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Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Things You Should Stop Doing in 2012

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Harvard Business Review
2:55 PM Thursday December 15, 2011
by Dorie Clark
I recently got back from a month's vacation — the longest I've ever taken, and a shocking indulgence for an American. … The distance, though, helped me hone in on what's actually important to my professional career — and which make-work activities merely provide the illusion of progress. Inspired by HBR blogger Peter Bregman's idea of creating a "to ignore" list , here are the activities I'm going to stop cold turkey in 2012 — and perhaps you should, too.
  1. Responding Like a Trained Monkey. Every productivity expert in the world will tell you to check email at periodic intervals — say, every 90 minutes — rather than clicking "refresh" like a Pavlovian mutt. … [Spending] a month away — and only checking email weekly — showed me how little really requires immediate response. In fact, nothing. A 90 minute wait won't kill anyone, and will allow you to accomplish something substantive during your workday.
  2. Mindless Traditions. … In the moment, not fulfilling an "obligation" (like sending holiday cards) can make you feel guilty. But if you're in search of professional advancement, is a holiday card (buried among the deluge) going to make a difference? If you want to connect, do something unusual — get in touch at a different time of year, or give your contacts a personal call, or even better, meet up face-to-face. You have to ask if your business traditions are generating the results you want.
  3. Reading Annoying Things. I have nearly a dozen newspaper and magazine subscriptions, … But after detoxing for a month, I was able to reflect on which publications actually refreshed me — and which felt like a duty. I'm weeding out and paring down to literary essentials. What subscriptions can you get rid of?
  4. Work That's Not Worth It. Early in my career, I was thrilled to win a five-year, quarter-million dollar contract. That is, until the reality set in that it was a government contract, filled with ridiculous reporting mechanisms, low reimbursement rates and administrative complexities that sucked the joy and profit out of the work. …These days, I'm eschewing any engagement, public or private, that looks like more trouble than it's worth.
  5. Making Things More Complicated Than They Should Be. … As Eric Ries points out in his new book The Lean Startup , developing the best code or building the best product in the world is meaningless if your customers don't end up wanting it. Instead, test early and often to ensure you're not wasting your time. What ideas should you test before you've gone too far?
Eliminating these five activities is likely to save me hundreds of hours next year — time I can spend expanding my business and doing things that matter. What are you going to stop doing? And how are you going to leverage all that extra time?
Dorie ClarkDorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Next?: The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). You can follow her on Twitter at @dorieclark.
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