Getting Things Done

Jan 24, 2019

By AMA Staff

Each day you come into the office eager to dig into your “to-do” list. Yet somehow, all too often, circumstances arise that conspire against your being able to cross items off the list. There are many factors that can hinder productivity and prevent you from achieving your goals. Here are a few key impediments:

  1. Interruptions by others
  2. Procrastination 
  3. Inability to acquire buy-in or cooperation from team members or management

Here are some ways to deal with each of these roadblocks to getting things done.

1. Interruptions by others

  • Avoid “management by crisis”
    A crisis should not be regarded as an everyday occurrence; a true crisis is an unexpected interruption to normal routine that requires an immediate response. Obviously, if your day is filled with so-called “crises,” your to-do list will gather dust. In his classic book Time Trap (AMACOM, 1997), Alec Mackenzie offers the following advice:
    • Identify whether or not the situation is really a crisis.
    • Have a contingency plan. Although you cannot predict when a crisis will occur, with careful planning you can at least alleviate its effects or possibly prevent it from happening. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “What could go wrong here?”
    • Build cushions into your day to allow time to respond to unforeseen events.
  • Schedule meetings in advance. Don’t let other people’s priorities take precedence over your own.
  • Consider blocking out a set part of the day for “open office” hours when your team members know they can drop by to discuss any issues they may have. 
  • Manage your phone calls. Here are some additional tips from Alec Mackenzie:
    • Screen your calls. This allows you to return calls in batches, at a time that is convenient for you.
    • If you have an assistant, discuss which categories of calls you want to accept right away (for example, family emergencies, your boss, company VIPs, major clients). For other calls, have the assistant handle the ones he/she can.
    • If you co not have an assistant, rely on voice mail when necessary or work out a deal with colleagues to take turns covering the phones.
    • Set a time limit for phone calls. If the call requires further discussion after the allotted time limit, ask to schedule a time to either call back or meet in person. 
  • Delegate authority. Author Dale Collie says that “Many interruptions are the result of staff members’ uncertainty of their authority to make decisions.” If your people know that they have the go-ahead to act on their own within certain predefined guidelines, they won’t have to seek your constant approval. They’ll come to you only when they truly require your advice.

2. Procrastination
It’s natural to want to postpone tasks that are challenging, tedious or just unpleasant. In his book Personal Brilliance (AMACOM 2005), Jim Canterucci recommends the following techniques for overcoming procrastination: 

  • Write down a few words to describe the projects, tasks or action steps that you have been putting off. 
  • Make a numerical list of all the reasons you don’t want to take those steps. 
  • List as many benefits to taking the steps as you listed reasons for not wanting to take action. 
  • Look at the big picture. Keep looking for and listing benefits until you can see this project or action step with a balanced perspective. 
  • Just start the work, to get some momentum going. 
  • Vow to complete the task or delegate it to someone else, within the next three days.

3. Inability to acquire buy-in or cooperation from team members or management
Sometimes the major barrier between you and the achievement of an objective stems from resistance from other key players. AMA’s new seminar Advanced Leadership Communications Strategies presents the following best practices for responding tactfully to resistance: 

  • Present your point of view persuasively. Do your homework. Show how an initiative will add value to individuals and to the organization. 
  • “Reactions” are instantaneous—fully charged by emotion and not much thought.
    “Responses are measured”—considered, aware of second-and third-order effects. Your first instinct may be to react—to defend yourself, fight back or retreat. A preferable action is to respond, to control your defensiveness, listen and learn from the resistors. 
  • Try to understand and learn from the opposing point of view. Ask open questions to discover the root cause of any resistance and to find common ground. Maintain a caring attitude. 
  • Don’t become negative about resistance. Remember that the “con” in the word conflict means “with.” Learn “with” your associates. Engage with them and respect their concerns. Perhaps their points are valid enough to alter your plan. 
  • If you are working on a project that requires you to obtain information from others, don’t allow yourself to miss a deadline if that information has not been provided on time. Use what I call the “off my desk, on to yours” method to keep the work flowing. Pass key documents on to the next level with “tk” notations (meaning “to come”) in place of any outstanding data. Then work with team members to come up with the needed information.

While there are many additional potential barriers to getting things done, using some of the strategies outlined here to deal with these three common roadblocks to achievement will go a long way toward helping you finally reach the bottom of your daily “to-do” list. You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment as you tick off each item--and you may even find yourself leaving the office on time.

About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.