Keeping and tracking your work commitments is not easy to do. All of us have days where the entire day is back-to-back meetings with no time to do much else than check for emergency e-mails. At the end of the day — or the next day — we end up walking back into our cubicle, relieved we can finally get something done, look at our calendar or to-do list and then wonder what else is missing to do from all those meetings.
In my work as a manager and consultant, the number of times people have missed getting a commitment identified, missed out on the true deliverable of the commitment or miss the date the for completing the work is simply astounding. But understandable. We’re not taught how to find and capture a commitment. We don’t know how to practice doing the process. We don’t even understand the process. Sometimes I think half the arguments in the workplace have everything to do with not having clear commitments between people.
Here, then, are five steps to get clear on your commitments coming from a business meeting:
Blindingly obvious, right? But the notes I’m talking about here are not the notes a Scribe would take at a meeting. Instead, these are notes around what you need to do because of the discussions in the meeting.
Now, I’m not such a hot note taker. I capture stuff at a too-high of a level — like a subject. “Write a report.” “Paul – work in department – how?” Unlike mothers, I’m incapable of carrying on a conversation while at the same time watching and capturing everything else going on. Hence, notes that are too high of a level to take action on.
But at least I take notes, rather than relying on my blazing fast memory storage brain machine.
Blindingly obvious, right? Granted. But if you are a note-taker, and most of us are, I want to know what you did with those five spiral notebooks where you carefully captured all those notes. When was the last time you looked at them? When was the last time you moved something from the notebook and put it on your task lists? After all, your goal isn’t to go to a meeting, take notes and declare success! No, you need to cull out your commitments.
Reviewing your notes takes time. If you don’t set aside some time to process what’s coming “in” you will never capture your commitments to act on them. This is why all those notebooks end up lying around capturing dust instead of work.
Focusing on the outcome of the commitment, rather than the process or simple next step, gets your work focused in the right direction. If it isn’t focused in the right direction, all the work you do on the commitment will fail.
When you write a note in a meeting — “write a report” — you now have to decide what the outcome of that report will do. Prove the improvement in the process will work? Discover the cause of a problem?
This part of the process — writing the outcome of the commitment — requires thinking. And if you don’t have this part nailed, getting clarity from the people who gave you the commitment will go a long way to delivering work successfully.
Most people don’t figure out the successful outcome of the commitment. Nor do they name the next physical action to take to fulfill the commitment. They just transfer, “Paul – work in department – how?”, and put it in their task management system. Then, every time they look at it, they have to figure out what it is all over again. The further away from it they get, the less the magic brain machine will remember what the context of the thing was to act on it.
Cubicle Warriors, though, decide the successful outcome of the commitment and find the next physical action to take to make it happen. “Paul – work in department – how?” translates to “Determine the best practice for handling escalations in the customer call center to use in our call center.” And the next physical action to take is to “Call Paul at 555-7865 to discuss escalations in customer call center.”
That makes knowing what to do and why you are doing it to the right level.
If you leave your commitment in your notebook, you’ll rarely act on the commitment. It needs to get into a trusted task management system. Both the successful outcome and the next physical action to take. There are a hundred variations of a task management system — I use the Getting Things Done method — but getting the right information into yours is key to making yours work for you.
Zooming down the headers of this (long) article will result in “of course, silly, this is for kids” or something. In practice? Not so much. Steps one and two might happen for most people. Steps three through five don’t happen with many people because they need time and good thinking. The outcome is missed commitments, confused commitments, wrong commitments — and a poor work reputation.
Follow the process for a week, work through how hard it is to change how you capture meeting commitments, and discover how much it changes your work. For the better.