Growing Up with To Do Lists

As a child, when I used to be taken to meet distant relatives, we would often engage in a bizarre ritual:

Oh my, how you’ve grown!

As the person growing, I hadn’t really noticed getting any taller since yesterday, but clearly this person was surprised and happy with my achievement in becoming taller.

Now, imagine if this happened more frequently – perhaps even daily. Growing fractions of millimetres is far less remarkable, and isn’t exactly cause for a celebration.

To Do Lists

It’s hardly a recent phenomenon, but creating to-do lists has enjoyed a renaissance recently through tools like Wunderlist. Part of the attraction of chunking down tasks into manageable to-dos is that you solve the problem of “where do I even begin?”

Equally you have to make sure that each task has critical mass. It doesn’t make sense to create trivial sub-tasks, as you don’t feel any sense of accomplishment after ticking them off. That sense of accomplishment is a key reinforcing factor to maintaining a habit.

Continuous Feedback

One progressive move is to break down annual performance reviews into infinitesimally small “continuous” chunks. That risks feedback losing critical mass, for both the provider and the receiver. The issue isn’t the underlying work, but being able to notice perceptible differences over short spaces of time (days, weeks).

It is much easier to give feedback after a reasonable amount of time and there’s room to reflect on a difference. That allows a change in behaviour to be observed or a milestone to be achieved.

Of course all the research points to feedback needing to be timely, but turning it into a monotonous task might make it less effective than the default annual cycle.

Without a box to tick for “feedback given” or “feedback received”, there’s no cause for an internal feeling of accomplishment. Deep down, people want to celebrate those kind of milestones!

With thanks to Luke Grange for starting the conversation, and everyone who’s contributed so far on O3N (that list reading like a who’s who of Responsive Org in Australia).