5 Ways to Survive Your FSQ To-Do List

time management Jul 09, 2021

Post it.  Note pad.  Legal pad.  Task list.  Mental List.  White Board.   

Which one is your favorite method to track your ever growing To-Do list in Food Safety & Quality (FSQ)?   You know - that To-Do list that's like Rapunzel's hair - except without the magical properties?

 Did I just catch an eye roll?  

The beauty of being in FSQ is you touch every single area of the business.  The beast of being in FSQ is you touch every single area of the business.

Every corner you turn, every email you open, every meeting you attend typically leads to one more thing on your To-Do list.  Am I right?   On top of that, each item on the To-Do list likely has more than one part meaning the list is actually logarithmic in scale.   

This is where things get a bit hairy:   

  • The To-Do list is long, and 
  • Time and energy are limited. 

 Oh what to do, what to do!

On top of the To-Do list, most FSQ Leaders have someone at their desk, someone in their office, someone on the phone, and someone texting them with an oh-my-gosh-this-has-never-happened-before question.  [Side note: In all likelihood, whatever they are asking has happened before because statistically speaking, it's highly unlikely to have it only happened this ONE time.]  And the urgency to figure it out right now is overwhelming.   Given these circumstances, how is an FSQ Leader to get ANYTHING done?

Hold on.  You're not the first, and not the last to have a To-Do list.  It's true: you aren't the only workforce that feels this immense pressure to get everything done.   

In fact, To-Do lists have plagued our society for centuries.  Some of the earliest documented To-Do lists were from Benjamin Franklin as he looked for ways to improve, not just survive (1).  Being an inventor takes time, lots of time for ideation and experimentation; thus, his day included more than eat, sleep, do field work and the like.  Ben had needed a tool to schedule his tasks - the To-Do list.

As the industrial age led to ways of producing more with less, like Henry Ford's assembly line, the need for productivity, and profit, went up.  If a little productivity and profit is good, more productivity and profit must be better.  At least that's what our forefathers and foremothers thought!   Hence, everyone was off to the busy races.  

While knowing you're not alone may offer as much comfort as a cactus, it helps to put things into perspective.  The feeling of the never-ending To-Do list has been around a bit.  Good news is, there are hoards of information [seriously, have you googled this yet??] to provide relief.

Being in FSQ myself, and after working with many teams and clients, I've seen many different approaches to managing the crazy.   Here are some examples of what I typically see work:

  • Weekly tasks that take an hour or less (each) Scheduled
  • Projects managed with KanBan at a high level to ensure you don't take on a zillion yet the project stages managed by Blocking
  • Daily tasks Scheduled or Pomodoro
  • Leader driven tasks using The 3x3 Method by week, then even broken down to Blocking to ensure the weekly goals are met

In the end, there seem to be a handful of practices, or versions of these practices, that are most useful IF you are willing to tweak for your style AND committed to trying something new for more than a day.

Five Tools to Survive Your To-Do List are:

1- Schedule.  Duh.  Sometimes the most obvious are hardest to do.   In all defense, it's hardest because we often forget to put buffer time between appointments, meetings, and tasks so if any go over, then the entire day seems off.   However, using the schedule technique is quite easy.  If you have a record review to complete, book off an hour tomorrow to get it done.

2- KanBan Approach.  I call it "approach" because I realize I'm using KanBan a bit out of the traditional definition often popularized by Toyota (2).  KanBan is a method using visual boards to flow work from a push process (I need this from you right now) to a pull process (I finished one task, I'm ready for the next).   In FSQ, it can be applied by creating a visual board that represents how many projects or tasks you can work on at once, usually at different stages.   In order for a new task or project to make the board, something has to move - either to completion, to the next stage, or be killed off.   Hence when Operations says they need a new process validated right now, you simply point to your visual board and say "no capacity right now".   

3- Blocking.  Time blocking is a simplified way to group like tasks together so you can be efficient for a given amount of time (3).  The way it typically works is you block out the morning for a group of tasks - let's say investigating, follow up, and verification of corrective actions.  Some find blocking days for different work helpful - Tuesdays are meeting days, Thursday are one-on-one days, etc.   You get the idea.     

4- Pomodoro.  Aka Tabata for all you gym folks out there.  The Pomodoro method takes into account our brains like to wander.  In order to get work done, the Pomodoro method bribes your brain to do really focused, uninterrupted work for 25 or 50 minutes, then take a 5 or 10 minute break (4).   Then you simply repeat this process over and over!   

5- The 3x3 Method.  This method may have a different name, yet this is what I've known it as for years.  It's a process where each day you start with identifying three things you accomplished the day before, then you identify the three things you must get done today.   This is the only method that inherently incorporates a bit of reflecting to start the day with reminding yourself YOU do accomplish things (5)!  And we all need to celebrate our WINS since we tend to only focus on what hasn't gotten done.  A great way to decide on the top three items is to use Stephen Covey's priority matrix (6)

You know how this goes.  Any method you use is only as good as the effort you put into it.  Every day  I work with clients, like you, to find the right method for them.  That's when I encourage them to trial it and tweak it.  You've got to find something that works for YOU.  What you know for sure is what you're doing now isn't working as great as you want it to, or you wouldn't be reading this looking for something new [wink, wink].

Thanks for the read!



(1) https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/a-brief-history-of-productivity

(2) https://kanbanize.com/kanban-resources/getting-started/what-is-kanban

(3) https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/time-blocking

(4) https://blog.trello.com/how-to-pomodoro-your-way-to-productivity

(5) https://timemanagementninja.com/2016/03/do-three-important-things-every-single-day/

(6) https://www.franklincovey.com/habit-3/





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