I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate and a brand new employee as the marketing specialist for a financial institution. I honestly had no idea what I was doing and was just plain grateful for the opportunity to have a “real” job.
During my first week, I was given the standard orientation for all employees (robbery training kind of freaked me out), filled out lots of forms that seemed monumental, and was shown to my desk located in a conference room that had been converted to four offices. And by office, I mean four desks. They hadn’t had time to order cubical walls, so my supervisor and I, along with two collection officers, sat facing each other in a configuration that looked more like a foursquare playground than a workplace.
Even so, I felt very grown up with my typewriter, landline phone, and drawing board where I would wax the latest newsletters and brochures. Yes, it was the golden days of publishing where everything was done manually.
I was also handed a pad of paper that had simple lines and one line of type that read across the top, “Things To Do.” I was instructed that on Monday mornings, my job was to write down every task I planned to accomplish that week. This list would be reviewed each week by my supervisor as a way to monitor my productivity and accomplishments. For seven years, I developed the simple habit of beginning Monday morning with “the list.”
What I didn’t realize was this simple activity would be a leadership lesson for life. My form of lists has changed over the past 30 years, but the basic principles of planning my weekly schedule have brought huge benefits in my work. Today, I want to give you five reasons why creating a list of things to do will strengthen your leadership—whether it is at home, in ministry or in the workplace.
1. A list provides you with a daily guideline of priorities. Each day, I glance at my list to evaluate how my time will be spent. Normally, I will pick the “top six” things that are the priority of the day. Depending on the number of meetings I must attend, I try to tackle the most time intensive project during the first part of the day. I tend to be more alert and have fewer distractions in the first hour of work.
2. A list provides you with an ability to provide a record of accountability. I don’t often get asked to provide a written report of what projects I’ve completed, but if I were—especially during a performance review—I have a written account of how I’ve spent my time. I can quickly observe how much time is spent on tasks or various events I plan.
3. A list provides you with an emotional sense of accomplishment. I have many friends, including myself, who feel a great sense of closure when they can take a pen or highlighter and check off their “things to do” lists. On the other hand, I can get frustrated when things don’t get checked off. Just remember, there are always going to be interruptions or unexpected tasks that take priority over the list. Remember, don’t value “the list” more than the people who need your attention.
4. A list provides you with a template for repetitive projects. There are many projects that happen weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even yearly. By looking back at former lists, you can set deadlines and monitor your progress. It can also help you avoid letting a project slip through the cracks.
5. A list might provide your successor with a tool for future success. I recently left a position that I had held for 11 years. There has been a four-month period of transition since I left. During my absence, my former assistant and part-time help had 11 years of weekly lists at their disposal. They were able to keep things moving forward because they had access to my lists. My prayer is that my successor can use these lists as a baseline for her own leadership. While I know she will lead in her own unique way, at least I’ve provided a template that will provide a foundation and guideline as she navigates the future.
Finally, let me encourage you that the greatest priority as a leader is starting your day in God’s Word and allowing Him to direct your day. David wrote in Psalm 143:8, “Let me experience your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in you. Reveal to me the way I should go because I appeal to you.”
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.