The Responsibility Summary

Should you be overwhelmed? That’s an interesting question. Of course, if you aren’t overwhelmed then it’s a no-brainer, probably not. But if you ARE overwhelmed, wouldn’t it be great to know if you should be or not? Years ago I remember a conversation with my boss about my workload. Here’s the simple version of what it sounded like:

Boss. “Here’s something else I’d like you to do.”

Me. “I’m overwhelmed with the work I already have.”

Boss. “What work do you already have?”

Me. {Insert measly & inadequate attempt at describing my workload here.}

Boss. “I think you need to work on your time management skills. Here’s something else I’d like you to do.”

Me. “OK” {Walk away overwhelmed.}

The problem is, neither he nor I really knew if I had too much on my plate or not. We didn’t know what my capacity was and we didn’t have a clear understanding of what I was doing. I see this happen a lot. People are overwhelmed with work and since they don’t know if the problem is them (time management skills) or the job (they have too much work), they assume it’s the former and try to get by. This doesn’t have to be.

A couple years ago I found myself in this predicament and developed a one page summary of all my responsibilities. It has been, without doubt, one of the most meaningful and effective documents I’ve ever made. It is NOT a Job Description and it is NOT a Task List. It is a Responsibility Summary. I love it, my boss loves it, and everyone I know who has successfully made one loves it.

First, let me outline some of the benefits of this one page document, once it’s been developed.

  • It brings clarity to you.
    The primary benefit is simply the fact that you have clarity about what you do (or should be doing). You’ll never have to wonder what you have on your plate that your forgetting. 
    The Responsibility Summary is a big picture snapshot of everything you’re working on.
  • It brings clarity to your boss.
    If it’s clear to you, then it should also be clear for your employer. When I first showed this document to my boss they loved it. It allowed us to have a very clear conversation about my job and the projects I was working on. What I really liked was that I didn’t have to convince my boss that I had a lot on my plate, it was right there in front of him. And when he told me to add something to my plate, it was real easy to ask, ‘What needs to change in my responsibilities so I can do that for you?’
  • It clarifies priorities.
    It’s a lot easier to see what’s important and what’s not important when looking at a Responsibility Summary. At one point I saw something that was on my “Future Projects” list and something else on my “Current Projects” list that needed to be switched. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was working on the wrong thing.
  • It reveals dead weight.
    Similar to the priorities benefit, the Responsibility Summary shows you what you shouldn’t be doing. Recently I was working with an Executive Pastor at a local church and when we finished his Responsibility Summary we saw that he spent a lot of time fixing computers. This wasn’t a good use of his time. So we built a strategic plan to train and delegate that to someone else.
  • It highlights problems.
    With the same pastor mentioned above, we also noticed that there were a lot of important projects in the “Future Projects” listing and almost no projects in the “Current Projects” listing. The reason was easy to see, he had so many “Ongoing Responsibilities” that he had no time to work on projects. This needed to change and we used the Responsibility Summary to develop a plan to change that.
  • It confirms suspicions.
    Most of the time, a wise person will be able to look at a Responsibility Summary and be able to determine if that individual simply needs to strengthen his time management skills or if he does, in fact, just have too much on his plate. There’s little room to wonder anymore.
  • and more…
    The more I help people develop their Responsibility Summary, the more I’m finding it useful in different ways. For me, it’s a ‘must do’ for any organization or person.

The structure of a Responsibility Summary is simple. The hard part is sitting down and figuring out what needs to go into each section. For most of us, that can be stressful and overwhelming all by itself. I’m going to outline what to do here, but I will also provide a download link to a simplified version for you to use. Don’t download and build it until you’ve read the ‘rules’ below!

  • Determine Your Job
    Someone once asked me if he could make a Responsibliity Summary that showed his whole life. I don’t suggest this. Make one summary for your work. If you want, you can make another one for your ‘other job’, your ‘personal life’, your ‘church leadership’ or whatever else you want. Just don’t try to combine them into one sheet.
  • Determine Your Columns
    You probably don’t want to list your responsibilities in one big list. In the end, it will still seem overwhelming and hard to read. Think of what you do and ask, “Are there 3 or 4 categories that I can use to separate my responsibilities?” As you work on this, you might change this around over time. IMPORTANT: If you find you have one column that’s really full and two others that are really empty, you probably need to re-think your categories. Here are a couple of examples to help get you started:
    • A pastor might use: Executive / Ministry Oversight / Active Ministry
    • A secretary might use: Event Planning / Follow-Up / Office Management
    • A facility staffer might use: Winter / Spring / Summer / Fall OR Grounds / Facility / Staff
    • An associate might use: Youth Dept / Care Dept / Active Ministry
  • List Ongoing Responsibilities
    The first row in each column should list your Ongoing Responsibilities. This should include ANYTHING you do on a regular basis that takes an hour or more of your time. It could be daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual responsibilities. Remember, in general these should not be tasks. They are responsibilities. You might also consider putting a note under or beside them clarifying the frequency and the amount of time you spend on them. Do not include vague things like ’email’ or ‘phone calls’. Those are not responsibilities – they are tasks that help you complete responsibilities. Here are a couple of examples:
    • Lead Staff Meetings (W/3)  – the ‘W’ means weekly & the ‘3’ means 3 hours
    • Create/Propose Budget (A/15)
    • Counseling (W/5)
    • HVAC Maintenance (Q/5)
    • Ongoing Website Maintenance (M/4)
    • Easter Service Planning (A/12)
  • List Current Projects
    The second row in each column should list projects you’re working on right now. A Current Project is NOT an Ongoing Responsibility. It has a definite end in mind and it’s not something you will probably do again – at least within the year. You may not know when the project will get done, but you do know that it will or should eventually be completed at some point. Also, Current Responsibilities MUST be projects you are ACTUALLY working on. Just because it’s on your list of things you SHOULD be working on, doesn’t mean you are working on it. If it’s not in your schedule to work on it in the next few days/weeks, it probably shouldn’t be listed as a Current Project, but as a Future Project. Honesty is important here. You don’t want to lie to yourself by making it look like you’re doing something that you actually aren’t. Another important thing to remember here is that eventually a Current Project may turn into an Ongoing Responsibility. For example, ‘create a blog’ might one day turn into ‘post to the blog’, Here are some examples of what a Current Project might be:
    • Interview/Hire Secretary
    • Research how to do a Capital Campaign
    • Propose new system to track attendance
    • Upgrade all computers to Windows 7
    • Create a blog for Youth Dept
  • List Future Projects
    You don’t want to forget this last row. These are the projects that you either SHOULD be working on, but aren’t, or that you eventually want to work on. Over time, you may see that a particular Future Project just never seems to make it to the ‘Current Project’ category. This begs the question, ‘Is it really that important?’ and if so, should someone else be doing it or should something change so that I can do it. Here are a few more examples, although they can/will potentially look just like those in the Current Projects list, depending on if they’re getting worked on:
    • Develop online store
    • Write new Welcome class content
    • Create policies for advertising events
    • Research new database options

Here are a few final thoughts about this that you might want to keep in mind.

  • It’s not easy.
    I’ve already said this, but it’s worth pointing out. Building your first Responsibility Summary might be difficult and painful, especially for certain personalities. In the end, it’s worth it, if it’s done right and used regularly. Hang in there and don’t give up until it’s complete.
  • It may take several drafts.
    Like any new venture, it may take several drafts before it turns into something useful. You’re building something from scratch and it’s OK if you don’t get it right the first time, or even the second time. Keep at it, try new ways of organizing columns and you’ll eventually end up with something you like.
  • Update it monthly or quarterly.
    This is a working document, but it’s not meant to replace your task list. Update it monthly or quarterly, but don’t wait any longer than that. If you have a quarterly review with an employer, then get into the habit of updating it before your meeting and bringing a copy in with you. If not, then put in your task list to update it regularly throughout the year.
  • Look at it.
    The goal isn’t to make a cool document that summarizes your job. The goal is to use the information on that document to help you be more productive and effective in what you do. Analyze your Responsibility Summary every once in a while and ask questions like, “Should I be doing that?”, “How can I move that to a Current Project?”, “Why do I spend so much time on something that’s not my main job?”, etc.
  • Tell me how it goes.
    I’m not kidding. I need some stories of how the Responsibility Summary has helped people in my coaching. In fact, if you’re willing, send me a copy so I can use it in further teaching as I coach people in the area of productivity. Thanks!

Don’t just download this and start using it until you’ve read through this page. You won’t fully understand what to do. It’s too easy to put things in the wrong categories/columns otherwise. Note: This download is in Microsoft Word format. Enjoy!

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