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Proposal managers take a lot of guff about their process to-do lists. Team members, writing tasks, graphics, reviews, deadlines, you name it. Sometimes we’ll even add something to a to-do list just to cross it off the to-do list for a rare slice of peace of mind.
Not everyone, however, appreciates a good to-do list. Perhaps they are overwhelming because there are simply so many things to do. Maybe they just age too quickly for our fast-paced, technology-driven world. But there is a compelling science behind to-do lists. If done well, their visibility helps us focus and drive results with a sense of purpose, making us more efficient proposal managers and more productive proposal contributors.
Are you on the fence about to-do lists? You may be using them wrong. Here are three reasons why proposal to-do lists work and how to make them work for you.
Proposal Demand for Visibility
First, what do we mean by visibility? In the proposal world, visibility is the extent to which we can manage performance. The demand for this visibility can range from low to high. For example, low task visibility is specific, helping proposal writers and reviewers balance their full-time jobs with their proposal tasks. High visibility, on the other hand, is proposal-wide, helping proposal managers align and shepherd everyone on the team towards the common goal; submitting a compliant, compelling proposal.
Lack of visibility is a big challenge in the proposal management industry. There are just so many moving parts to a proposal and anyone of them can quickly fuel a chaotic day or missed deadline. Just think “out of sight, out of mind” and you’ll no doubt recognize past-due deliverables, daily reminders, and constant schedule changes in its meaning
The Science behind To-Do Lists
Before we dig in, it’s important to reflect on what science tells us about to-do lists. For example, you might feel creating a proposal to-do list or adding too many things to your proposal to-do list will make you feel stressed or anxious. In fact, science tells us that creating to-do lists actually has the opposite effect.
A recent study at Wake Forest University reports that “while tasks we haven’t done distract us, just making a plan to get them done can free us from this anxiety.” In other words, your brain is a powerful computer, but having too many tasks on your mind eats up a lot of processing power. A proposal to-do list reduces the burden on your brain by “tabling” unfinished tasks for later, freeing your mind up to be more effective.
#1: "Wrought with things forgotten"
Proposal writing is a team sport, tasking experts from across your organization to collaborate and bring your win or capture strategy to life in a compliant and compelling proposal. Unfortunately, the people who make up your team already have tasks for their full-time jobs in addition to their proposal tasks. Our short-term, or working, memory however can only hold on average seven things at a time, with a recall loss of three. That means it’s easy to lose track of things, especially when there are lots of things to do.
A proposal to-do list keeps all of your proposal tasks top-of-mind so your brain doesn’t have to remember. That means proposal tasks won’t accidentally slip from your mind, get lost in the shuffle or trampled on by other tasks.
Action: Make a two-part to-do list. The first part is your “daily” or everyday tasks that must get done every day. For example, you want to check on your client every day to make sure the project is advancing to their expectations. The second part is your “to-do” or long-term tasks that must be completed by a future date. For example, waiting until later to write your executive summary because it will reflect a better understanding of your customer and therefore be more persuasive.
Writing proposals is a shared experience; your win strategy task drives his writing task and his writing task drives her reviewing task and so on. Any one task could be the single point of failure. A two-part to-do list gives you greater short-term and long-term visibility so you stay in tune with the needs of your teams.
#2: "So quick bright things come to confusion"
When you have fifty-eight different things to do for multiple different projects it can be paralyzing. You might feel stressed; there are just too many risks in prioritizing the wrong task. You might feel overwhelmed: it’s mentally draining and time-consuming to reprioritize the whole list every time a new task is added.
Consider this, say you’re assigned a proposal section and given a week to write it. You might work steadily throughout the week, or you might put it off until the last minute. Now, what if you were only given a day to complete it? You’ll get it done, but as part of the writing task you’ll likely prioritize the high-level points and supporting details over the unnecessary fluff.
In other words, when there are fewer choices to be made you are better equipped to make better decisions about what needs doing so you can get on with your day.
Action: Focus on your top three tasks and reprioritize regularly. Why three at a time? It’s called the rule of three; a trio of ideas or items is more engaging and effective than other numbers. It’s also how our brains process information, three being the smallest number of items required to create a pattern.
For example, if you want to write a more compelling proposal story, you use setup, conflict and resolution as a framework to make your story more engaging. When you’re crafting a presentation you want people to remember, you use a beginning, middle and end so they follow your logic. In fact, when the United States Marines experimented with a rule of four, retention and effectiveness took a nose dive.
When you prioritize your top three to-do’s you take control of your crazy-busy day. When you’re in control of your crazy-busy day, you can choose how to react. Being able to choose how you react helps you make better decisions so you keep your eyes focused on the common team goal.
#3: "Time is out of joint"
Remember, your proposal contributors have multiple things to remember to do for multiple projects. They are constantly shifting gears between them throughout their day. So it’s easy to fall victim to distractions. In other words, our brains are incredible things, capable of amazing feats. They can also lose focus, replaying tasks in our mind that vie for attention and steal focus away from our task at hand.
A proposal to-do list keeps tasks from slipping. It also helps you focus by subconsciously preparing you for execution.
Action: Update your to-do list. Even though you may delegate some tasks to work on later, by writing them down now you are subconsciously thinking about them, along with the research, phone calls, and decisions they entail. Suddenly you’re analyzing and organizing a game-plan for accomplishing the task.
Now you’re more prepared to tackle and complete the task when it’s a priority. At the same time, you are free to focus your time and energy on higher priority tasks which makes you more productive and more valuable to your team.
If your team is still on the fence about making their own individual proposal to-do lists, consider doing it for them automatically. When your proposal management solution automatically generates each contributor’s to-do task list, each member of your team understands where their piece of the proposal fits in the bigger picture, and where the dependencies are. They know exactly what to focus on by when so they can more effectively manage their time, and balance it between their full-time and proposal responsibilities.
This structure also saves the proposal manager time, giving powerful real-time visibility into exactly who is responsible for each task, when it’s due and if they are working on it. Now they can quickly triage, or reprioritize, tasks before the teams shifting priorities and conflicting deadlines upset the schedule.
Still on the fence about to-do lists? Before you and your team jump into writing your next proposal, try this: