What Are You Not Doing

October 24, 2016

This article is for all professionals who want to make the most of their time. The thesis is that we need to consider the things we are not doing as well as those we are supporting with our effort.

The idea of noting the things we can do as well as the opportunities we are missing is one that is highlighted in the quality concept called “six sigma.”

Most business professionals are familiar with the term six-sigma. It is a concept where we seek to make our processes so close to perfection that there are only slightly over 3 defects per million opportunities. I have taught six sigma for decades, and one thing about the concept has always bugged me.

The whole premise of six-sigma is based on a ratio of defects per opportunity. When you think about it, the number of defects is difficult to measure, but at least the number is finite.

The number of opportunities to make a defect is really infinite because they include all of the steps we can take but also all of the steps we decide not to take.

If I remember my 7th grade math correctly, when the denominator of a fraction goes to infinity, the ratio becomes a moot point. Now let’s consider how the conundrum of an infinite number of possible alternatives creates an interesting parallel for our personal lives.

Most of us focus our energy on the things we are doing. In planning the daily “To Do” list, we tend to list the items of importance that must be done today in order to convince ourselves that we are getting the most out of life.

We rarely spend that much energy on the other side of the equation and think about the things we are deciding not to do. Of course, if you are trying to quit a bad habit, you might list “smoke no cigarettes” on your To Do list for today.

We make a conscious effort to avoid the things that we are trying to quit, but we spend far less conscious energy on what things we are avoiding out of neglect.

Let me make a couple ridiculous examples to illustrate my point.

On my mental To Do list for today, I do not have an item to avoid becoming a ballet dancer. I am not making a conscious effort to avoid a late-blooming career as a ballet dancer. If you could see my body, you would understand the absurdity of that vision, because it has no basis in reality.

The irony is that there are an infinite number of things I am choosing not to do today. I will not decide to become a politician today. My bucket can be overflowing when I die and still I will never have won an elected governmental office.

The number of things I am deciding to not do is infinite.
These crazy examples are just to highlight the dilemma. I have only a finite number of seconds yet to be alive on this planet. Clearly, it is in my best interest to use each second wisely, so I focus on the things I want to accomplish: my goals.

Then the dilemma becomes, what potential activities did I miss through the process of neglect? My path forward is very narrow and restricted when compared with the infinite number of things I reject simply by not considering them. What I do not get involved with may be limiting the joy I am getting from life as well as what I choose to do.

The whole concept is so convoluted that my brain starts to hurt after a while, so I cop out like every other breathing person and focus on those few things that are readily available for me to do today. The irony is that I do have the option at any point in time to do something completely different.

For example, today I could choose to give away all my possessions and go try to help the poor in Africa for the remainder of my life.

Personally, I am not going to spend more time today wondering about this conundrum. It is not going to change what I do, but I must realize that in rejecting the option to think more carefully about what I am electing to not do, I am limiting my choices in life dramatically. Right now, I am deciding to have a cup of coffee. How about you?

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763

Your “Stop Doing” List

August 16, 2014

BankruptFrom time to time, we all get overwhelmed with activities, and most of us turn to a “To Do” list to manage the priorities. There are several systems that help keep people organized and assist them on making the most of their time.

In this article, I suggest that having a specific “Stop Doing” list can be just as helpful at managing time as having a “To Do” list.

Time is Precious

Time is the most precious commodity we have. What makes something precious is comprised of two factors.

The thing must be of intrinsic value to us and it must be scarce. Diamonds and coal are chemically identical and both have intrinsic value to us, but diamonds are very difficult to find, so their value is infinitely higher.

Time has value to us because it is all we have to live with, and nobody can get more than 24/7 each day. Therefore, time has extremely high value: it is both important and scarce.

Numbers Game

Most professionals are in a perpetual state of overload. That is because in the pressure cooker of day to day activities, more items come onto the plate than can possibly be accomplished.

If you doubt that, just take a look at your e-mail inbox. In every meeting there are new action items to be accomplished and precious little time to do them. It is a habitual problem that leads to burnout and even death due to stress.

People watch the incoming texts and activities closely trying to manage the load. The common refrain is “I have no time to deal with that now.” They often forget to cull out the non-essential things that take up their time. Anything taken off the plate is a reason to celebrate.

Modeling Prioritization

Individuals who focus on stopping things show others that time utilization needs to be managed from both ends. Leaders are used to making tough decisions with budgets and other resources, but they sometimes fail to see how their most precious resource (their own time) is being squandered.

Those who manage time actively and vocally send a clear message to the entire organization that seconds really do count.

10 Tips to manage your “Stop Doing” List

1. Keep track of what you are doing.

If you have a mechanism to actually see how your time is being spent, you can manage it better. I like to think of colors.

When I am doing “green” things, it means I am using my time wisely. “Yellow” things have marginal value, and “red” items are really wasting my precious time. Just keep looking for the color. It can be a kind of game as you sit in a meeting and watch the air turn from green to red before your eyes.

2. Delegate more!

This has a dual benefit because often people are eager to help out if only given the chance. There is always some risk when delegating, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Learn the skill of good delegation and press yourself to apply it more than you currently do.

3. Finish things.

Don’t dabble in work. Be crisp with completing assignments so your inbox is clear for new items.

When something is completed, celebrate for a second because you now have that off the plate.

4. Brainstorm

Spend some brainstorming time with your inner circle cleaning house of useless activities.

5. Create a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

This is a visual board where you post paradigms that have been broken where you no longer have to do what used to take up your time. It is refreshing to fill up a “Sacred Cow Pasture.”

Everybody benefits! For example it takes courage to admit we no longer need the quality report because our systems have reached a higher standard.

How about doing away with the “cost” meeting and substitute an efficient dashboard? The possibilities are endless.

6. Challenge everything.

Try a zero based approach to your day where you come in as if you were a new employee. Ask “why am I doing this and what could be done to eliminate the need for it.”

7. Handle your time like a budget.

Think of your task list as a fixed number of things – like say 50 things. In order to make room for a new activity, you must take at least one old activity off your prior list.

8. Reward people who bring up ideas for your “Stop Doing” list.

If you reinforce this behavior, you not only help yourself, you help the entire organization because everyone will get the bug to eliminate marginal activities.

9. Go on a “Safari”

Hunt down and kill at least 3 unnecessary activities. It can be a fun activity once you get into it.

10. Go away!

If you are not there to do things, they will get done just fine most of the time. Go out and visit some customers or attend a seminar for your own development.

While you are away, have an administrative person keep track of the things that you would have done if you were there. These are all items you can challenge in the future.

Your “Stop Doing” list is as important as your “To Do” list. Don’t neglect it.