With more emails hitting your inbox every time you look, and a complex and demanding array of stakeholders inside your organisation, let alone the one’s outside it, it’s not surprising if the To Do list seems to be constantly growing rather than shrinking.

Everything on the To Do list is important to someone and seems to need urgent attention, but it is easy to get so swamped by the shear volume of stuff in front of us, that we feel like we don’t have time to lift our heads up and think about what we are supposed to be doing.

Now more than ever though, this is really important.  You are paid to do a specific role and achieve particular things and unless you have a frame of reference to sort out what you need to prioritise, then you’ll just end up trapped in the weeds.

To give yourself this frame of reference, you have to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What is my overarching purpose here? What do I want to achieve in this role?
  • Feeding in to this purpose, what are the key goals I want to achieve in this next quarter? (Or timeframe of your choice.)
  • What actions do I need to take to achieve these goals?


Three Tiered Goal Setting

You might call these three, Purpose, Goals and Tasks.

Depending on your situation, you might need a four-tiered approach rather than three, that’s OK, but four is the max’.  You have to be able to recall what each level is off the top of your head for this to work.

Once this three tiered goal framework* is clear, you can quickly put any incoming demand for your attention (email, meeting, colleague’s request etc.) in to your planning as a Task, feeding in to a particular Goal towards achieving your purpose.  If the new Task doesn’t fit in to one of your Goals, should you be doing it all?  Or is there a new Goal to add in?

It also allows you to group tasks (by Goal) so that you can focus on chunks of work at a time rather than skipping around between hugely varied and disparate tasks.

This is not to suggest we shouldn’t help colleagues or respond to emails. Naturally you should take a view on these things one by one.  But having a context so that you can clearly see why you should (or shouldn’t) be doing each thing is particularly helpful.


Click here for tips on how to get Email back under control

Click here to think through who your Stakeholders are

Click here to use the 4Ds approach to Time Management

Click here to examine how to set goals which actually work!


* See Angela Duckworth’s excellent book, “Grit”, specifically p62 on hierarchical goal structures.