When you‘re in the midst of starting a business, while also writing a book, like me and my business partner Sara currently are with The Intentional Organization, your mind can feel all over the place. It‘s constantly overwhelmed by not knowing what to do and where to go next. There’s just so much to do, and you get a pick of the litter of what you might want to do next. Meanwhile I have handfuls of client to attend to, staying in touch with them, making sure I keep track of our conversations, and that I bill them regularly. With growing numbers, it‘s easy to lose track of things.
That‘s only the normal part of the work. Now, I‘m not going to complain about any of this. It‘s been my choice to go down the path of founding a business more than once. And here I am, doing it again. Plus, the book. Keeping track of chapters to review, edit, completely rewrite, review and edit again, and eventually tear my hair out because it still doesn‘t read right.
Still, there are times when my mind gets lost, almost stuck. It‘s ironic that this is the same molasses that I‘m helping my clients get out of in our sessions. I know the tools. As a good friend once said: „The hardest advice to listen to is the one you give yourself.“
When things feel overwhelming, I‘m getting close to shutting down, not able to move anywhere. And when I do feel stuck, I resort to my own frameworks to find my way back into the light. When I feel stuck on a decision, I write down what problem I’m trying to solve, what the alternatives are, and what consequences I can foresee. When it’s written down, I’ve got everything out in the open.
In this case, the simplest framework in my tool belt is to make a list. A simple list of things to do, sorted in different buckets. Where that list exists is besides the point. My favourite lists are in a paper notebook (I always carry a pocket sized Leuchtturm notebook and pen with me). But anywhere is fine. Some lists I slap into Notion, should they need sharing with others. For others, just writing them down on a piece of paper and discarding that piece later does the trick.
The magic isn‘t just in having a list to tick things off from. The real magic is sitting down, taking your mind off whatever is going on, and focusing on what needs to get down to get you out of the rut.
Lists are magical for anything that requires you to orient yourself. They’re simple, they don’t require any tooling. You can make a list anywhere, everywhere, and on anything.
Say you’re a startup with a hiring process that doesn’t fit the company’s needs anymore. Candidates aren’t going through the process fast enough, or you as the leader keep finding yourself wound up by what little time you have, not being able to give a candidate their due time. You want to hand off more of the process, but most of the decision-making keeps happening in your gut. Or at least that’s what it feels like.
I come across this persona of leader quite often. And the advice I give them is pretty simple. And you guessed it, it’s to make a list. That list should contain all the things they’re looking for in that first interview, in the coding challenge, in the team interview. Much of the process usually consists of intuitive filtering. It may even feel so intuitive that you can’t put it in words. This hesitancy tends to point to a fear of finding something that you don’t like, something that has disqualified candidates in the past, or something that highlights personal biases.
There are certain ingrained criteria that you may look for, like how many questions a candidate ask, how excited they appear about your company or product, or how many times they mention how excited they are. The latter part in particular we easily conflate with someone having a passion for our product.
A list is about making the invisible visible. It’s about making actionable what seemed like it’s only happening in your gut. It’s about setting expectations so that you can be fair, consistent, and delegate things to other people. When you write things down you can question them, assess them, discard them, replace them.
Whatever hidden expectations you brought into the hiring process, or any process for that matter, are dragged out in the open, for everyone to see. There can be discomfort in this process. It may shed light on something you didn’t want anyone to see. It may show that you may have treated some candidates different from others, highlighting personal biases that influenced your decision-making.
But moving towards a moment of clarity requires pushing through that discomfort. The first step is in acknowledging reality. The next is then to shape it in a fair and consistent way so that everyone gets a fair chance, and that is ready for other folks to use, so you can scale yourself and your organisation.
Did we really get here by making a list? Yes, we did. A list is the simplest possible tool to gain clarity where there’s uncertainty. When you’re stuck, or when it feels like you can’t quite put your finger on something, make a list. It forces you to pause and bring forth hidden expectations. It can help bring a wee bit of order to what feels like chaos every single day.