Solving for “What Do I Do Next?”

No matter who you are, at various times in your day/week/year/career, you will run into this question:

What do I do next?

This an unavoidable question that people will coach you to avoid at all times. There are a variety of things that happen to drive this question.

  • You finish a major project without planning the next one

  • You need to shift your focus because you are stuck on a difficult project

  • You are waiting for new work to be assigned

  • You are responsible to setting the priorities for your team

  • You lose your job or change roles

  • You are bored or burnt out

Whenever you encounter the “what do I do next” question, it’s not fun. It feels like you are lost, or like you’re not holding up your end of the bargain. It causes folks to pause, to look away, or to worry.

But there are solutions. There are easy ways to answer the question when it comes up, and easy ways to prevent it from coming up as frequently. All it takes is a little foresight.

Here are a few solutions to the “what do I do next” problem:

  1. Ask someone.

  2. Keep a priority list.

  3. Long-term items.

  4. Research.

  5. Lend a hand.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into each of them.

Ask Someone

Who you ask depends on your particular situation. But there is almost always someone you can ask that question to.

It might be your boss, who can tell you with certainty what he or she wants you to be working on. It might be your spouse, who can help guide you through a rough career patch. It might be a peer, who can share what they are working on and offers ways that you can join in.

Regardless of who you ask, this solution is great because often times the worst outcome of the “what do I do next” problem is that we stew in silence for hours or days. This solution gets you out of your own head so you can solve the problem quicker.

Keep a Priority List

A priority list is a list of items to be completed, in order of highest value to lowest. If you have one, you will always know what comes next.

Sure, this solution requires some foresight and planning on your part (or the part of your manager). But if you have a list like this, you will never have to worry about what you should do next.

Long Term Items

Most of us have short term assignments and long term projects. How we work our way through them depends on the urgency and value of each item on our plates.

The beauty of long term tasks is that there are almost always ways to break them down into smaller chunks. And these chunks will serve as backups to whatever short term assignment you are working on now.

If you need a break from your current task, or you get stuck, just turn to the next piece of that long term project and check that off the list.

Research

Take advantage of breaks in the day to day work and learn something new. Research a topic related to your next project or pick up a new skill that will add value to your team.

When you are not sure what to do next, it never hurts to do a little self-improvement.

Lend a Hand

There may come a time when you don’t have anything to work on next. In those cases, you can do yourself, and your team, a big favor by finding a way to help out someone else.

Great job completing your assignment. Now look around you. Chances are, not everyone is finding the same level of success. Find out how you can help a friend or coworker complete their current task and build a bond that will benefit everyone going forward.

Make an Impact Today

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There is a good way and a bad way to become more productive.

The bad way is to become a box checker. The box checker makes a long to-do list just so they can cross things off the list. It feels good, the act of checking a box. So they maximize that feeling by creating a slew of low level, pointless tasks that they do each and every day. And at the end of the day, when it comes time to sign off and go home, they can rest easy knowing how many “tasks” they completed. They feel productive.

The good way is slightly different. There may still be a long to-do list. But the things at the top of that list are value tasks. These are priorities, both for the individual and for the company. They recognize that these tasks may not be things that can be completed in one sitting, one day, or one week. They may not even be things that can be completed by one person.

But the crucial difference is, when these tasks are completed, they add value to the business. They add an immediate impact to the organization.

These are the tasks that get people promoted, that get teams noticed, and that get individuals raises.

Each and every day, you have a chance to make an impact on your company. Don’t squander it checking boxes. Instead, be deliberate about how you spend your time.

How?

  1. Prioritize your workload, putting those items first that will have the greatest impact

  2. Divide large tasks into smaller sub-tasks and set milestones

  3. Block out time on your calendar to work on those tasks and advance them as far as you can

  4. Set reminders for team members whose input or assistance you need and stay on top of them

  5. Automate or delegate items that don’t add impact, but that must be done anyway

When you focus your efforts on adding value, your company benefits. When your company benefits from the things you are doing, you get noticed. When you make an impact every day, you become indispensable.

Do One Thing Every Day

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There are times in everyone’s career when we get bogged down in the day to day. When it seems like our to-do list is too long, and too full of tasks that don’t matter. When we feel helpless against the neverending slog of menial work.

It is precisely at those times when we need to execute a purposeful prioritization of our time.

Time management is key to becoming successful. It is key to ensuring you continue to have a positive impact on your company.

Reconsider Your To-Do List

The first step in breaking out of this struggle is to have an honest conversation with yourself about your daily tasks. Chances are, you have taken on more and more items over the weeks and months, without ever questioning them, and without ever removing items that were already on there.

That is a surefire way to over commit yourself.

Now is the time to consider them one by one. Is this something that has to get done? Is this something that I should be doing? Is this something that can be automated?

Asking yourself those questions should expose some of your daily tasks as frauds and time-wasters. Eliminate them until you get to a more manageable list, which gives you room to grow and have a larger impact – personally and professionally.

Define Your Goals

Next, you have to consider where you can have the greatest impact. Your time is the most valuable thing you have. You need to learn to use it wisely.

What are your specific goals? I like to bucket these into two different groups – personal goals and company goals.

Personal goals might include items that will help your career, your earning potential. Company goals are the areas you are responsible for when it comes to growing the business.

Clearly defining these goals – even to the point of writing them down – will help you identify those tasks you should be working on in support of your goals.

What’s Your One Thing?

Do one thing every day that brings you closer to your goals. This is not the same thing every day, but rather a new thing each day.

For example, if you goal is to improve the ROI of your email marketing programs, today’s one thing might be rolling out a new split test. If your goal is to learn data science, today’s one thing might be watching a 30 minute lesson online.

Whatever it is, make sure you make time for it. Accomplishing just one thing each day that matters will do two things for you.

First, it will help you get over the feeling that you’re not making progress. Suddenly, you will be able to see and experience the impact that you are having on your life and on your company’s performance.

Second, it will help you identify other areas where you can have an impact. You will find that there are ways to optimize your schedule and your routine to free yourself up to accomplish even more.

Commit to doing one new thing every day that takes you closer to your goals, and you’ll rediscover your sense of purpose.

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Testing?

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, than you know that I am a big proponent of testing. I use the phrase ‘Always Be Testing’ more than I probably should.

Recently, a reader sent in a question that caught my eye. She asked, “Is there such a thing as too much testing?”

Though my immediate reaction was to say “no”, I had to admit that that would have been wrong. Of course there is such a thing as too much testing. Too much of anything is bad, right?

But instead of leave it there, I decided to dive deeper into the question. If there is such a thing as too much testing, how much is it? How do we know if we’re guilty of too much testing?

I started with the objective – why we test. We test things in order to improve performance. Therefore we prioritize those tests that are A) simple – meaning they require limited resources, and B) have the greatest potential impact. From there, we look at things that are not as simple but still big impact potential.

For most companies, that is a lot of testing. There are probably enough tests to run in those two categories that you will never run out of tests.

But let’s imagine you do. Next you start to look at things that are simple, but don’t have big impact potential. That is the point when you should ask yourself if it is worth testing. If the potential lift in performance from testing is not as much as some other activity, that test is not worth it.

So when you start to prioritize tests over other activities that have more potential to help the company, that is too much testing. As with anything else, you have to manage tests alongside all other uses of your time and your team’s time, and prioritize those things that have the greatest potential.

Prioritization Tips for Marketers

Whether you’re in marketing or a countless number of other professions, managing your time can be one of the most difficult skills to learn.

Learning how to manage your time and prioritize tasks is crucial for succeeding.

For marketers, there will be a never-ending stream of ideas. How do we get more people to click on our ads? How do we reach people on Facebook? How can we improve our website?

For every question, there will be a million answers. And the questions don’t stop.

So how do you determine what projects are most important and what to spend your time and energy on, knowing you can’t do it all?

  1. Prioritize by impact – usually, the most important tasks or projects are the ones that will have the biggest impact. Your goal is to think through the many ideas you and your team have and estimate the results. If you expect one project to increase sales by 10% and another to increase sales by 5%, you go with the 10% project every time.
     
  2. Prioritize by timing – sometimes you will find yourself looking at a couple of projects, one with big impact that will take a long time, and one with smaller impact that you can get done much quicker. If there are things you can do relatively quickly that will improve your results, it might make sense to knock those out before moving on to the larger projects.
     
  3. Prioritize by skill – there will be some projects you or your team can do on your own, and others that will require outside help or the learning of new skills. Most people prioritize those projects that they already have experience with or expertise in. That will help you save time and money and get things done faster.

The most important tip I can offer when it comes to time management and prioritization is to figure out what you should not do. Most times, identifying those tasks or projects that you should not do is more important than figuring out which ones you should.

Once you get started on a task, push other things to the side. Free up your time and force yourself to focus on the task at hand. Too many people try to work on multiple projects at once, and they end up taking longer and turning out worse than they should have.