art of the reason I can consistently land corporate jobs at top companies is due to my ability to promptly solve operational problems through the creation of productivity-enhancing solutions.
Earlier in my career, I learned that companies generally face a common problem regardless of the industry – the teams within them lack a deep understanding of “how to work”, starting from the management level.
I've recognized that the benefit of working at 10+ companies over the past 10 years is that my experiences have allowed me to develop a large repository of vital information related to process optimization.
I have a firm grasp of which habits generally work for teams that are looking to execute on deliverables that are both timely and high-quality.
Conversely, I also have a firm grasp of which habits generally do not work thanks to both my own mistakes and the mistakes of others.
Here is where teams typically go wrong – in various meetings they agree on what needs to be done amongst the team members and subsequently expect each other to project manage their own responsibilities.
In theory, everyone being aware of what they’re responsible for should be enough, given that everyone involved is being paid to execute within their respective roles.
However, it’s impossible to expect any individual, even if they’re being paid, to inherently know how to execute the "how" in the management of their responsibilities.
If they’ve never been trained on how to either create their own task management tools, or on how to utilize any pre-existing tools, how can they be expected to know this intrinsically?
Unfortunately, my experiences have shown me that management generally leans toward placing most of the blame on the employees for this lack of knowledge, rather than starting with themselves by asking this fundamental question: “Have I adequately equipped my team with the resources and/or knowledge necessary to manage and deliver on their responsibilities as expected?”.
The manager themselves usually lacks the knowledge or tools necessary to help the team work more efficiently in an organized manner, thus, leading the team to remain in a state of perpetual inadequacy.
I believe that adequate management starts with adequate organization above all else, and adequate organization starts with understanding the core tools at your disposal that are geared toward improving the "how to work" within your team.
Most companies do not fundamentally weave this thinking into their DNA, and that weakness is a major reason why so many companies are run so poorly under the hood - with respect to efficiency and organization.
Back to the Basics
Since my first white-collar job in 2012, I’ve been fortunate enough to be hired as an accountant, as a digital marketer, as a data analyst, and as a financial analyst – not to mention that I also went the entrepreneurship route for a period of time as well.
Regardless of how I was making my money, there was one constant every step of the way – spreadsheets.
I couldn’t escape the inevitable reliance on spreadsheets no matter where I went.
Noticing this trend early on, I made it a point to develop myself into a spreadsheet expert over time.
I've been labeled as the hardest working lazy person because I'd rather spend hours creating a spreadsheet one time that automates every manual function instead of spending minutes every day, week, month, or year doing a manual task that can be automated with some skill.
If I haven’t hit the fabled 10,000 hours by now, the expertise benchmark made popular by Malcolm Gladwell, then I’m somewhere close to it.
Putting such a strong focus on this skill has allowed me to solve countless productivity and organization problems for several companies and freed up myriad hours of productivity as a result.
One common problem I've noticed across all the companies I've worked at is the lack of a team-wide tool used for deliverable tracking, regardless of whether those deliverables are shared via email or within the internal network.
Some of those companies have been limited by restricted access to ready-made third-party tools such as Trello or Asana, at which point it is incumbent on someone within the team to utilize the core tools available, such as Microsoft Excel, to create one for team-wide use.
I recently ran into this restrictive problem, which led me to create 2 Excel-based tools - the Email Tracker and the Monthly Task Calendar.
The purpose of an email tracker tool is to have a reference point for either all emails you're responsible for providing an answer to, or all emails you sent out where you're looking for an answer from someone.
Why Is This Necessary?
My experiences have shown me that most people allow emails to pile up without a specific strategy in place as to how those emails will get closed out.
Oftentimes, given the volume, people will just get to them when they can and spend more time tending to other seemingly more important responsibilities.
The problem with this approach is that, sometimes, more pressing matters come via email without the "urgent" selection checked off to alert the recipient of its "high importance" nature.
As a result, sometimes an email that could've been handled with a more methodical solution gets overlooked and ends up becoming a "fire drill" that requires immediate action - thus, increasing the chance of errors and/or reputation damage.
How Can This Tool Help?
The Email Tracker allows for adequate tracking of all emails that either require a response from you or from someone else.
Here's how it works:
- In Row 1 across Columns A - I, I've included comments in each cell that explain the purpose of each column; Cell L1 is a fixed formula that calculates the current day
- First, make sure the template's filler data and formulas are present within an empty row where you expect to input new data (by copying the filler data into an empty row)
- If you received an email requiring a response, or if you sent an email to someone where you're expecting a response back, input all the email's details into Columns A - E within the new row -ensuring that Column H is checked off as "No" and that you've input any additional comments into Column I
- If 3 business days have passed since the last time you sent a follow-up, prior to that email being closed out, Column G will automatically turn red within the relevant row
The only way this works consistently is if you're diligent about being aware of all the emails within your inbox.
As a best practice, what I usually do is dedicate 3 different times of the day to being completely aware of everything in my inbox no matter what - once at 9AM, once more after lunch (usually around 1PM), and lastly before I sign off for the day.
What this entails is scanning the inbox for all emails that directly require my attention, usually a 10 to 15 minute process each time, and inputting all relevant emails into the Email Tracker so that I'm constantly aware of the full scope of my email responsibilities.
This has allowed me to stay on top of the most urgent emails while being in a consistently better position to properly manage all responsibilities on my plate, inclusive of emails.
Monthly Task Calendar
The Monthly Task Calendar allows for a centralized place to account for all deliverables across the team that are known to be due on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.
Why Is This Necessary?
Generally speaking, I've found that people do a poor job of managing the timely delivery of their own deliverables - even when those due dates are widely-known regular occurrences.
What's usually lacking as a starting point is a central frame of reference that shows which tasks are due from who, and when they are due.
Some companies have rotations between multiple employees for specific tasks - the "Rotations" tab accounts for this.
It's important for everyone on the team know which routine deliverables are expected from them because consistent business relationships cannot flourish without both sides of the relationship doing their part to deliver what's expected from them in a timely fashion.
Having team-wide alignment on the Monthly Task Calendar ensures that the awareness is there to be able to execute on routine deliverables.
How Can This Tool Help?
The 3 core tabs within the Monthly Task Calendar are broken up between "Monthly", "Rotations", and "Date Input for Calendar Roll".
This spreadsheet looks much more complicated than it really is.
In a nutshell, depending on which date you select in Cell A2 of the "Date Input for Calendar Roll", the date formulas within the "Monthly" and "Rotations" tabs will reflect the days within the month subsequent to the date selected within Cell A2.
For example, if you select 12/31/22 within Cell A2 of the "Date Input for Calendar Roll" tab, the deliverable or rotation dates within the "Monthly" and "Rotations" tabs, respectively, will reflect January 2023 dates.
All 3 tabs also contain comments that help explain the purpose of each column within the spreadsheet:
- Monthly Tab - Row 5 contains comments (indicated by the red arrows)
- Rotations Tab - Rows 1, 2, 13, 22, 29, 31, 45, & 61 contain comments (indicated by the red arrows)
- Date Input for Calendar Roll Tab - Row 2 contains a comment (indicated by the red arrow)
Notable Features of the Monthly Task Calendar
Some noteworthy features of the spreadsheet include the following:
- Monthly Tab - Tasks that fall outside of the designated monthly (ex: a task that shows a due date in December '22 in the January '22 roll-forward) will have the entire row automatically colored black as an indicator to exclude the viewing of that particular task for the month - but those rows are not meant to be deleted to due their potential relevance in later months
- Rotations Tab - The blue tables at the top of the tab automatically update based on the corresponding weeks and names in the orange tables below (ex: if the current work week is January 17th to January 20th, then the blue tabs at the top of the tab will automatically show who's responsible for the rotations deliverables for that week, based on the information showing in the orange tables for that week
- Date Input for Calendar Roll Tab - The dropdown selection in Cell A2 drives the date formulas found throughout most of the spreadsheet (ex: selecting "12/31/22" in Cell A2 rolls the dates formulas over to January 2023, meaning all deliverables will shows due dates based on where they fall on the calendar in January 2023)
Work isn't as complicated as we tend to make it if the focus remains on the basics.
Before working on anything each day, it's important to know the full picture of what needs to be worked on first, along with when that work is expected to be delivered.
If you currently lack the tools to be able to track that, the implementation of these 2 tools into your routine can aid in closing up that gap.
Below are the templates for the Excel-based tools I use on a daily basis, which are available for download (select "Download a Copy") using the following links:
- Email Tracker
- Task Calendar - January 2023
- Task Calendar - February 2023 (to show the roll-forward from January)