Our to-do lists keep us on track. Organized people know that being able to throw things on the list as soon as they occur eliminates forgetting.
If you've been around me for very long, you know how much I believe in the power of the to-do list, preferably, a digital one. Life gets easier when you learn. No more forgetting!
But what about the tasks other people are supposed to be doing. Whether or not they come through impacts us. How do we keep up with those sorts of things?
Here are some examples:
—You're working on a project with others and have delegated certain tasks to them. How do you make sure everyone comes through with what they're supposed to do?
—Someone borrows books, your lawnmower, or anything else that belongs to you. How do you keep up with what you have loaned? What sort of trigger will cause you to mention something when an item is not returned?
—You have placed an order with a company. How do you keep up with what you have ordered? At what point would you call to ask about the status of the order? What is the trigger that would cause you to make that call?
As long as we live in a world where our happiness, success, longevity, or whatever else is in part dependent on other people, we need to have some system that will allow us to follow up.
'Expect to receive'
Don’t limit your to-do list to only the tasks you need to perform. Include those things you are “waiting for” from other people. If Steve borrowed a book and should be returning it in a few weeks, put a task on your list for around that time. Word it something like, “Expect to receive XYZ book from Steve.” When that date arrives, if Steve hasn’t already returned the book, you have a reminder to follow up.
Over time, "Expect to receive" became "ETR." Though the tools have changed, that acronym stuck. When I moved to a digital task list in 2001, I would include the letters ETR at the start of any task where I was expecting to receive something from someone else. I would include in the task the name of the person, what I was waiting on from them, and the approximate date of when I should have received the deliverable. That way, I could follow up at the appropriate time.
At that point, I could forget about the task and let the system do the remembering.
When the due date arrives, I am looking at the "ETR" item. There’s my trigger to take action. What if I want to see at a glance all of the things that I am expecting from other people? That is one of the advantages of a digital task list. I search for "ETR." The result is a complete list of everything I am expecting from someone else.
Need grows greater
The further we advance in our chosen professions, the more our success depends on getting work done through other people. Training is important. Having confidence in those with whom we interact is important. However, people drop the ball. When that happens, the consequences are often felt far up the chain of command.
When we delegate, it takes only a second to decide when we should expect the completion of the task and make the appropriate entry on the digital to-do list. That simple habit provides peace of mind. You develop the reputation of being someone who follows up.
Our lives are complex, and the complexity requires simple systems.
What are you waiting for from other people? Take a few minutes to identify those tasks, put them on your list, and assign due dates to prompt you to follow up. It's too simple not to do.
Frank Buck is the author of the books Get Organized! and Get Organized Digitally! "Global Gurus Top 30" named him No. 1 in the Time Management category for 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022. Dr. Buck speaks throughout the United States and internationally about organization and time management. You can reach him through his website: FrankBuck.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrFrankBuck.