We’ve all been there: taking on additional projects that don’t actually pay off, that aren’t aligned with our interests, and that end up being more work than they’re worth. It doesn’t have to be this way. By working strategically, you can shift from muscling through hard work alone to aligning your priorities with what you actually want.
Streamlining your life (and your work calendar) starts with making a “NOT To Do” list. Anything that takes up too much time, doesn’t pay off, can be delegated, or doesn’t ladder up to your priorities should be evaluated.
Curious about creating your own Not To Do list? Start with these categories:
- What drains your energy? This may include people, meetings or tasks that take more than they give.
- What can be streamlined? How can you kill two birds with one stone? Walking meetings anyone?
- What can be outsourced? You don’t have to do everything on your list. How can you thin your list by delegating to others or paying for it? Takeout for dinner tonight!
- What has become a routine obligation that no longer pays off or brings joy? We are creatures of habit. We all do things that we don’t have to do or we might not even enjoy doing that we have the agency to simply stop doing.
- Do I have to do this? Ask yourself this question all day long. If the answer is no, consider letting it go. For one of my clients, “Do I have to do this?” quickly turned into, “I don’t have to do this!” as she conducted her Not To Do audit. “It was so liberating; it felt like weight loss. Once I started clearing myself of obligations, I was strict about letting them creep back onto my calendar.”
The second component is learning how to say no. For many of us, this is difficult, but it’s an essential skill for reclaiming your time and priorities. Harvard Business School professor and strategy expert, Michael Porter, suggests that the essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do. Simply shifting our perspective from one of guilt to strategy is powerful by itself. Porter suggests strategy is about making choices that lead to sustainably superior performance. What choices are you making that detract from your ability to sustain superior performance?
A Silicon Valley marketing leader realized her desire to help others was competing with her desire to say no, particularly when it came to supporting her team. Her epiphany came when she realized that she could give people the tools to think for themselves so they didn’t need her help. She did this by asking more questions. “If my joy is helping them find success, then I can do that without giving them the answer or doing the work. Instead, I ask questions and give them the tools to find their own answers.” She has more time for the things that are strategic for her to focus on. By the way, her company just went IPO, so things worked out well for her.
The sentiment is not that being helpful is not strategic. Instead, consider time as your most valuable currency. Just like we carefully consider where we donate and invest our money, we should do the same with our time so the time we give is going to the causes we care about the most.