Why your to-do list does not make you successful?

How often do you find yourself working on a task that seems like a complete waste of your time? Just because you have an assertive manager who does not take “No” for an answer, you spend weeks, if not months, creating something that means nothing to you. The other day, I was discussing a case with Priya (name changed), a good friend who heads Marketing in a medium sized company. We were talking about an intern who was worried about his upcoming report submission. He said, “Priya, I don’t think I have done anything special during my internship. What should I mention in my report?”

This is how the following conversation went between both of them:

Priya: If you think you have not done anything special, why did you do it in the first place?
Intern: I was told to do it by my manager
Priya: Why do you think your manager told you to do it?
Intern: I don’t know. I never asked him.

Do you see, where the problem lies? We are often allocated tasks without an explanation on why it is important to be done. To top that, we accept tasks without asking the question “why this task needs to be done?” I give benefit of doubt to the person who allocated the task. Maybe he/she believed that we already understood the “why”. If we don’t, it is for us to stop and ask. Most of the time, we fail to raise this question because we fear it is a silly question to ask. It will damage our image. After all, no one in the team asked the question either.

We feel because we understand “what” needs to be done, we can safely go ahead and execute it without understanding the “why”.  However, just understanding the “what” does not help us understand:

  • Why is the task important to be done?
  • What outcomes are expected to be achieved from this task? (You can also read it as “What success is dependent on this task?”)
  • What happens if we are not able to do the task right? Or, What are the risks associated if we fail on the task?
  • How should we actually do the task to get the necessary outcomes?
  • And the most important question being: How does this task help us achieve our Purpose, Vision and Mission in the short-term, mid-term and long-term?

If we took time to understand why the task is important, we would know what outcomes it will deliver when done right. More importantly, we would know “how” to do that task to ensure that outcomes are achieved. Once we correlate tasks to outcomes, we automatically cherish the task that we are doing. Next time, you step in your workplace, stop to ask yourself, “Why you are doing what you are doing? What measurable Outcome are you working for?”. If you do not see any measurable outcome, stop what you are doing and discuss the task again with your Manager.

Napolean is remembered for the area that he conquered not for the number of battles that he raged. Stop counting action items and number of emails exchanges. Start counting Outcomes.

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