Actionable information

Once in a while I experience something very discomforting and embarrassing at the same time. As much as I would like to think I’m special, I’m convinced others do go occasionally through the same thing. Here’s what’s happening and it will sound very trivial perhaps:

I, sometimes, pick up a book and I know instantly: I’ve read this book, but I cannot remember anything that was in it.

It’s like I read it but my mind was somewhere else. Now this simple realization raises a series of questions, some existential questions, some more pragmatic in nature:

  • Why am I reading these books? Am I looking for some type of information that I didn’t have before? Am I looking for someone to bring order & balance to my thoughts and the information I already have? Or is it because I am looking for reinforcement, encouragement in the knowledge that others are thinking through the same problems?
  • What is my selection criteria? This ultimately reflects my immediate attention and that can go off-topic, off-course pretty easily. The question is … am I focusing my attention on something that will ultimately help me advance towards the strategic goals I’ve set for myself (you have strategic goals, right?)
  • How is reading helping with that advance? How am I benefiting from the books? How do I use the new information? The sad truth as I discovered is that I forget most of it.

This last point brings with it the realization:

I only benefit from the new information when the information is actionable and I DO take action.

Actionable really means that you can do something with the information, something practical, something that you can put into words, something that you can describe into a TO DO task. For example, if a book suggests that the best idea to improve customer service is to talk to your customers and ask them what can you improve, then the action is “select 5, 10, however many I can handle, customers and ask them how I can improve the service”. Or “come up with a survey and send it to them by email”.

Something you can actually DO, something you can ACTION upon. Not just abstract theory, but something practical.

But that’s only half the story, the other half being: “and I DO take action”. This bit is very important because most of the time, this is the part that’s failing me. I read books while I’m away and I either fail to take notes, fail to revisit the book when I’m at my computer, or simply decide it’s probably not going to work, or it’s too hard to implement. All of these are failures to act and are as bad as not identifying actionable information, or reading books which do not have any actionable information in them.

Getting back to the part about forgetting, well, that’s only natural. We are not machines, and our brain can only store so much information and keep it in the active memory – or short term memory if you want. We forget easily because there is always something else, new information, new books, new websites, new blogs. So don’t keep it all in your brain,

Write notes!

Keep a to do list with all the tasks/actions that you want to take and keep them in the list. Spend time building the list and spend some time going through the list and getting things done. You can prioritize the actions on the list to make sure you get what’s important and urgent done first.

This is nothing new!

There are thousands of books suggesting you should do this, millions of blogs and even more applications that will help you keep to do lists. This is a topic as old as written language, but…

It’s difficult to actually apply it!

which is why there are new books and new apps doing to do lists. It’s difficult to do because it’s not about the books, it’s not about telling you how to do it or telling you that you should do it. It’s about actually doing it, every day. These apps won’t do it for you. You have to do it.

It’s hard because it requires the discipline to do it every day. It’s not a one-off trick, it’s a modus operandi, a way of working and a way of life, day after day. It’s hard because there are no shortcuts.

Which is why we’ve implemented yet another app to do “to do” lists in a CRM app. It’s because it’s not about the app, it’s about you. But really, looking after your customers is the best example of dealing with “actionable information” as looking after your customers is a long term activity, one that you undertake every day, but also one where you potentially don’t have to deal with a customer for several weeks or months before you have to pick it up again where you left it off.

If you don’t take notes to know where you left it off, you will lose in the long term.

So take full advantage of our “Tasks” feature and keep track of your todos, meetings, events, follow ups, set reminders for calls, emails that need to be sent out. Your customers will love you for it!