Success Lists over to do lists

Success lists over to do lists.png

Success isn’t doing everything, it is doing what matters most.

The (good) experience of a manager can often be seen in how they organize what they have to do. In Einsenhower’s Matrix we learned how to group what you have to do by priority quadrants but now i would like to look at how to form success lists. Success lists are cut down “to do lists” so that what is left are only the strategic actions that contribute to success. Of course cutting down a long list of “things to do” into a much smaller coherent group of success actions is not easy.

A “Success list” is a shortened down “to do list” with only the key things left.

To be able to form success lists you must first understand your core one-thing objective you are striving to achieve and have done effective visualization and backward planning so that you have in mind your more immediate targets in the weeks ahead. You must also understand prioritization and the value of quadrant II thinking. Also you must have clear that the aim of a “success list” is to get rid of clutter and be left with the most important micro actions to be done today that work towards the macro objective you have in longer term sense. Once you have this clear, you are ready to group your tasks into categories, following loosely the structure of Eisenhower’s matrix, i like to go with: 1. must do, 2. should do, 3. could do and 4. shouldn’t do.

Time Management and Prioritising - 2 (1)

“Must dos” are easy to distinguish as they have some obvious time pressure and clear immediate importance. However be careful to make sure that “must dos” align in urgency and importance to end objectives as often some “must dos” can be disguised “could dos”. For example sometimes something you had as a deadline for tomorrow is no longer of high importance because of a strategic shift that has made it necessary to focus elsewhere, in this case the task to do is no longer a “must do” due to the deadline alone, but is a rather a “could do” as it is no longer so strategically important. In general to be a “must to do” task it should be an action that has both an immediate deadline AND a strategic importance to set goals. If it just the former, it is probably a “could do” and if just the latter then definitely it is still important but more likely a “should do”. In general “must dos” should be around 10-15% of your tasks and no more than 25%.

Be careful that a “must do” is not a disguised “could do”.

“Shouldn’t do” is also again easy to identify if you have your macro objectives clear, as any task that doesn’t contribute to your core strategic goals is something that nearly always should be classified as a “shouldn’t do” and discarded all together. It is important to be decisive and “say no” to things that waste your time, sap your energy or take your focus away from your set strategic goals. However be aware that monitoring or addressing the needs of your team, professional or personal, can sometimes be too quickly classified as “shouldn’t dos”. Often a staff issue – emotional or practical – although not connected today to a strategic goal, will in a longer term sense have a big impact on a macro goal, if not given the time and attention it needs. Of course there will be many staff “wants” that are time wasters but it is important to be switched on and accept that as a great leader you will need to address well real staff needs and separate the “wants” from the “needs”. Most staff needs (not wants) are in fact “should dos” and some wants “could dos” if important to emotional banks and the WIIFM factor.

“Shouldn’t dos should normally be discarded all together”.

Defining the difference between “could dos” and “should dos” is where the real challenge starts. In general around 50% of your tasks will exist in these categories and what you want to do is identify the 25% which are “should” over “could”. “Should dos” are really the core of your success list as they are always strategically important to do but don’t have the time urgency of “must dos”.  The “shoulds” are the micro actions and decisions which contribute to your macro goals. Normally, if the task forms a clear step towards your set goals, it is a “should”, if it isn’t clear it is a step forward, but rather more exploratory, then most likely it is a “could do”.  As we learned, “should dos” are also made of some tasks that should be done to keep your team on track, i.e. the relationship building time spent to keep your team both motivated about and focused on end goals.


Although your goal is to form a success list made up of mainly “should dos” and the obligatory “must dos”, “could dos” –  unlike “shouldn’t dos” – shouldn’t be discarded altogether but rather put in what i like to call a “holding point”. When things are busy, you should be disciplined and ignore the “could dos” in order to keep your full focus on completing all the tasks in your newly formed success list. However when you have more time than expected, it is well worth going back to your “could do” list and identifying one or two you deem interesting to do. My recommendation is to do the “could dos” you thought “might” contribute a strategic purpose but you didn’t have clear due it being new or unknown. This type of “could do” that “might” contribute to the strategic goal might be trying out a new software that could be more efficient than what you already use or trying a new way of doing things.  Also the relationship building “wants” that could gain you favor to address, may well be worth doing in these moments in order to invest in your staff’s emotional banks and know you have some goodwill to withdraw from in more challenging or busy moments.

“Could dos” should never be discarded but rather should be kept in a holding point.

So from now establish the habit of turning your “to do lists” into “success lists”. This is process that should be done minimally every week and analysed and reflected on at end of every day. Success isn’t in doing everything, it is doing well the things that matter most.

Managers who use “Success lists” achieve more in less time.


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