How to Scale Up From Personal to Team To-Do Lists

Team To-Do Lists

Recently I came across an article on organizing to-do lists for personal productivity. It got me thinking, and I tweeted it a with a recommendation to “scale up these ideas with Redbooth.”

A colleague was immediately curious: what would that look like? In other words, what does it mean to scale recommendations designed to improve personal productivity to the team or organizational level?

I’m glad you asked.

In many ways, personal and team productivity are different beasts. The team’s priorities may not always line up precisely with where you believe you should spend your time. Ultimately, though, a productive team is more than a collection of productive individuals. To be effective, team members need to be focusing their productivity on common goals, incorporating shared productivity practices as well as individual ones.

Still, many personal productivity tips have corollaries for team-wide productivity. The Forbes article I tweeted — “5 Reasons Your To-Do Lists Aren’t Working For You” — is a perfect example.

In the article, author Amy Morin incorporates ideas from Paula Rizzo, an Emmy-winning television producer, founder of the productivity site, and author of the book Listful Thinking.

Rizzo believes the best way to be more productive and take charge of your life is to list, prioritize, and systematically tackle the tasks you need to get done. It’s as simple as that…if you have the discipline to do it, that is. The article discusses the pitfalls that can undermine effective list making and how to avoid them.

As a collaboration and communication platform for teams and organizations, Redbooth is designed to improve productivity. It includes shared lists of tasks as a central organizing principle. Users bring the action items on these lists to life by commenting on them, attaching documents, or referencing specific tasks, or actually creating the items from real-time chat itself.

Let’s look at how you can sidestep each of the personal productivity pitfalls Rizzo describes — and how you can scale her recommendations to be more productive in Redbooth.

Pitfall #1: You Mix Your Lists

Personal productivity recommendation from the article: Don’t mix to-do items from home and work. And don’t mix immediate needs and long-term bucket list items. “If you need to pick up a new toothbrush and want to write a book — these things don’t belong on the same list.”

Team to-do lists: In a work context, we also need to identify how our work relates to different short term and long-term goals and prioritize those differently. With Redbooth, you can enforce that separation with workspaces and task lists. You can use your dashboard and workspace views to see where the greatest activity is, find the longest lists of unfinished tasks, and identify which whole projects are nearing completion.

This enforced separation helps the entire team stay focused and aligned around the same priorities. Redbooth’s transparency amplifies that effect.

As for balancing work versus personal tasks, if team members are tracking personal tasks at all in Redbooth it’s helpful to keep those personal items separate. I’ve experimented with a Redbooth “Organize Life” workspace for organizing home and personal tasks in the context of the Getting Things Done personal productivity methodology.

Pitfall #2: You Misplace Your Lists

Personal productivity: “Get a system and stick to it. If you’re always using receipts and envelopes for your list making you may need to streamline your process. Create a dedicated spot to capture all your to-dos.”

Team to-do lists: Hopefully, you’re not attempting to stay organized at work by scribbling lists on the back of envelopes — and then losing the envelopes. Still, are you consistent about how you organize important tasks? If you have some of them captured in Redbooth, others scribbled on a white board, and others that can only be discovered by digging through a tangled email thread, you may indeed be losing things.

Crucially, when you are part of a team, this process can create challenges if you’re called away from work unexpectedly. Keep everything in a single system that your colleagues can access, and they can pick up right where you left off if needed.

True, there are business legends about great ideas scribbled on the back of a cocktail napkin – but you can take it a step further! Take a picture of that cocktail napkin with your phone and upload it into a trusted system like Redbooth.

Pitfall #3: You Have Never-Ending Lists

Personal productivity: “Make a daily to-do list where you prioritize each item… Make sure you only put things on your list that you have the time and resources to accomplish on that day.”

Team to-do lists: No matter how many weeks ahead you have planned the work of the team, it’s a good practice to take time at the beginning of the day to reassess how well the plan aligns with reality.

In Redbooth, you can start by reviewing tasks marked as due today, or marked as urgent (“do as soon as possible”), or shown in the system as overdue. Change the deadlines recorded in the system if necessary. Most of all, communicate which tasks really are the most urgent and time sensitive and which can be allowed to slide.

It’s generally better to make choices that allow you to get work finished than to do a little bit of everything…and finish nothing.

Pitfall #4: The Same Items Keep Popping Up

Personal productivity: “Outsource it or get rid of the item all together. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

Team to-do lists: Ditto. If a to-do item has been part of your backlog for months, and you have made zero progress toward it, that’s a pretty big clue that it’s not happening anytime soon.

If you want to keep those kinds of items on a long-term list of things you will get around to eventually, that’s fine. But don’t fall into the pattern of perpetually pushing back the due date on a work item you have no serious commitment to.

From a collaborative standpoint, one option is to capture these lists and bring them to regular meetings. A lean, agile team doesn’t move forward if it’s being dragged down by stagnating to-dos that may not even still be a top priority. Discuss the items together and seek consensus on whether they even still need to be completed.

Pitfall #5: Your Lists Make You Anxious

Personal productivity: “Rewrite your list. Chances are the disorder of your list is making you feel flustered. Organize your list one day at a time or hour by hour.”

Team to-do lists: If your project plan is so overwhelming and confusing that you’re feeling flustered, it’s probably too elaborate. Stop pretending you can see farther over the horizon than you really can.

Like an agile software development team, you and your team can instead organize your work into “sprints” – short bursts of activity you can realistically commit to completing. After each sprint, you get to catch your breath and reassess what work should be included in your next sprint. Working together with your team to break big ambitions into meaningful chunks is the key to accomplishing them.