How to Remove Boring, Non-Innovative Work from Your To-Do List

For years, I sorted my to-do list by three categories:

  • A – important and urgent,
  • B – important but not urgent,
  • C – not important or urgent (but I still want to do them).

I got stuff done. But after I while, I realized that no matter how much I got done, the list kept filling with tasks that didn’t thrill me. So as an experiment, I sorted my to-do list by:

  • A – Tasks I really enjoy
  • B – Tasks that make me feel neutral
  • C – Tasks I really wish were not on my list

The “C” category was the biggest. So I practiced more delegation and made tough decisions to let things be imperfect or just not happen. It did reduce the work that I truly disliked while growing my team members. But after years of “getting stuff done,” I realized I wasn’t “getting where I wanted”. Ah, that big picture.

So what did “important” mean in this process? Who defined “important” and what was the central measure that provided guidance? Unfortunately, I could not see it. Direction from leadership shifted like the sands. It was a never-ending guessing game.

That’s what happens with to-do lists if you are missing two key ingredients. Innovation Engineering taught me how to structure my to-do list based on:

  • A clear vision from leadership – We’ll talk about that in a different blog.
  • A value for each item on your to-do list – So you can compare apples-to-apples and stop doing work that doesn’t matter

In Innovation Engineering, innovation is something that solves a customer’s problem in a meaningfully unique way and they are willing to pay more for it. By their very nature, tasks associated with innovation will be more valuable. It gives you the language and numbers to stop doing low value work. And voila! You are now working on innovation!


How to Prioritize Potential To-Do List Items

Step 1 – Put all your tasks on one list – This means all of it, especially the stuff that you do even though you don’t know why – it’s just always been done that way.

Step 2 – Group tasks with a “project” – Group them by what goal they are trying to achieve.

Step 3 – Make sure the project solves a customer’s problem – We can help name the customer, define their problem and clarify your promise. (Trade the word “customer” for “stakeholder” if that works better for you.)

Step 4 – Test the size of the customer’s problem – It is not worthwhile for you to work on an insignificant problem. In a half-day, we can ask customers if you are working on their BIGGEST or MOST FREQUENT problem from a list of possible problems.

Step 5 – Measure your solution – If you are working on a big or frequent problem, then now, how well does you current offering work? We need to get a number that describes the efficacy of your offering. Research with Innovation Engineering clients shows that a numeric promise will improve your marketing ROI by 52%. Clients sometimes say, “I can’t measure what I do.” We can measure anything. We can ask customers about their satisfaction or confidence before and after using your offering. We can measure whether the customer got the promised results.

Step 6 – Build on your current offering OR make a new offering – When you measure the efficacy of your offering, it’s going to be a great day or a terrible day. You may find your offering is very effective. Yeah! We can proceed with core innovations on that theme. We can keep improving it.

But if you measure your offering and the number is not impressive, it’s time to make a leap. It’s time to generate an idea that is more effective.

Either way, in Innovation Engineering, next we host a session to create core or leap. This is NOT a brainstorming session. That hurts your brain and usually generates the same-old-stuff. No – we treat your brain. We teach you how to fill it with good, nutritious inputs, then work with a diverse group to build ideas.

Innovation Engineering Accelerator Sessions


Step 7 – Vet the ideas based on math – Once we confirm each idea solves a big or frequent problem, we use formulas to estimate how much money or engagement we could likely get from that idea.

Now we can measure apples-to-apples all your to-do list items. You know what to work on first because it is the most valuable.


How to Strategically Sort Your To-Do List

That might seem like a lot of steps. But it’s more work, and less clear path to success, to keep doing things when they have no estimates. We live in a state of reacting to the loudest voices or doing whatever work without a strategy. In the end, how do we even measure success?

So the next time you or your team members say, “We don’t have time to do innovation,” think whether you have these two ingredients. Get those in place first, before anything else. Time will be available once you can stop doing less valuable work.

Press the Go Button helps people set up systems for innovation, and they all include this process. Let us get your innovation goals on track today. You’ll be implementing meaningfully unique ideas in three months (wouldn’t that feel great?)