In the tips related to the Action Method and productivity, I’ve talked a lot about leading creative projects with a bias towards action. But for managers, it’s time we get more specific about the types of actions that we must take.
There are four types of actions:
(1) Your Action Steps
Your Action Steps are the to-do items that you, and only you, can do. Your job is to capture these items, organize them by project, and then prioritize the many projects in your life to decide where to focus your energy. The Action Steps within your most important projects should receive the most energy during the periods of time you set aside for execution.
(2) Your Action Steps (Delegated to Someone Else)
Quite simply, these are Action Steps that you capture but decide to delegate to someone else. You are still technically the “owner” of these Action Steps, but you have asked someone else that you manage to complete them for you. The best practice here is to continue to track it as your own but designate who is doing it. For example, “Install new version of web admin (Chris).”
(3) “Ensure” Actions
Sometimes you will want to create an Action Step to ensure that something is completed properly in the future. Perhaps you just had a meeting about something and feel an inkling of worry that the outcome might slip through the cracks? Rather than being a nag to your team, you can create an Action Step that starts with the word “ensure.” For example, “Ensure that Dave updated the background color on the site.” If you use a digital tool to manage your Action Steps, you can always sort by the word “ensure” (to only view Action Steps that start with “ensure”) and spend some time verifying that these items have been done. Creating “Ensure Action Steps” is a better alternative to sending numerous reminder emails to your team for something that they have already captured on their own. While at Goldman Sachs I often heard former CEO Hank Paulson say that great leaders “trust but verify” that certain things are done. Creating “Ensure” Action Steps helps us remember to verify certain things in the future.
(4) “Awaiting” Actions
When you leave a voicemail for someone or respond to an email and clear it from your inbox, you’re liable to forget to follow up if the person fails to respond. By creating an Action Step that starts with “awaiting,” you can keep track of every ball that is out of your court. For example, after you respond to an inquiry from a potential customer, you want to clear the email (or delete the voicemail, AIM exchange, tweet, etc…). But you also want to make sure that, if the conversation is dropped, you are reminded to follow up. When I respond via email to a potential client, I create an Action Step like “Awaiting reply from XYZ re: bulk team purchase,” saved in the appropriate project. In my online task manager, I will set a target date for one week later. After a week passes, I will be reminded to follow up. Sometimes I will search all my Action Steps, across projects, with the word “awaiting” and dedicate an hour to follow up on everything.
Employing the various types of Action Steps in life’s projects will help you stay focused, informed, and more secure with creative pursuits. But don’t feel confined to these terms! The underlying point of the “Action Method” is to work and live with a bias towards action. Experiment with how to allocate more energy towards taking action on what is most important to you. As you have realizations, please share them with the rest of us!
***This article is based on research by Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the 99% productivity think thank, the Action Method project management application, and the Creative Jobs List.