Leadership Insight: How to Have More Time and Energy for the Most Important Things in Your Life by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Note: this article was inspired by a management blog posting by Frank Arnold in my favorite Swiss newspaper NZZ.





I love this time of year:

  • In the U.S., we just celebrated Thanksgiving, the best holiday ever: no presents, no cards just friends, family and plenty of good food
  • Our family spends the weekend split evenly between enjoying the first meter of snow in the Cascades and cultivating the age old Swiss tradition of baking Christmas cookies (or Guetzlis)
  • We have three solid months of skiing to look forward to; and
  • We are just about to head to my mother’s place in Davos in the Swiss Alps for the holidays

I also enjoy this time of year because, as it comes to a close, I find it a great time to reflect on what’s been working and what’s not been working this year.

Reflecting back on my 2011, I realize that I while I have done a lot of things well this year, I have continued to spread myself too thinly across too many activities and projects (both in my personal and my professional life). So instead of starting 2012 with a lot of “To Do” resolutions, I am committing myself to a rigorous “Stop Doing” resolution.

Let me explain:

All of our clients (myself included) love to start new and exciting projects. We enjoy thinking about, and yes, sometimes fantasizing about all the good that will come from our new projects. At the same time, most of us find it very difficult to make the hard decision to discontinue projects that do not either yield what they should or simply aren’t at the core of what we should be doing. In other words, not many of us are very good at cutting our losses.
As a result, we find ourselves and our organizations spread way too thinly across too many projects and activities. We lack focus and clarity.

My own experience in juggling competitive sports, career and family life has (at times painfully) taught me that I can really truly focus on only one thing at time. If, for example, I am making a major new business push, then I need to have athletics in no more than ‘maintenance mode’ and I know I might be asking for more support from my spouse on the family side. Similarly, when preparing for a big race, I cannot at the same time aggressively grow my business.

When it comes to deciding if we should ‘continue doing’ or ‘stop doing’ something, the great Peter Drucker hit the nail on the head when he challenges us to answer the two hard questions:

“If we were not in this already, would we now go into it?”
and if the answer is ‘no’, the next question should be:

“How do we get out and how fast?”

Two of the most effective ways to address our ‘spreading ourselves too thinly” challenge are ‘Stop Doing’ Lists and “Stop Doing” Meetings.

A “Stop Doing” List

Most of us keep To Do lists. However, instead of focusing on what “to do”, a “Stop Doing” List encourages you to think of activities you should not do anymore. One of the ways to actually implement a “stop doing things” list is to smartly exchange money for time. Even if this seems like a bit of a foreign concept to you, consider implementing it one a small scale. That’s right: Exchange time for money.

For example in the office: hiring a (virtual) assistant to take as many mindless, repetitive tasks off your plate as possible. At home: Pay someone to run errands for you: shopping, picking up the dry cleaning etc.

Over time, done right you will find that this concept will follow the compound interest rule: The more you can afford to buy time to focus on the things where you add most value (and hence make more money) the more you can afford to buy time to focus on the high value activities etc., etc.

Stop doing lists are not only valuable for individual leaders but also help departments and organizations focus on what they are truly great at.

Action Steps:
1. Put together a “Stop Doing List” for 2012 right now.
2. Come up with two small activities you will outsource in 2012 (Buy time)

A “Stop Doing” Meeting

Establish a regular meeting during which instead of talking about what to do, you only focus on what to stop doing will instill a new sense of discipline in your business. For example, some organizations monthly examine different areas of the business (e.g. products, services, distribution channels, markets, clients segments, processes etc.) inquiring of each area: What do we want to continue doing? What do we want to stop doing?

Again, Drucker’s questions, which former GE Chairman and CEO Jack Welch used to perfection to ensure that he was always at least number two or above in any industry, help focus the discussion:

If we weren’t in this business already, would we enter it today? And if no: How soon will we get out?

Action Steps
1. Start regular “Stop Doing” meetings in your organization
2. Communicate the action steps coming out of these meetings throughout the organization

For more information and resources, visit us at www.redpointcoaching.com.