3 ways to stop doing stuff that doesn’t matter

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A group of people sitting around a table.

“I have so much to do…â€

“I am constantly in meetings, and half the time I am not sure why….â€

“I can help them sort it out, and then they will be able to get on…â€

“I promised to help with that, but I can’t get to it, and now I am the blockage!…â€

Have you said, or heard your colleagues say, some of these things in recent months?!

On the other hand, do the leaders you most respect – the illuminated leaders – seem to behave in this way? My guess is no.

So it seems that lots of people are very busy, feeling overloaded, and yet are often not being effective. What is going wrong?

A key cause is that many business cultures confuse activity with performance, and confuse output with outcome.

Let’s take an example of activity. How many times have you been in a meeting, where someone jumps up to the flip chart with a pen and starts getting people to ideate ‘the answer’, before there has been a good discussion of what is the problem to be solved?! It is easier, and sometimes appears more valued, to be active (grab a pen & start writing), than to take the time get beneath the first problem evoked. The result is lots of people spend time running after the wrong problem.

And if we explore output vs outcome. How about

‘I am writing this presentation’


‘Because we need it for the meeting’


‘…………… Because we always have it….!’

The presentation is an output keeping someone busy; and yet they and perhaps no-one knows any more whether it is the best way to help deliver a business outcome.

Meanwhile, those illuminated leaders you most respect, seem to have a clear sense of their priorities, they ask great questions (you love being with them, but you dread the question they are going to ask you!), and while they seem to be everywhere in the business they don’t actually seem to ‘do’ lots of stuff.

So, how about 3 things you can do, to stop doing stuff that doesn’t make a difference?

1) Identify the 5 most important business outcomes that your role is uniquely positioned to (help) deliver. Focus on these at the start of each day. Only do other stuff, when you have done what you need to do on those priorities. Let other people know what you are focussing on, and that they are unlikely to hear from you on other stuff.

2) Stop solving other people’s problems!

When one of your team comes to you with a problem, and you solve it for them, you are training them to do it again & again, you are preventing them from doing (1) for themselves, and you are preventing them from growing.

There is also a good chance that the problem they come to you with is not the real problem.

Instead, ask them a few good questions. Listen hard, let there be silence, while they think, and let them go away to solve their own problems. They will thank you in the end!

Of course all forms of micro-management, document editing, power point polishing etc fall in to this ‘stop’ bucket.

3) Plan thinking time in to your diary. Target at least 10%, and be proud. It can be time alone or time talking with other people; but the key is that it is open / thinking / exploration / stimulus time. Illuminated leaders take time to think. Help to find this time, by cutting down meeting attendance. One way to do that is identify meetings where the outcome of the meeting is unclear and/or your attendance is not critical to the outcome, and don’t go to those meetings.

Peter Soer
Peter Soer
Peter combines experience as a coach, marketing leader & someone who has faced the fear of being found out. He harnesses this experience with his natural optimism & determination, to help people thrive in their work and enjoy the life they want. To achieve our dreams, we have 2 resources, time and energy – so use them well.

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