Action Programs

Becoming Exceptionally Well Organized

We all know how useful To-Do Lists are when we get started in our careers. However, To-Do Lists can quickly become overwhelmed when we take on responsibility for multiple projects – as many of us do when we become managers.

One of the problems is that, for most of us, our To-Do Lists are not planned, focused, action lists. Rather, they are a sort of a catch-all for a lot of things that are unresolved and not yet translated into outcomes. For instance, specific entries, such as “Call Tina in Sales,” might exist along with vaguer aspirations, such as “Write marketing plan.”

Often, the real actionable details of what you have “to do” are missing.

Another problem is that once you have more than, say, 20 entries on your list, it becomes cumbersome and difficult to use. This means that you start missing key activities and commitments.

This is where Action Programs are useful. Action Programs are “industrial strength” versions of To-Do Lists, which incorporate short, medium and long term goals. They help you plan your time, without forgotten commitments coming in to blow your schedule apart. And, because they encourage you to think about your priorities properly, you can focus on the things that matter, and avoid frittering your time away on low value activities.

Action Programs also help you get into the habit of delegating jobs. All of this lets you save time – and get away on time – whilst also increasing your effectiveness and productivity. As such, they help you bring intelligent prioritization and control back to your life, at times where you would otherwise feel overwhelmed by work.

Tip: When you first hear about them, Action Programs can sound complicated and difficult to use. They are more complicated than To-Do Lists, but if you persist and spend a few hours learning how to use them, you’ll quickly find yourself back in control of your workload – and a whole lot less stressed as a result.


Making the best use of your time and resources

Prioritization is the essential skill you need to make the very best use of your own efforts and those of your team. It’s also a skill that you need to create calmness and space in your life so that you can focus your energy and attention on the things that really matter.

It is particularly important when time is limited and demands are seemingly unlimited. It helps you to allocate your time where its is most-needed and most wisely spent, freeing you and your team up from less important tasks that can be attended to later or quietly dropped.

With good prioritization (and careful management of deprioritized tasks) you can bring order to chaos, massively reduce stress, and move towards a successful conclusion. Without it, you’ll flounder around, drowning in competing demands.

Simple Prioritization

At a simple level, you can prioritize based on time constraints, on the potential profitability or benefit of the task you’re facing, or on the pressure you’re under to complete a job:

  • Prioritization based on project value or profitability is probably the most commonly used and rational basis for prioritization. Whether this is based on a subjective guess at value or a sophisticated financial evaluation, it often gives the most efficient results.
  • Time constraints are important where other people are depending on you to complete a task, and particularly where this task is on the critical path of an important project. Here, a small amount of your own effort can go a very long way.
  • And it’s a brave (and maybe foolish) person who resists his or her boss’s pressure to complete a task, when that pressure is reasonable and legitimate.


Generating many radical, creative ideas

Brainstorming is a popular tool that helps you generate creative solutions to a problem. It is particularly useful when you want to break out of state, established patterns of thinking, so that you can develop new ways of looking at things. It also helps you overcome many of the issues that can make group problem-solving a sterile and unsatisfactory process.

Used with your team, it helps you bring the diverse experience of all team members into play during problem solving. This increases the richness of ideas explored, meaning that you can find better solutions to the problems you face.

It can also help you get buy in from team members for the solution chosen – after all, they were involved in developing it. What’s more, because brainstorming is fun, it helps team members bond with one-another as they solve problems in a positive, rewarding environment.

Why Use Brainstorming?

Conventional group problem-solving can be fraught with problems. Confident, “big-ego” participants can drown out and intimidate quieter group members. Less confident participants can be too scared of ridicule to share their ideas freely. Others may feel pressurized to conform with the group view, or are held back by an excessive respect for authority. As such, group problem-solving is often ineffective and sterile.

By contrast, brainstorming provides a freewheeling environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate. Quirky ideas are welcomed, and many of the issues of group problem-solving are overcome. All participants are asked to contribute fully and fairly, liberating people to develop a rich array of creative solutions to the problems they’re facing.

“Brainstorming 2.0”

The original approach to brainstorming was developed by Madison Avenue advertising executive, Alex Osborn, in the 1950s. Since then, many researchers have explored the technique, and have identified issues with it. The steps described here seek to take account of this research, meaning that the approach described below differs subtly from Osborn’s original one.

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