Dealing with a Never Ending To Do List - Mark MacLeod

July 20, 2021 - Mark MacLeod

Dealing with a Never Ending To Do List

Often, when CEOs get in touch with me, it is because they have an impossibly long, seemingly never-ending to-do list. If you spend all day in meetings and only do e-mail in the evenings, you leave yourself no time to actually DO anything yourself.

There are two things worth exploring here:

What does your to do list tell you?

How do you have the most impact on the results & valuation of the company?

Organize your never ending to do list

A CEO’s task list can reveal a lot. For me, it tells me how organized and structured the CEO is. Does the CEO have a dated, tagged, and prioritized list on Asana or Notion (structured)? Or is the person’s inbox or notebook – or even worse, post-it notes – acting as the to do list (not structured)?

Look at the tasks themselves. What do they reveal? Is there a particular function in the business that is generating a lot of tasks? What does that say about the strength of that department? lt’s leader? It’s processes?

Finally, are these tasks old or recent? If something can wait, then it’s not important enough to be on the CEO’s task list. If the CEO’s list is full of old tasks, then it’s a sign of a poorly run company. It’s a hope list, not a to do list. That tells me that the CEO’s leadership team and processes need an upgrade.

Prioritize your daily to dos to maximize impact

In general, as a company scales, the CEO goes from succeeding through individual (heroic) effort to succeeding through others. If you are on this path and your team is strong, you should have very few individual tasks to do.

If this is your reality, then the tasks you have should be related to the three core responsibilities of the CEO:

Communication: Constantly reinforcing vision, mission, Values, north star.

Team: Recruiting, retaining & developing the strongest senior leadership team that your scale and resources allow.

Funding: Never running out of money.

However, if you have a deep specialty in one part of the business, such as product, you may want to retain some individual responsibility there.

Be selective about what goes on your master task list

Ask yourself “how do l best contribute to maximizing the velocity and value of my company?” Is it by guiding and enabling my team? Or is it by leading AND contributing directly to the part of the business where l have unique super powers? Your answer determines what kinds of tasks are appropriate for you.

A final word: as your company scales, you have an ever-larger team, doing more and more things, but there is still just one of you. This means that over time you need to be more and more selective about what you allow onto your personal task list.

Questions to consider for personal task management:

How am I managing tasks today? Is this system working for me?

Do I have appropriate filters in place so that only tasks that are CEO-level make it on?

If I have tasks showing up that really should be done by others, what does that tell me? Where is there a weakness in my team or their processes that is creating a dependency on me?

How effective am I at getting tasks done? Am I modelling the way so that others are effective in getting their tasks done? If not, what changes do I need to make?

When is the last time I create a ‘do not do’ list or otherwise removed tasks?

What am I uniquely capable of doing? Do my tasks relate only to this?

How do I add maximum value to the company? Do my tasks relate only to this?

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

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