Most homes have a whiteboard on the refrigerator just waiting for some notes. Typically, the shopping list gets added and when one of the children have a function, a quick note about the time and place is written on the board. People, in general, cannot live without little notes to remind them of responsibilities and obligations.
Likewise, most professional people carry a calendar in which they write their daily appointments and tasks that they must complete. Colorful sticky sheets were invented to help individuals organize their time and remind them of both personal and work related events. Thus, it stands to reason that small businesses, both the owners and employees, should make use of good old-fashioned to-do lists.
To-do lists are the foundation of an organized and healthy business. If everyone knows what they are supposed to do when they come into work, then less time is wasted. In turn, owners are not paying wages for poor or zero productivity, and there is less chance of error with client accounts. In some small businesses, the best way to create a to-do list is on a large chalkboard or whiteboard hung on the office wall, so that everyone can see what needs to be done. Duties are assigned to specific staff, and deadlines are written out in black and white for all to see and understand.
One of the negatives, however, of creating a to-do list in the small business environment is that it often seems like there is more to do than there is time to do it. This feeling can be overwhelming and actually detrimental to the health of the company. If you or your staff cannot manage the to-do list by identifying priorities, the list will just weigh you under. Put quite bluntly, you and your staff will sink. For this reason, you absolutely must review your lists and determine what needs to be done now.
In addition to assessing your own lists, you need to review each staff member’s lists. Everyone needs to be on the same schedule and have the same focus for lists to work properly. If you as the owner or supervisor deem that one function is top priority, then others must know, so that their priorities reflect your decision.
Today, there are many computer programs to help with the issue of synchronizing employee lists with owner-manager lists. Often called “task list software”, you are able to enter the specific jobs that need completing, the staff member responsible, the client involved, and the deadline. You might even provide low-level access to employees, so that they can update the system as they have completed certain tasks. The system provides full details of the complete process from beginning to end. Ideally, nothing should get lost along the way. Of course, this leads to higher productivity, lower spoilage costs, and a higher percentage of deadlines met on time.
Another way to assess to-do lists is by category. For example, let’s say that you are starting a new division in the company. You might need added permits and another bank account. By keeping this list separate from your daily running-of-the-business list, you are better apt to keep things organized and get the requirements done. Likewise, client accounts. Each folder should have specific lists for that client’s project. As something is completed, the task should be ticked off the list with the date of completion and the employee’s name. Of course, with these separate lists, you must review all of them to ensure that you have a master list for the day. But, at least, you don’t need to have all the tasks on the daily list. Just those pertinent to that day. In this way, you are not reading over the same things more than once and wondering how everything will get done. You only have the points at hand that are important to today’s processes.
Lastly, to-do lists should help prepare for the future, whether in the short-term or the long-term. If you own a garden center, for example, you don’t wait until the first hot May weekend to stock your area. You plan ahead by growing or buying plants, you get the area all cleaned up and looking nice, and you schedule staff for the opening day. By having these points on your to-do list months ahead of time, you can capitalize on peak seasons, increasing your profits and margins.