Be a Ruthless Pruner

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We are always working on yesterday’s commitments. And when we have committed, it’s so easy to make those decisions sacred. Such reverence for our past commitments builds up continual clutter, drag and mediocrity in our work and lives. Without knowing it, we are managing many subpar projects, possessions and relationships at the cost of what could be the best. We don’t have room to invite, entertain or adopt the best.

Pruning cuts out what is less than optimal so the main part of what matters can grow stronger. It’s a habit that has to be practiced daily in order to make room for the best.

If you find yourself in a slump, prune. You will gain energy from getting lighter.

If you need new creative direction, you don’t simply get inspired with more creativity. I don’t think there’s even a lack of creativity. In fact, creativity shows up when you make more time or free up resources.

Ruthlessly prune projects that simply don’t have a payoff anymore. Your brain wants to fill that time and space with new options. The brain can’t help it.

Nature hates a vacuum and when you prune, you create a vacuum to be filled.

In the process of pruning, you might also discover the things that really matter. Double up on those commitments, projects and relationships. The pruning revealed what is gold and truly matters. Frittering away your life, energy and resources on things that don’t matter or create high value simply spreads you thin at the cost of what is best.

It’s a hyper-competitive world with millions of people. You likely have a few things that you can go big on and add real value to carve out a place for yourself or stand out. How can you get there managing, struggling and emotionally attaching yourself to commitments that don’t have any potential of big payoffs?

What’s one thing that doesn’t matter right now you can ruthlessly prune? 

The Weekly Checklist

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I like to keep two checklists that I execute to keep my business moving:

  1. Weekly Checklist – Actions that have to get done each week for operations
  2. Daily Checklist – What is foundational to my personal and business goals

Business tends to run on a weekly cadence. The ritual of keeping a weekly checklist ensures that you have attention on items that keep your cash flow, project delivery, relationships and key metrics met consistently. It is an opt-out approach for things that are important. You want to pay attention to these items and choose to ignore them intentionally, if that is what makes sense in your priorities.

Here are a few items I have in my Gmail Tasks for a weekly checklist:

  • Accounts Receivables
  • Blog article writing
  • Proposal Follow-ups
  • Team Skills Training
  • LinkedIn article writing
  • Client Project Updates

After I check off each item, which I like to get done on Mondays, I uncheck the items the following week to start the cycle over again.

This ensures I keep what is important moving along in a habit and don’t miss both the mundane and important details.

In my daily list, I do the same and focus on critical daily activities such as:

  • Exercise
  • Share value with target prospects
  • Read
  • Write

Those are items that keep me locked in on effectiveness.

Again, I check them off and uncheck them with a new cycle.

Winging it is hard. If it’s important, you should make it an opt-out.

What kind of weekly checklist and daily checklist would make you more effective?

Loving The Main Thing

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“The main thing Is to keep the main thing the main thing.” ~ Stephen Covey

Keeping on the rails is so hard when our brain loves to pull us to distractions. It’s not only the distractions, but we are barraged by other people’s demands and priorities continually.

The main thing  to do can easily get buried or rationalized away.

I keep checklists to stay focused. Those things will get done. The timing and energy are part of what makes the main thing the main thing. If I’m low on mental bandwidth, I take care of physical actions to move around. If I feel energized, I will tackle that big hard task which requires long mental focus.

Part of the challenge is to pay attention and decide on what the right thing is to do at any given time in context.

What is your highest contribution?

How can you get things off your plate that get in the way of contributing?

What are things you can do to make executing easier?

Sometimes knowing what matters most comes from getting away and seeing things from afar. Other times, you have to work a bit and get in the details to appreciate what you are not seeing.

It’s wasteful to be working on the wrong things. A bunch of busyness with no impact, result or contribution kills opportunity. You can’t get those hours back.

We have this luxury of choice that starts with the right thought, translated into the right action, at the right time. Make your work count.

Too Many Moving Parts

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You may have to build a business with 100 employees. Maybe a 1,000. That’s the manpower tax to help get your product into the hands of your customer.

Instagram had 13 employees serving 30 million users at a $500M valuation at one point. That’s leverage. Compare that to the 145,000 people Kodak employed in the industrial age in 1988.

We are lucky today. Technology allows us to do a lot more with less. I am not sure, even with that leverage, why human nature, when given a choice between the complex and the simple, tends to choose complexity. It’s one of those boggling mysteries to me.

When you build a business with too many moving parts, you have a lot of cost and management. It’s common and easy to do. Adding takes much less mental and emotional focus than subtraction.

There’s likely a simpler business to be in than the one you have designed. You may have to be more thoughtful about what you are doing, but that may be what is holding back your ability to grow.

Can you work with a vendor and get rid of a lot of headaches in your business instead?

Are you moving irrelevant information around?

Do you have systems that you have outgrown?

Are you living in the past?

Constant pruning is a necessary business skill. It allows for the new. You can get rid of dead weight and functions that simply don’t add value any more.

What moving parts are you currently managing that doesn’t make sense to have around anymore?

Set Important Decisions to Opt-out

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There is such a thing as decision fatigue. Your willpower and ability to make effective decisions changes over the course of a day from mental weariness. When it comes to trying to respond and keep up with the demands of knowledge work, it’s hard to stay sharp and it’s easy to push out things that are important in exchange for the urgent.

There are important things I want to happen regardless of the tsunami of inputs. I want to spend time with my wife and kids. I want to fit into my pants and be able to climb a mountain without problems. I want to enjoy good friendships and fun. I want my responsibilities as a business owner, family man and consultant to be done well and on time.

Thus, I put the important things in my Gmail task list and my Google Calendar. They are recurring and for me to skip an appointment or task becomes a decision to opt-out. I think important things should be opt-out. Otherwise, the decision has to keep being evaluated, and depending on circumstances, I may bypass what I already decided was important.

It’s better to see that date, my workout or my weekly list of deliverables in my calendar and task list. I show up and get it done. The decision was already made and it’s one less item I have to think about.

What do you want to get done every week or month? How about making a list and getting those things into your calendar. Book that room, pay for that membership, send the invitation or develop a weekly list you have to opt-out of each week. You have effectively saved yourself some decision making fatigue in this crazy world that can easily topple you off your game.

Updating My Daily Routine

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“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” – Darren Hardy

Our habits define us. I like to tweak how I approach days and I experiment with my habits continually. These days, I have a few things that get me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually engaged with the bigger goals I am pursuing:

  • 30 push-ups
  • 30 sit-ups
  • Prayer
  • Brain dumps
  • Checking and managing lists
  • Long walks
  • Researching and sharing
  • Writing
  • Reading

I didn’t get there abruptly with my daily routines. I started with just one thing first and focused on keeping consistent. I’ve also weeded out things that don’t give me high return on my energy or revenue.

This is largely my unseen life and what goes on when I am alone. And it has been foundational to helping me grow personally and help others grow as well.

If you are stuck, perhaps it’s time to add to your daily routines or subtract time and energy wasters.

You have to be intentional. Everything is changing and working against you. And your collective value comes from your daily routines.

What results do you want? What are some small daily habits that can get you there emotionally, mentally and physically?

Always Monitor Relevance

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I went through a lot of old digital files recently in my Google Drive as part of a pruning day. I had everything from client projects from years ago to books I was working on to consulting and coaching tools for strategy.

The vast majority of information was irrelevant to what I am doing today. I would never use those files or information again, though they may have been building blocks to where I am now. What was highly relevant ten years ago had context. Furthermore, innovation has created an immense amount of new tools and ideas that make sense for me and doing business now versus before.

Relevance has to always be questioned. Otherwise, we are stale and holding on to what doesn’t matter anymore. The habit of relentlessly getting rid of the old to make room for the new keeps you in the game.

I want to focus on now and the future. And the last thing I need to clutter that pursuit is entertaining irrelevance.

 

Minimize Your Digital Platforms

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We have a hard time appreciating what drag does to our lives and work. If you’re used to sifting through your junk to find your clothes, notebooks, gadgets or everything to help you in a day, the friction may be lost on you. It’s become a habit that’s comfortable and unnoticeable over time.

It’s easy to pick up a subscription or tool here and there. After all, software’s incremental cost of distribution is extremely low. So, freemium is a sensible model to attract and entice new users.

But, digital platforms still take up mental space. If you have data or partial use within many tools, the question of whether you are getting value, or much less, creating drag in your psyche, becomes a cost factor.

You only have so much attention.

You have very specific goals that truly matter to you.

It’s hard enough to focus and get your goals. Adding more things to manage in your life can affect your creativity, productivity and clarity. These are all critical to making ideas happen.

So, how about simply taking pause and conducting a digital audit:

  1. Write down the goals that matter for your success.
  2. Write down what digital tools help you get there.
  3. Write down all the tools you currently have beyond the ones that help you.
  4. Unsubscribe and get rid of the ones that don’t matter.
  5. Recommit to the platforms that truly get you results.

Consolidation, commitment and focus get you much more bang for the buck in terms of applying your attention.

We live in a world of too many options and distractions. Winning is less about having something novel and much more about executing with what matters and works.

These days I find I get a much better return by focusing and doubling down on what works in the world than sampling every option that comes my way.

Reduce the Handoffs to Increase Efficiency

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Every handoff in your business is a failure point. When one person is handling information and moving execution to the next step, often you can get things done without many mistakes or delays.

When you have to hand off a lead, support call, requirements, or project task, it’s risk. What if the information is not correct? Is there nuance and clarity that have to be transferred?

Many projects need teams to deliver. But often, when we are growing businesses, we simply get fat and waste can build up. There are often unnecessary handoffs where it can be faster with less errors by cutting out steps, people or information.

With this season of downtime, what if you took inventory and got rid of handoffs that no longer make sense?

Look at when a customer starts their engagement with your company. How much work do they have to do before they get contacted? Can you automate the first touches?

Here are some other ideas to drive throughput by eliminating or reducing handoffs:

  1. Where does a request get bottlenecked? Consolidate the work with one person or automate the task using software.
  2. Set the expected response time for team tasks. Track this for 30 days. If you get a 3 day average response for something that should take 1 day, get the responsible parties involved and set up a new incentive to meet the customer expectation.
  3. Map out your steps. See if you can cut out steps that do not add value.
  4. For work that needs to be highly responsive, hire a support vendor or get a virtual assistant. It will force you to define what has to be done and you can manage accountability.
  5. Cut out any middlemen and replace it with direct service or engagement.

Handoffs usually develop because we hope to get some kind of efficiency, but we don’t revisit whether we have failure in speed or unnecessary mistakes. Take it back to simplicity, and care about your customer by removing the waste that simply happens because of unexamined workflow.

As the New Year is commencing, you can tighten your workflow up by looking at all those handoffs which create problems and bottlenecks.

Where are you finding handoff issues?

Responsiveness

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I left a message for a company yesterday again. They have still not called me back. I am thinking about moving on. Too bad. There’s a lot of business that could come their way. I tend to be a loyal person to the things I like.

In this instant, 24/7 world, there is this illusion that we can always obtain world-class service. That’s not true. I think we want it. But then we end up with a phone tree, wait times and no follow-through.

Business is still people. And people are hard to move towards responsiveness without leadership.

I still smile when I call my accounting software, FreshBooks, for support. Two rings into the call and I get a live person! It’s impressive. I love their responsiveness, and I tell my clients and friends about them every chance I get. They are part of my team, and I’m a fan.

There are a few other partners that have also set up their business around responsiveness. It keeps me delighted, and I stick with those partners. I trust them.

Maybe it’s my own need for quality. I practice mise en place. I believe in being responsive and love delighting people with a high level of service and care. That’s how I see it. Good business is about truly caring about another person and helping them get what they are looking for fast.

I don’t think that it’s a lot to ask. And I do believe most customers are looking for care and responsiveness. You don’t have to go far to hear the complaints of bad service or sloppy follow-up.

Can you imagine if your brand stood out because of your responsiveness? If you are constantly in a crisis or tripping over your own clutter and disarray, forget it. You won’t make it happen. You don’t care enough.

But, if you want to stand out, I bet opportunities and attraction make their way to your doorstep from a habit and setup of being responsive in all your dealings.

How can you make responsiveness part of your way of doing business?