What are you hiding? - Next Action Associates

From the outside the restaurant looks promising, and you’re hungry. You get a table and the waiter brings the menu. You have a browse. A few things look OK, but you’re not really that up for anything on offer. With a sigh, you order something that looks acceptable but not great.

Then you notice the people at the next table, who are just tucking into their meals. They have things that look superb – in fact, one of them has something you’re really in the mood for – and it occurs to you that you didn’t see the food they’re having on your menu.

The waiter brings your meal, and you ask about the food on the next table. The waiter looks quizzical, and then opens the menu he gave you. “I’m terribly sorry, this menu is missing a page.”

Feel cheated? Sure you do. Appealing choices were hidden from you when you made your selection. As you do your best to enjoy your meal (mustn’t waste food, after all), you come to terms with the fact that you’ve had to settle for suboptimal, because the options you thought were comprehensive were, in fact, incomplete.

How is it then with the action reminders in your organisational tools?  When you peruse the “menu” there, do you see all the options? Or only some? If you don’t see all of the options, how can you be sure you’re making ideal choices?

How about if I deleted every other entry in your calendar? Would you feel as though you were missing some important things? Yep.

So how about the lists of other action reminders you have? Are they comprehensive? If you’re at your computer can you peruse a list of all of the things you could do there? If you’re in front of the boss, do you have a comprehensive list of topics you need to discuss? Or have you “left pages out” of your menus? If things are missing, can you be sure you’ve made an optimal choice?

Many folks create intentionally incomplete lists, because they think it enhances focus.  A “daily to-do list”, generally created in the morning or the night before, includes things that seem important to focus on that day. It’s unlikely to be a complete inventory of all of the things you could do, because in creating these lists we omit things that don’t feel “high priority”. Those “medium” and “lower” priority things won’t be there. By the way, nor will any high priority things that slipped your mind in the moment that you put the list together.

Why does this matter? You might think that omitting less-important things was a good way of making sure you focus on the important. The problem is that as your day goes by, you may have opportunities to move things forward that don’t seem high priority, but which you would like to get done as soon as you can.

Say your daily to-do list includes drafting a budget document, reviewing a 20-page proposal, and calling a client for what you expect will be a deep and meaningful conversation about a new product. Then you find yourself with 10 minutes free before you’ll be meeting colleagues for lunch. None of the things on your to-do list can be tackled in that time. At that moment, wouldn’t it be helpful to also see options like that phone call to book tickets for the concert?  Or the quick internet search you could do to create a short-list of sailboats you might rent for your summer holidays?

Those things might not have seemed “high priority” that morning when you created your to-do list, but in those ten minutes they are the options you want to see – they’re the missing page in the menu.

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