Just don’t do it!

By James Butler, Your Business Your Future Tutor and Coach

My “extra mile” article last month captured some attention and comment, including in the national press (see: James Butler's blog on Customer Service inspires FT article). Some readers had the valid concern that going the extra mile for customers on a regular basis could result in you or your team having a lot more to do - which got me thinking about how one deals with competing priorities.

Just Do It” may have worked as a slogan for Nike, but it could be that the opposite is an important mantra for the busy owner manager. Success in business is the sum of the choices we make in that role — and this is as much what we choose NOT to do, as what we choose TO do. Most owner managers have a seemingly never-ending list of things that they COULD do — the “To Do” list never seems to be empty!

If that is the reality of modern life, especially business life, how does one decide what to do and what not to do? My suggestion is to turn the To Do list philosophy on its head, and draw up a “Not To Do” list. What do you need to plan NOT to do, so you can focus on doing the right things? How do you draw up such a list?

What’s just a distraction?- It’s sometimes hard to believe that humanity has existed for thousands of years without checking emails, texts, Facebook updates or Farmville progress every thirty seconds. We’re inundated with opportunities to be distracted from our main task — sometimes by things we think are work, like email or our company Twitter account. And, you can choose NOT to do these — either for a length of time like a week, or a block of time like two hours so that you can focus. What distractions could go on your Not To Do list?

What doesn’t need to be done by me?- Even a one-person business can delegate some tasks to outsourced support services. Owner managers of growing businesses realise that often they are the bottleneck of growth, and the more they build a team below them, the more the business grows (moving from Artisan, through Hero and Meddler and into Strategist, for those who are familiar with the Seven Pillars of a Better Business). What can you get off your job list for good with proper, effective delegation to someone else?

What’s not a genuine emergency?- If you have any kind of responsibility in a business, emergencies arise — urgent client expectations, an issue with a payment, a service issue that cannot be left unresolved. In reality, unless you work in areas where lives are at stake, no one will die if there’s a delayed response. So what is the appropriate timeframe to respond and is it really ‘right now’? Can you choose not to do so, and respond at a time better suited to you?

What doesn’t bring immediate benefit?- On every Better Business Programme, participants can see quick wins that don’t need to be strategised over or phased in — they can create benefits to the business straight away. The same is probably true in your business - so do take those quick wins. Other ideas are unproven, or have a very long payback. Should they really make it to the To Do list?

What doesn’t have a proven business case to justify it?- We all hear so many ideas of what we could do in our businesses — new ways to market, different ways to structure a team, new HR policies or incentives. We hear of far more than we could ever possibly hope to implement. So, unless they bring clear immediate benefits (see above), you need to have a process for testing the implications of any initiative for your business. What are the costs of implementation and what are the expected (not the hoped-for) business benefits? How do they measure up? What fails to justify itself and should be on the Not To Do list?

There are a couple of well-known techniques for managing to do/not to do lists — Stephen Covey’s important/urgent quadrant from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, or the Three D (Delegate, Do or Dump) method.

(NB: Please do not search for DDDs on the web - you may find some unexpected content!)

Take a few minutes now to think through or look over your current To Do list. What needs to go to the Not To Do list right away? I’m sure there’ll be something!

Attending a Jedward concert, and watching the The Apprentice where the so-called cream of the UK’s young business talent stab each other in the back in order to curry favour with Alan Sugar, are immediate choices for my NOT To Do List. At a work level, I’ve recently decided not to get involved in building a new database for the business (I built the last two), and have gone for an off-the-shelf product to free my time for more productive tasks.

Hopefully you can think of some items for your own list. Remember, success is as much about what we choose NOT to do, as what we choose TO do.

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