6 Questions to a Better Organization

Today I’m going to share a little insider information into the inner workings of Des Moines County Conservation. Specifically, I want to share with you the six questions I have hanging on my office wall and why I find them helpful.

What needs to be priority right now?
It’s easy to get lost in the daily shuffle and find yourself answering emails, organizing your files, or re-stacking sticky notes on your desk. Before you know it, it’s time to go home and you’ve accomplished next to nothing of any substance.

By specifically stating what needs to be priority for the foreseeable future, I can better focus my efforts on what matters.

Does that mean that’s all I’m working on currently? No. Those are just the “big picture” projects. Currently, those projects are the Flint River Trail, the renovations to Starr’s Cave Nature Center, and a grant-funded property we’re about to purchase.

What’s the next thing I need to focus on?
In other words, what do I need to work on tomorrow? I try to answer this question at the end of every day. Doing so accomplishes two things. First, I can go home content in the knowledge that today’s work is done and tomorrow’s is set. I don’t need to dwell on work things in the meantime (my wife will tell you I have a terrible habit of bringing work home with me).

Second, when I arrive at work the next day, I already know what my staff and I need to be working on and can get right to it. Today my tasks were to write this column, teach a career readiness session of Junior Achievement at the high school, and to check on the progress at the nature center. Did I do more than that? Sure. But only after I got the important stuff done.

What would this look like if it were easy?
This is a question I don’t have to answer daily, but sometimes it comes in handy. We tend to over-complicate things, especially in government work. Or sometimes projects just get a little out of sorts. Or something unexpected happens.

I ask this question when things seem more difficult than I think they should be. It forces me to step back and take a “big picture” look at the situation and identify aspects of the project that can be simplified or ways the overall process can be improved.

I recently used this strategy on the Flint River Trail project. Things were getting pretty muddled on the administration side of it. By asking myself this question, I decided we needed to improve communication among the half-dozen different groups involved. Now, regular conference calls are helping to move the project along better than before.

How did I make a difference or deliver on my mission?
The people that work at Des Moines County Conservation, myself included, work here because we believe in the mission of this organization. So to me, it makes sense to constantly ask this question. It’s a way to stay focused on what we’re here to do.

Answering this question every day is also a way to stay energized and enthusiastic about work. Because let’s face it, even the greatest job in the world has aspects that can get you down sometimes. Few things, for me at least, are as motivational as accomplishment.

So every day I measure what we’ve accomplished against our mission. For instance, this week we began the long-awaited remodel of the second floor of our nature center and approved bidding out a segment of the Flint River Trail.

Granted, not everything is always directly mission related (like purging inboxes). But it’s important for me to always have at least something going on that is.

What is something good about today?
As I said, every job has aspects that can get you down. I try to end every day by focusing on the good things that happened. Maybe it’s the family I saw walking the trail or the progress we made getting the trail project approved and out to bid. I go home happier and it makes it a little easier to get up in the morning and do it all over again.

Have I made someone feel good today?
I have a terrible habit of not recognizing all the great things that people do every day. So I ask this question of myself regularly and try to make sure I brighten at least one person’s day before each day is over.

And though it sounds a little warm and fuzzy, it’s actually quite a powerful thing to do. Improving those around you ultimately improves your overall work environment. And that, to me, is a key component to any effective organization.

This article was originally published in The Living Land column in The Hawk Eye, October 27, 2017. Graphics and minor edits were added to make this post.

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