearly more important than others. So you don't divide your day into neat 25-per-cent chunks, but must assign your time according to the importance of that role. "The key to using them effectively is to be mindful that if you focus on business impact and personal enjoyment, you can achieve great things while maintaining balance: You can design what you do, rather than just do what you need to," he writes.

If that seems like a variant on a to-do list, be wary of using it in that way. To-do lists are the graveyard of important but not urgent tasks, entrepreneur Kevin Kruse warns. "To-do lists should be called nagging wish-lists. A series of tasks you hope to accomplish, without a specific plan as to when you'll get them all done. How many items on your current to-do list have been there for several days? Or months? Years?" he writes on his website.

Besides encouraging us to work on urgent rather than important stuff, to-do lists don't specify the length of time a task will take, and create stress as we keep looking at the many things we sense we won't be completing soon.

Instead, schedule everything you want to do in your calendar – make time for it, the appropriate time you believe it will take. Beyond that, plan for the cracks that will appear in the day, when you are forced to wait. Consultant Kevin Eikenberry suggests having a plan for those moments, whether it's making a call, jotting some thoughts in a notebook or reading a book.

Employees leave good bosses nearly as often as bad ones

It's a truism that people leave companies because of bad bosses. So here's a stunner: Research shows that they also leave good bosses. And that's because those good bosses have been effective.

In Harvard Business Review, Ravi Gajendran and Deepak Somaya of the University of Illinois found that supportive managers empower employees to take on challenging assignments with greater responsibilities, which sets employees up to be strong external job candidates. So employees quit for better opportunities elsewhere, gaining better pay or more responsibility.

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The silver lining is that these folks can be "happy quitters," as the professors put it, leaving with positive feelings toward the company, which may mean they might return some day or suggest that somebody else seek to join it. But that seems to happen primarily when managers make an effort to retain the employee intending to leave. So managers should go to bat for those subordinates and make a counteroffer if they can. They should also build bridges to those folks after they have departed.

"This approach also requires a change in the mindset of managers who might otherwise be good leaders but respond negatively when talented employees leave them to continue their careers elsewhere," the academics conclude.

Change: Five crucial questions to ask

With change come consultants. But before you start screening them, the Center for Creative Leadership recommends asking these five crucial questions:

– What's changing? Be specific. Clarify what is clearly going to be different, what will stay the same, and what is uncertain.

– What's going on in the senior team? The people in charge can make or break this. Are they on board or not? Are some of them or all? Be sure the change consultant you select is equipped to deal with the senior team dynamics.

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– Are we struggling to manage or struggling to lead? Too often leaders focus solely on managing the technical aspects of the change – the business systems and structures. Change leadership, on the other hand, is about the human side of change. It's about aligning people and culture and strategy.

– Is who we are getting in the way of what we need to do? This probes culture, which can make or break your change effort. Think about the cultural norms that could get in the way of what you need to accomplish.

– What kind of help do you want? After all, there are many types of change consultants. "Do you need technical or expert advice on the structure, systems and processes you are changing? Change management support? Or, are you seeking to develop the leadership and organizational capabilities to get the job done? Do you need a turnkey approach or are you willing to knit together various external and internal partners? Also, consider whether you prefer a prescriptive approach or facilitative approach," the Center suggests.

Quick Hits

– We've been told it's wise to underpromise and overdeliver. But venture capitalist Josh Linkner argues such an approach encourages mediocrity. Instead, overpromise, putting yourself out there in a big, bold, defiant way and reach for solutions that won't be easy but will delight others.

– Don't preapologize, introducing your sales presentation with the promise of getting through it as quickly as possible since listeners are busy; that just gives your audience permission to focus on their phones, Toronto business coach Evan Thompson warns. And don't post-apologize, thanking people at the end for their attention and time, as it devalues your worthwhile presentation.

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– Why would job interviewers ask a perfect stranger – the candidate – to reveal their weakness, asks HR specialist Liz Ryan? Supposedly people who do are better hires – more self-aware – but self-awareness cuts both ways, and you should recognize that the question is underhanded and ineffective, just setting you up as being powerful in the interview situation.

– The term "elevator pitch" is a misnomer because it suggests you are looking for the recipient of your pitch to enter and exit the conversation quickly, as they would an elevator. Instead, you want to create a conversation, getting the person to invest attention and ask questions, Shopify content creator Braveen Kumar says.

– A website landing page – where people end up after clicking a link elsewhere, drawing them to your company – should be kept simple, not be a reading project. Marketing consultant Drew McLellan says make the benefits and call to action obvious and easy to follow.

– The first rule of recruiting is just to let people know you're hiring," recruiting expert Tim Sackett says.

– And in closing, novelist Ellen Glasgow: "All change is not growth, as all movement is not forward."

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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