Spinning Plates

Spinning multiple dinner plates on poles with blue sky background

Spinning Plates

By Thomas Hadley

For this post, I thought I’d outline the principles I use and the technology I harness, to at least keep the to-do list in check and time as an ally, not something to be chased.

Here at Imagetext we encourage our team to share their experiences from their immersion in the IT world. It’s what marketers coin ‘Thought Leadership’. That very phrase is made for us. We have been in the technology industry for over 30 years and have a combined current IT experience of over 500 years; engineers to entrepreneurs; from completing the first sale of an Apple Mac in New Zealand to more recently being the first business in the country to sell an Adobe Creative cloud license.

We can draw on an endless supply of material. However – how often do we sit down to share that wisdom publicly? Almost never.

Now the reasons are valid. There is always a proposal, technical problem or challenge to address more pressing. I understand that. Our clients understand that. However, in todays modern workplace where 9-5 is but a long memory is there ever time? With 24-hour connectivity and ‘anywhere’ information access (even more so with the incoming 5G network) it is unlikely that we will be able to squeeze any more hours out of the proverbial time lemon for those tasks deemed superfluous.

But I am going to make a stand (picture me planting a flag and looking proudly over the snowy mountains). As IT leaders we have a responsibility to share our tips, tricks and shortcuts honed in a very competitive industry.

Almost everyone I work with, be it clients, customers, colleagues, and competitors alike have to-do lists that make War and Peace look like a supermarket leaflet. Emails still ping in at 11 o’clock at night as they toil and fight to chase its tail.

This isn’t an epidemic facing one seniority level or particular role – it infects the junior employee working hard to make a name for themselves; the middle manager attempting to spin plates as they look at their targets and manage their team; right through to the business chiefs’ attempting to drive home their shareholders wishes or indeed keep their own company ahead of the competition.

The issue this ordered chaos brings is the odd dropped ball, missed opportunity and never-ending guilt spiral that you are never at the end of your to-do list.

Don’t get me wrong, stress and pressure can help with productivity – as any beginner psychologist can attest to in line with the ‘’Yerkes Dodson Law’’ – or stress/productivity bell curve.

To Do List being writtenPrinciples and Technologies to Keep the To-Do list in Check and Time an Ally

1. Consolidate and Schedule

Email, in my opinion should come with horns and a whippy tail. It’s a form of communication that has moved from instant messaging to a way of covering our backsides using the ‘cc’d you in’ or allowing the ‘I mailed everyone’ excuse to slide into conversation, despite the communication being sat in the other 45 unread mails.

Start with realising email for what it is. A tool to pass information between parties as a group or individually. Do away with customary greetings and try to practice 3 line emails. Anymore than that it should be a phone call. The longer the mail the higher the chance something is taken in the wrong vain or message misunderstood. Anymore than three lines is likely to mean you are expecting a response from the other party – in which case – pick up the phone and come to the terminus of the enquiry in half the time.

The other top tip I’ve learned feeds directly into the to-do list conundrum. How many flags or emails do you have sat in your inbox as ‘to be dealt with’ or similar?

There are some fantastic products that can be customised, shared and integrated that can now sit within Outlook and Mail that, with one click can extract the actionable information straight into a personalised workflow allowing you to be free of the never-ending email cascade locking up your day. Personally, I’ve found solace in Trello and Wunderlist, both platforms have free versions where you can upgrade if needed to allow extra features such as business integrations, road mapping and prioritising.

2. The Chicken or the Egg

The eternal question. Let me explain – how many times have you started your to-do list and then from completing that action taken great joy at scoring it off, only to find a reply or action come straight back at you for that task. i.e. ‘’Email Tom about Thought Leadership Piece’’, you see it on your list and think, easy peasy – you bang off an email and score it off. But wait, there’s more – within an hour it comes back asking for more details, whether it can be proof read, where it goes and who should Tom talk to etc etc.

There is an easy fix. In the morning take time to plan the roadmap of those tasks. What is the result and what steps are you asking the other person or business to take? Be outcome focused.

Ensure that you cover off all the information required in one interaction. In short don’t focus on ticking off the tasks – focus on minimising the touch points required.

3. Be in Sync

I know I berated and probably gave a scornful account of our connected reality earlier in this article – but it does allow us to be able to attack our workload on the go.

Make sure across all your devices you have one touch access to your task lists and/or possible solutions. Android phones for example have ‘widgets’ that can sit on your home screen meaning additions can be made to your lists in one touch, using synced shared folders be that via SharePoint, OneDrive, Dropbox or GSuite, give yourself the ability to share ideas without email.

4. Be a Time Keeper

We all know data is the new currency. Business Intelligence has been driving strategy for years. Why not have it drive your own productivity strategy?

You can use techniques and apps such as Pomodoro to track how long you take on certain tasks. By the end of a month you will have an accurate collection of data that shows you the time drains on your day. Sometimes called a time and motion study which for years was the realm of consultants brought in to increase efficiency in the workplace and subsequently make roles redundant.

Now – match that up against your priority tasks. I completed this exercise over 60 days and was amazed at the time it took me to print and bind proposals – a manual and fiddly task (not to mention head bangingly frustrating) was not only disproportionate to the outcome but something I could outsource that ended up in more time for me and ultimately a better and more solid document that didn’t fall apart when handed to my clients.

If you want any help looking at how you or your business can harness IT to drive your business reach out to Imagetext for a consult.