We ran our first business forum last week covering off an old perennial problem - how to stop doing the noisy urgent stuff and focus on the far more productive important stuff that will make a difference to your business and your life. I know and understand that it's not that I don't have time to do stuff, it's just that I haven't made it a priority yet. I also know that it is a common issue because it is offered up as an excuse by a number of people I talk to.
In an increasingly switched on world, we are finding it harder and harder to switch off and just be. As a result both our personal life and business life suffer.
The forum was lead by Adrian de la Fuente, a serial entrepreneur who has set up his own businesses as well as worked for large organisations. A number of the issues and strategies the group discussed can be found in two books - Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Brain at Work by David Rock. This post is about the key learnings that I took away from the session.
1. Have a robust method for capturing stuff you need to do. While there are a number of technology options available, nothing beats a piece of paper for simplicity. I have always been of the view that if the system doesn't work manually then technology won't help but if you have a manual system that works really well then it can often be improved through the use of technology. What is more important is that "stuff" is captured when it needs to be so you can rely on the system and not use up a lot of brain energy trying to keep it front-of-mind.
2. Clarify what needs to be done by knowing what "done" looks like and what "doing" involves. If there are several steps involved before your are "done", then often we will procrastinate because getting started takes such a lot of effort. In those cases, stress can be reduced by creating a project and understanding what the very next visible, physical action is. Then take it.
3. Have no more than 3-5 priorities for the day (your short list) so that you have set yourself up to succeed and you have the ability to focus on the most important things that you need to get done today. One of the comments that resonated with most of the people was the continual interruptions that we all face and the additional bits of stuff that we allow to take precedence over the short list. But we all agreed that we each have control over when we do stuff and that we really didn't have to make the new stuff a priority. Provided that we communicated the timeframe in which we could complete the task, then more often than not it could be left until later. The one exception is when you know the new task can be completed within 2 minutes, in ewwhich case do it now when your attention has already been diverted.
4. A number of people also talked about accountability for daily achievements, often across the business as a whole. This ranged from a daily stand-up meeting for 10-15 minutes, through to a weekly email circulated around the team about key priorities. Those people that committed priorities to paper (or whiteboard) and reported back on them felt that they achieved better outcomes than when they did not. I have long been fond of business metrics that measure how well the team undertakes the key activities, whether that involves meeting with a certain number of people each week or phoning a certain number of people. If we are held accountable for our actions and are open to critique by our colleagues, then the expected outcomes will follow, as surely as night follows day.
5. Prioritise prioritising, by giving yourself time to review your long list of stuff to do on a regular basis and deciding what is the most important thing to do next. A daily review of the long list and creating a short list of stuff seemed to work well for a number of people, whether done at the beginning or end of the day. There were also a number of people who had a structure to their day - things like devoting the first hour or so of each day to plan and then tick off the most important thing on the daily list when they were at their best mentally. Or having a certain part of the week ear marked for doing non-business-as-usual work.
As I was writing this blog post I came across a pdf of "Getting Things Done". Here's the link. http://transhumanism-russia.ru/documents/books/gtd/Getting_Things_Done_-_The_Art_Of_Stress-Free_Productivity.pdf
Stephenson Thorner intends to run at least 10 business forums in 2017, with a topic determined beforehand and a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the topic leading the discussion. The idea is to have a free exchange of experiences and enable us to learn from each other. There is one very important rule - what's said in the room, stays in the room. If you're interested in coming along, just drop us a line and we'll make sure that you definitely get an invite to the next forum. And if you have a n issue that you haven't been able to solve and would appreciate inout from others, let us know and we'll see if we can make it a topic.