By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Getting organized for improvement

We all have more to do than we can actually get done, right? What do you do? Here's a summary of what I've found most effective.

  • Recognize that while the immediate goal is accomplishing things on a to-do list, that's not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is getting the most important things done.
  • Ultimate goals are difficult because they typically involve long-term projects that may never rise to a level of urgency yet they are the most important to accomplish. Extra structure is needed to accomplish them.
    • Define your projects to accomplish long-term goals. Make an outline, mind map, task list or description of the project.
    • Create an infrastructure for the project including a file folder for paper documents, an electronic folder for electronic documents and an email folder for emails on the subject. Why? You're going to get distracted and will need to recreate your context some time in the future. Let your infrastructure help you do that.
    • Put your next step for each project on your to-do list. I learned the idea of the next step from David Allen's Getting Things Done. The next step is a simple action to take which will make a small step of incremental progress on the project. The brilliance of the next step is that because it is small and actionable, you're more likely to do it when you see it on your to-do list. That creates progress, progress creates enthusiasm and enthusiasm over the long term gets the important work done.
  • Keep a journal. You need to keep learning and improving and a journal is the best way I've learned to accomplish that.
    • Record what you've learned. A journal augments your memory. If you're like me, you'll need to solve the same problems again in the future and by then chances are good that you will have forgotten the solutions you've found. I use a simple Word file with dates for entry headings. I can easily search the entire journal (which now goes back years) by date or by text string.
    • Reflect on what you've done. Reflection is the basis of improvement. The journal is a great repository where you can record issues, concerns, progress and solutions. Alternatively, you may prefer to collect your reflections for projects within your project infrastructure. For example, I have an ongoing project to improve our effectiveness at tradeshows. Immediately after a tradeshow we do an after-action review (reflection) and the results go into the Tradeshow Project infrastructure. Teachers typically have a long-term project of improving their lesson plans and their reflections might best go into their lesson plan system.

I started talking about having more things to do than we can actually accomplish. And then I gave you more to do. Crazy? No. I've described tools to help you do what's important. Let the other stuff go. You don't improve either for yourself or for your organization by doing more unimportant work. Improve by doing more of what's important.

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Keywords: continuous improvement

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