TO DO – Eat that frog and other things

One of the biggest challenges a good Managing Director has is finding the time to do everything.

It’s certainly something I wrestle with.  And for many years I couldn’t understand why.  But now I think I’ve evolved a reasonably efficient and effective approach.  And I share it with readers in the hope it helps you refine your own working methods.

My first challenge was that I never seemed to get to the bottom of my TO DO list.  I got to be a Managing Director because I’m very efficient and very focused I said to myself.  I prioritise well (I think) and yet I never seem to get everything done.  Which I found frustrating.  And that frustration continued until I had one of those blinding revelation moments.  I realised that there would be an even bigger problem if I DID get to the bottom of my TO DO list.

After all the real job of the Managing Director is to be out and about looking for opportunities – it’s a poor Managing Director that focuses on completing their list.  Implicitly reacting rather than reaching out for opportunities.

Top tip

Don’t worry about not completing your TO DO  list.  As a Managing Director your job is to keep identifying opportunities. The TO DO list is simply a mechanism for capturing all your ideas of things you’d like to do.

Which leads neatly to the next point.  What goes onto your TO DO list.  For me the answer is everything.  Anything I agree to do, and anything I decide I’d like to do gets captured there.  But note that getting onto the list no longer means I’m going to do it.  Simply that I’d like to, and if I had infinite time I would.  But I don’t.  I’m a human with a human life span.  So I probably won’t get to do most of the things on my list.

So why put them on the list?  Two simple answers.  Firstly to destress me.  To save me trying to remember all my brilliant ideas.  When I add an item to my TO DO list I know it won’t be forgotten so I no longer need to try to remember it. Quite a relief for a busy Managing Director!  It may never get done, but if it’s important it will – I won’t forget.  Which fits neatly with the second DE stressor.  By putting an item on my TO DO list I can relax knowing that I will be consciously prioritising and deciding the most important thing to do next. A structured and logical approach to managing my workload.

Top tip

Use a TO DO list to reduce stress.  By enabling you to dump things out of your mind knowing that your working methods mean that they won’t be forgotten and that you have a means to consciously prioritise the most important.

OK, but surely that just leads to a massive TO DO list, I hear you challenge me next. And that is potentially true so I’ve evolved various mechanisms to deal with that too. One is simple. I have multiple lists. One is my main list. And I have a number of others into which I move items regularly.

Most lists are for a variety of classes of long-term important not urgent stuff. And I make appointments with myself in my diary to do them – sometimes just an hour or two and sometimes I block out whole weeks to do the long-term important, non-urgent strategic thinking.

One list is for ‘distractions’ – things I want to do but which I can’t logically justify the time to do. Having such a list is, I find really useful, as it enables me to be honest with myself that these are things I can’t really justify doing even though I want to. And sometimes I do things on this list, even though I know they are distractions, just because I want to and because I can. And I do them when I feel I have the time to play a little. I know that logically I shouldn’t but I’m human and I deserve the freedom to go off on tangents occasionally. And strangely those tangents sometimes end up taking me down commercially interesting routes.

And finally I regularly sort my main list such that the most important stuff to get done is at the top. While I’m doing that, I move the non-urgent important stuff into the ‘strategic’ lists. And then I discipline myself to work down the list logically as much as I can. And I use the word discipline because it’s very tempting to put off until later the things I don’t enjoy however valuable they are.

Top tip

Use multiple lists.  Sort your main list into priority order and do the most important things first however much you’d rather not.  Use strategic lists for important non urgent things and plan time in your diary for them.  And be honest with yourself by using a ‘distractions’ list for things you can’t really justify doing – but which you might just do if you consciously choose to ‘play a while’.

Which brings me to a ‘nice’ metaphor to reinforce, to busy Managing Directors that read this blog, this need to focus on the most important things first, however much you don’t want to. Mark Twain said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

And if you want to read more about the metaphor of eating frogs (doing the big difficult things first) then click here for a more detailed article and here for a book to read.

Good luck and happy eating!

Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

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