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3 business tasks to keep off the checklist

Though it feels great to cross something off your to-do list, sometimes at work it's more complicated than that
checklist (checklist image via Shutterstock)
checklist (checklist image via Shutterstock)

I’m the first one to admit that when it comes to plowing through my day’s tasks, I’m very much a Type-A personality. I’m obsessed with checklists in every form: digital ones (I sync with a terrific, very visual-oriented site/app called Trello on my computer screen and my smart phone), and absurdly, yanked from these and scribbled each morning on a notepad as I sit down to work. Why the notepad? There’s something visceral about taking a pen and crossing things off. Call me a beast. I fear it’s a fairly modern-day obsession. Ah, to have lived as a caveman with important — yet less “dynamic” lists — like “Get rocks” and “Protect rocks from that crafty guy, Oong.” And the recurring “Watch for Giant Cat.” Check, check, check. A good day at Cave Productions, Inc.

checklistman1The thing about my checklists is that they are essentially binary: either I’ve done the job or… I haven’t. Of course I sometimes move items onto other sub-lists lists to bump down their priority, or mark them as waiting for input from someone else. But at its core, to me, completing a task means I can put it aside, completely out-of-mind and move on to something else. It’s done. Time for coffee.

While this works for my own day-to-day tactical activities, I’ve found that this binary “yes or no” checklist approach is one that’s less constructive when applied — as many of us do — to a number of business activities. Here are three examples of “checklist items” that you’ve got to consider just the beginning of a process rather than a done deal.

1) Social media: Any consultant, company or potential hire trying to pitch social media services will explain passionately that social media activity is simply a “must-have” to get the word out, make an impression, interact with current or potential customers, and simply not get left behind. As compulsory as having a website. Now, for some companies this is certainly true; done right, it can actually create measurable ROI to justify the expense, whether outsourced or in-house.

So you have to decide to “do” social media right or not do it at all? Well, no. There is definitely a middle ground — an initial phase where you set up a blog that you update once a week and simply re-post these on your Facebook page without doing much more. That’s it.

Why is it worth the effort? First, the blog (at a URL under your website’s domain) shows both human website visitors and patrolling Googlebots that you are alive and well, thinking hard about your subject matter. Second, since posting these to Facebook takes just a minute or two, it’s a great way to get that Facebook page started so that as it develops in a next phase, it has some history to show. Spending a little time asking colleagues to Like your Facebook company page will mean that when written well, your posts may potentially show up in front of thousands of people with virtually no additional work. One final justification for this “blog lite” is that often they can represent a kind of FAQ. I’ve sent dozens of people with good (but repeating, predictable) questions to the posts I’ve written here, and saved myself the hassle of writing it out each time.

Now just to be clear, this approach is an absolute minimum and does not earn you the benefits of actually interacting via these conduits. It only gets you in front of a tiny percentage of your potential audience. But it’s a start, a valuable one, and a manageable effort in which it’s worth investing some time and money as a base to build on later.

2) Your ‘story’ in a video: A promotional homepage video is essentially a concentrated, boiled down, superficial overview with enough spunk and “confidence building measures” to get a potential customer interested in learning more. That’s all it is, and that’s all it can be. About a third of my clients, upon receiving our first draft of their script, quickly provide lists of elements that we left out — and that “must be part of the story”. After we explain the costs, timing, and complexity of piling on all this material, the smart ones back down.

The video is a checklist item — no question. There are a wide variety of styles, formats, script strategies, lengths, etc. to choose from, but it’s critical to keep the end goal in sight: getting the viewer to want to learn more, not to make them think you’ve told him all there is to know. Because you haven’t done that, you can’t do it, and you’ll drive yourself nuts making the attempt.

3) The PowerPoint checkbox: I mentioned this in a previous post, but I got so much response from it (privately and on Facebook) that it bears repeating: when you go to sit down in a meeting, the PowerPoint is, sadly and paradoxically, still a checklist item people seem to need to stare at with that glazed, numb look. Some people are so rigid that even sending them a neatly packaged PDF with the exact same material (even exported from the PowerPoint itself!) will get you a request for an actual PowerPoint. Sigh.

But here’s the rub: when using this for a meeting, your PowerPoint can be a trigger, a jumping off point for the discussion that sounds so much better while you’re making eye contact. You know, discussing it from the heart, — not the slide — without the robotic intonation that kicks in when you read from a PowerPoint to people who could probably read it themselves. Get creative, have fun with it, and show them that the same creativity that put together the not-the-usual-presentation will be driving the business in anything but a “business as usual mindset.”

There we go. Blog post about lists. Check.

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About the Author
Jay is the CEO of RapidFire Consulting, helping Israeli companies "tell their story" - figuring out what to say and to whom - through Explainer videos and the other dozen modes of web messaging.
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