There’s one list management pros should live by—and it’s not the to-do list
If there’s one thing that has been painfully obvious in all of my years in leading people to new levels of performance, it is this—everyone is busy. Too busy in fact. Rare is the management pro who raises her hand because she has more bandwidth to take on new work, more work, or strategic and meaningful work to drive the company forward.
I know this because their busyness is justified by long to-do lists that signal they need to work a little bit harder or cry out for more time in the day to get it all done. Very rare indeed is the executive or manager whom I work with who doesn’t have an overwhelming number of tasks on their plate.
It begs the question – how do you get it all done?
You don’t. And that’s the point.
The art of busyness is a distant cousin from the reality of being highly effective. Busyness is the hamster wheel of nonstop activity that fails to propel you or the business forward as intended, and this activity often creates an artificial limit on what you can achieve. On the other hand, being highly productive is about being strategic, decisive and perhaps most of all, disciplined in ways that translate into business results.
You need a stop-doing list
I’m a fan of to-do lists, punch lists, or whatever type of check-off system you prefer to ensure top priorities are addressed and met. They help you guard your work flow.
But here’s the problem: too much of the activity on your to-do list actually belongs on a different list – the stop-doing list.
Author and entrepreneur James Clear recently shared a story of a two list strategy involving Warren Buffett and his personal pilot Mike Flint. Buffett asked Flint to write out a list of goals and then circle the five that bubbled up to the top as most important. The takeaway is that the five are all that matter, and Buffett’s rebuke to Flint is that you don’t even touch the other 20 or so items until the five goals are achieved. He refers the long list of secondary goals as the Avoid-At-All-Costs list.
This same thinking is applicable for management pros, but with an important twist.
While you don’t have the luxury of ignoring the 20 or so things that are secondary but still must be accomplished, you can stop doing them by becoming the decisive management pro you want to become and your company needs you to be.
How to stop doing
Your stop-doing list emerges from your to do list, so build that first. The only way you create a meaningful stop-doing list is by intentionally moving activities off the to-do list.
To stop doing requires some pointed questions and brutally honest answers. I suggest starting with these questions:
- Who else can or should do the work and perform it at an acceptable to high level?
- Where are you performing helpful but nonessential work?
- What are you hanging on to solely because you’re good at it or enjoy doing it?
- Are you coveting work you’ve been known or recognized for, or that gives you confidence, but is no longer essential to your role today?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then you’re on your way to creating an actionable stop-doing list. Your ability to stop will give others an opportunity to step up and do new and different work. It also will afford you the opportunity to focus on business critical work meant for a management pro at your level, and that’s what helps to moves the business forward.
Apply this same level of questioning to other time-killing activities such as email, meetings or other activities that may not bring value.
- Do I need respond to this email? (My best boss ever never responded to things he considered non-essential)
- Do I need to be on this thread, this slack channel?
- Do I need to be present at this meeting?
- Does this issue require a meeting or would a conversation or phone call be more efficient?
The benefit of the stop-doing list is almost paradoxical—when you commit to stop doing things that were once on your to-do list, and distribute and delegate effectively, you’ll realize just how much you and your team will be able to accomplish.