Pile of envelopes marked urgent

At the end of last year, Doug Shaw and I ran an online experiment around digital literacy. We shared the idea of the experiment at a talk for the Learning and Performance Institute and then invited people to join us in a Slack group to set and share goals and tasks over a two-week period.

The task setting, goal achieving experiment proved a valuable experience for those who took part. “A fun, collaborative way to keep a track of your day,” said one participant. “A great way to connect with others who are experts in the field and willing to share their experiences,” said another.

Doug and I ran our two-week experiment to help people get stuff done because we believe that, in Doug’s words, “There’s too much focus on the big picture, the grand plan, and insufficient investment in the small daily steps which progress you to your goal.”

Since we ran our experiment, Doug and I have been running our own Slack channel to continue to live our methodology. Fittingly, we called it Eat your own dog food. Why have we done it? Because setting daily tasks with someone else and checking on progress at the end of each day and the end of each week is quite different to drawing up a to-do list on your own and managing that list each day, on your own. By involving others in task setting, you are publicly taking responsibility for getting stuff done.

And there’s more. By sharing tasks with others, you make yourself accountable for achieving them. The sharing of tasks can also help build connections around tasks you can help with and/or learn from.

People use a variety of techniques to get tasks done and achieve goals outside of work. Giving up smoking, getting fit, achieving a personal goal . . . people achieve these goals, and often in the face of substantial adversity.

The techniques used to achieve personal goals outside of work do not replicate in the workplace (for a number of reasons). That’s why the methodology we are using can be so beneficial. It is a way to focus on the tasks that are important and stay on track with progress.

When done in teams, this approach gives visibility to what everyone is working on and who needs help with what. It also identifies the hurdles to completing tasks. Focusing on a task is often far more constructive than focusing on a person.

When done in peer groups, this approach helps individuals connect with others, based on what they are working on and what they are trying to achieve. Offers of help and support tend to be far more relevant and useful as a result.

For all the workplace technology at our disposal, for all of our understanding of work, jobs and job design, for all our understanding of how to improve motivation, engagement and productivity, most of us find it very hard to set tasks and achieve them. And especially for goals that are not ‘business as usual’.

The reality is that we need to make ourselves responsible and accountable for getting stuff done, just as we do when we train to run a marathon.

If you’d like to join us in turning ideas into action, then check out our programme that starts on 2 May. More details here.