TRO handles most workflows well, but some people have special challenges that would daunt the stout of heart. You’ll know you’re in XTRO territory when the thought of triaging everything makes you laugh—or cry. Here are some real-world examples (share yours in the Comments below, it may make someone feel better about their own situation):

“Do I Need Extreme TRO?”

You’ll know you’re in XTRO territory when the thought of triaging everything makes you laugh—or cry.

  • You were hired as a new regional director. When you arrive for the job, you discover that the other regional director position has been eliminated—you are now expected to do the work of two people. (Not unheard of in today’s economy.)
  • You are bootstrapping a startup company on a shoestring budget. You need to do most of the work for the next year or two. (VERY common.)
  • You own and run two businesses and are considering expanding into a third. (Fairly common.)
  • You own and run two businesses and are considering expanding into a third, AND your spouse will not support you working more than 35 hours/week. (Rare, but real.)
  • You are CEO of one organization and COO of another, both of them large or complex. (Rare, but a perfect test of XTRO.)

Don’t worry. TRO can handle it—IF you make a few adjustments. We call those adjustments Extreme TRO (XTRO for short). Some of these do not depend on your tools, and some are tool-dependent. Of course, the core principles of TRO don’t change, but their application does.

Change 1: “Must Do” vs. “May Do” vs. Someday/Maybe

Ask a Coach to Help

Ask a coach to set up a special session to help you make the transition. Email [email protected].

This is the single most important (and first) change you must make for XTRO. You must start seeing all of your items in three groups:

  • Must Do. Bad things will happen if these aren’t handled. These are the tasks that get hard dates in TRO.
  • May Do. Bad things will NOT happen (except you or someone else might be disappointed). These tasks do not get hard dates in TRO, they only have soft dates.
  • Someday/Maybe. This is unchanged.

Every task must be weighed against those three standards.

Then follow this new rule: Only process your “Must Do” items.

Change 2: “May Do” Boxes

What happens to “May Do” and “Someday” items? Create inbox annexes for each of your primary collection points, just like you did in your office sweep. Create them for papers and emails at the very least. Name them “May Do” and “Someday”.

Instead of processing “May Do” and “Someday” items into your lists, just plop them in these boxes, no further sorting needed. The most recent items are almost always the most valuable, and they will always be on the top.

When a box fills up, write the date on it, put a lid on it, and start a second box. When you need a third box, archive the oldest one or toss it.

Also, print out any “may do” items currently in your task lists, put the prinouts in your May Do box, and remove them from your task list. Get them out of your face.

Change 3: Email [Process Later]

Create a [Process Later] folder for email, and use it for your “May Do” incoming emails. This focuses you first on emails for things that would generate stress. You will handle the optional emails in the lulls, if any.

Change 4: Focus on the Strategic

If it doesn’t help you reach your long-term mission, vision, and objectives, it isn’t important. “May Do” it.

Learn to separate the crucial few from the trivial many.

Change 5: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

This cannot be understated. There is no good substitute. This alone will save you dozens of hours per month.

Change 6: Do Things in This Order

Your working order isn’t different, but where and when you work from will change a bit:

  1. Appointments. Always honor your appointments. This never changes crucial.
  2. Must Do items in your task lists. Your task lists should contain only “Must Do” items at this point. (Print out and remove any stragglers as you find them.)
  3. May Do items from your Boxes. When you have time OR when you realize that a “May Do” item is really “Must Do,” it’s there in the box. Items are piled chronologically, so they aren’t hard to find. Look down through the box, grab the right paper or email, and do it.
  4. There is no option 4 for XTRO.

Change 7: Reviewing

  • Daily Reviews. Always needed. They will still be very short.
  • Skip Weekly Reviews. Your May Do boxes are already in pretty much the right order, you can just fish around a little and work out of them from the top down. After all, they are only “may do” items. Nothing in that box will catch fire.
  • Skip Monthly Reviews. Exception: retreats or vacations. You’ll find lots of interesting, nice options in the Someday boxes. Most valuable on top.

Change 8: Multipurposing

This is NOT multitasking. “Multipurposing” means “killing two birds with one stone.” (See this example.) Try to wait to do projects or tasks until they meet multiple strategic objectives at once. Instead of doing two tasks, you end up only doing one. This ties into the next change very closely.

Change 9: Be Agile (Do NOT Perfect It at First)

Use the “agile” approach: get something out quickly, see how it is received, and quickly adapt to meet real-world needs. Perfecting something a first is VERY costly and risky nowdays, when things change so quickly.

If you think you’re a perfectionist, you probably care about quality a lot, and this approach is especially for you. The only effective way to perfect something is to iterate it: create V1, test it in the real world, get real reactions from stakeholders, then adapt quickly to create V2, V3, etc. You can be “perfect” at being agile, and you’ll love the results (and saved time and expense). Teach this to your organization and reap the benefits.

Change 10: Procrastinate Productively

We mean: put off things until it becomes clear how and when they should be done. You usually hesitate for good reasons. (Read that again.) You may not know the correct next action, or something isn’t right, or something else feels more important, or the task doesn’t qualify for multipurposing yet but will soon, when other priorities become clear. Listen to your intuition, and let this task develop subconsciously until all the pieces start to fall into place. THEN schedule your next action and do it.

What Else?

What else helps you in extreme workflow situations? Share your thoughts below.