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Where’s Your To-Don’t List?

Posted in Best Practices, Eric's Posts, Executive Insights

All of us have a To-Do list. We keep track of what we need to accomplish and enjoy a sense of satisfaction after completing each task. In fact, my colleague Sheri Johnson often makes a list that includes a few items already completed just so she can start by scratching a few things off!

But where’s your To-Don’t list?

We don’t do blast faxes anymore. Nor do we use paper maps, or even go online to prepare and print directions. Now we just jump in our car and let our smart phones tell us where to go, step-by-step.

So what are you still doing, that you simply shouldn’t do anymore? What tasks aren’t relevant or important anymore? I’m not talking about delegating or postponing; I’m talking about eliminating.

This is concurrently both a terrifying and liberating process for business executives. I’ve personally coached a number of execs through this process. It really works. Here’s how to proceed:

Start with a blank sheet and, from memory, make a list of all the To-Dos that come to mind. Stop when you reach 10 or so. Then, step back and reflect. I’ve found at least 10 percent of our tasks don’t need to be done anymore, whether it’s that mid-month meeting or report, the pre-planning meeting for the meeting or a status update that nobody really needs.

Here’s an example. As a company updated its software throughout the month various people issued update notices. At the end of the month the head of the communications department wanted to make sure that everyone understood what changes had been made that month, so he consolidated all of the update notices into one summary. But he wondered how much value his colleagues received from the summary. He surveyed all 300 of his colleagues, and he only got nine responses. And the ninth one told him, “…I never read this report, but I really like you, and wanted to respond.”

Clearly, this activity should slide immediately to his To Don’t list.

Can you trim 10 percent off your list?

I contend that at least 10 percent of everyone’s To-Do list can simply be eliminated, and with no real loss.

What are the characteristics of good things to put on a To-Don’t list? I believe they fall into one of three categories:

  • Used to be important, but not any more (that mid-month update, etc.)
  • Can now be replaced more efficiently with different technology (instead of printing, stamping and mailing invoices, send a PDF attached to an email)
  • Your responsibilities have changed, but you are still doing the old things (it’s really someone else’s To-Do now, not yours!)

Stop doing a regular task and see if anyone notices. Or complains. If they do, just start right back up again. But you might be pleasantly surprised how many tasks you simply don’t have to do anymore. And you’ll find at least 10 percent more time every day!

Create your personal To-Don’t list today. And then scratch that one off your To-Do list. ;)

Onward and upward.

(For more on To-Don’t lists, check out this article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterbregman/2012/06/26/whats-on-your-to-dont-list/)

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Posted on by Eric Morgenstern