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.

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.

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?

Maintaining Energy

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Pushing on your work takes an intense amount of energy. And without energy, it’s hard to maintain consistency, perseverance and results. Energy is not a given. You have to foster your routines and habits to keep peak performance going.

I like to hike, play tennis, trail run and snowboard to get me into a bigger world and get the blood flowing. If I miss days, I get crabby and unproductive. The world becomes smaller and my problems become bigger.

Sometimes, when I am thinking about a deal, for example, and how to structure it, I will head out for a long walk. I don’t think about it. I get into freeing up my mind and simply sweating. Somewhere along the line, or when I’m finished, my legs and heart get worn out and that creative kick comes out. This approach tends to work well for me. I may sit down for another four hours and push on creating. I have new energy.

There’s this giant temptation to skip the habits that spend me, relax me or divert my attention. However, those habits are too important to sideline. Managing the ebb and flow of my enthusiasm, energy and focus matter towards getting results and pushing on all the fronts I care about with clarity. That’s why I consider managing energy part of work.

We are not simply brains swiveling on a post. We are whole beings that push our work out from emotion, determination and knowledge. There’s a lot of quality difference in our output from how we feel in the course of a day and how much energy we are bringing to our relationships and problem solving.

I think finding what works to keep the energy high is simply good business.

Schedule Working Meetings

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I am a big fan of working meetings. They cut through the back and forth of getting something done. It actually creates time and space to get real work done in real-time with another person or group.

Too often, we talk about the secondary stuff:

What we are going to do.

When we are going to do something.

Who should be a part of the work.

What resources are required.

In actuality, you can save a lot of time and get things moving by simply working.

So, when I see a thread going back and forth too often, my need for closure kicks in. Open loops drive me nuts after a while.

It’s inefficient to hide behind the chatter. Instead, lead. Make working meetings a part of your execution process. It’s energizing to bring together short, focused meetings to accomplish one thing. Here’s a simple way:

  1. Stop. Move an email and conversation that is going back and forth to a meeting instead. “I’m going to get us together to get this done.”
  2. Schedule. I have an article sharing best practices on putting a meeting together using your Google or Outlook calendar.
  3. Work. Open the call, online meeting or in-face time with one goal and let everyone know. “We are here to get this proposal created and emailed.”

In the meeting, simply facilitate and work. Ultimately, this is a process of leadership. You have to lead. Get the decision. Send out what you promised. Write up the new standard operating procedure.

When you find yourself procrastinating, perhaps the task feels undefined and overwhelming. A working meeting can increase the energy and motivation with other people to get clear and move bottlenecks through your pipeline of tasks.

That ability to move from talking to action is critical in an overly competitive and inattentive world. Cut through it with the determination to work with your team and customers. It’s efficient and fits the times.