I grew up in the communications agency world. That meant tracking how I spent my time at work in 15-minute increments. It also started me on creating monthly and weekly “to do” lists to stay on track.
Your Brain on “To Do”
We all know the pleasure of crossing off a task that we’ve finished. Every time we do this, our brain releases a little shot of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
This is the chemical associated with pleasure and reward. It stimulates our prefrontal cortex, helping us pay attention to important activities, ignore distractions, and focus on updating only the key information in our working memory as we solve problems.
In other words, it makes us want to keep crossing things off our list. And, as leaders, we have more than our fair share of things to get done.
The Downside of “To Do”
The dark side of these lists is that we can become more focused on getting stuff done than how we’re doing it. This can have a negative effect on the people around us—and how they experience us.
I remember my one corporate job. Two months after completing my first annual report there, the CFO approached me and said, “Isn’t it time to start working on next year’s report?”
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
“Well, your predecessor worked on the annual report for 10 months each year,” he replied.
“Then he obviously didn’t have enough to do!” I snorted.
You can still catch a whiff of my superiority decades later. I thought it was great that it didn’t take me as long to do something as it did for someone else. Then I negated it all by being a jerk.
Willing to Take a Closer Look at Your Management “How”?
Get an honest read on yourself as a team leader. Take this Checklist — 5 Minutes to More Mindful Management. See where you stand—and fall. Because when something makes you feel uncomfortable, or you wing it, you’ll avoid doing it. Other people will know, and your credibility will take a hit.
If you get one of the highest possible scores, ask yourself this powerful question: Are you getting such a dopamine rush doing things your teammates should that you’re depriving them of the chance to learn more and advance themselves?
Don’t just tick things off your list. Watch for how to make yourself—and the people around you—better.