Quint's Column: Leaders, it’s time to make your “to-don’t” list

  • June 24, 2019
  • /   Quint Studer
  • /   quint-studer,training-development
To-Don't List
Everybody loves a to-do list. It gets us focused and creates a sense of accomplishment. And it’s true that few things are more satisfying than checking off an item (or two or three) at the end of the workday. Here’s the problem though: How often do we stop to think about whether we should be doing the things we’re doing in the first place?
I’m not trying to make an argument for doing less. I like being productive. But very often I have noticed that we can be so busy achieving and checking off tasks that we forget to take a step back and determine if our “to-dos” really make sense for us. Are they moving us forward? Are they fulfilling us? Or are they just eating up our valuable (and very limited) time and energy?
Maybe instead of focusing on what we should do, we should focus on things to stop doing.  

I didn’t originate the idea of a “to-don’t” list. I read an article that featured a few to-don’ts from Wharton professor, TED speaker, and podcast host Adam Grant. And it inspired me to come up with my own list of things leaders sometimes mindlessly do that eat up our time and keep us from doing our best work. 
Take a look at this list and see how many of these apply to you. Feel free to make your own to-don’t list and keep it nearby as a gentle reminder to be mindful of how you spend your time.
Stop multitasking. The research is clear: Trying to do two things at once divides our attention and keeps us from doing either task well.
Stop avoiding low performers. Deal with them. No one enjoys having the difficult conversations this requires, but letting low performers slide actively harms productivity and culture—and it drives high performers away.
Stop making excuses (and accepting them). Excuses hurt credibility and keep people from fixing the problems driving them to make the excuses. Don’t make them and don’t accept them from others: As a leader, it’s your job to help people grow into their best selves.

Stop trying to achieve too many goals at once. We have limited time and focus. Trying to do too many things at once means we can’t give each thing the attention and energy it deserves. Pick two or three things and do them well.
Stop keeping it all in your head. Put in place systems and processes so others can replicate your tasks. Then success won’t depend on you.
Stop refusing to delegate. As discussed last week, delegating may not be easy but it frees leaders up to work on the business instead of in the business. It also lets others in the organization develop and grow.
Stop overpromising. Be real about what you can do. Overpromising only lets people down and gives you the reputation of being unreliable.

Stop gossiping at the office. This wastes time and sends the wrong signal to others. Plus, it’s unprofessional and hurtful.
Stop talking about yourself and be interested in others. I recently did a series on this subject. (Click here, here, and here.) It’s always better to be interested, not interesting. Among other benefits, it paves the way to authentic connections and helps build strong relationships.
Stop immediately reacting to things. If it’s upsetting, give yourself 24 hours before you speak about it. This will give you the chance to make sure your response is in line with your values. 
Stop letting your ego lead the way. The leader’s job is not to always be right. It’s to bring out the best in others. Get focused on continuous learning and growth and get intentional about leading with humility.
Stop taking feedback personally. Being self-aware and coachable are the two most important qualities a leader can have. Both require openness to feedback. Ask for feedback, and when you get it, be grateful. Strive to improve. 
Stop generalizing (and accepting generalities). When people say things like “everybody thinks” and “everybody says,” they are building a case for their position (usually a negative one). Don’t do this and don’t let others do it either. Drill down to specifics. Be a precise communicator.
Stop focusing on what’s wrong. While it’s human nature to focus on the negative, it only depletes people. Learn to lead from a place of “what’s right.” This is how you create a positive culture, and positive cultures are productive, creative, engaged cultures.
Stop getting mired in details. This prevents you from doing deep work, which is where problems get solved. Learn to budget your time in a way that allows for meaningful progress.
Stop waiting for things to calm down before you act. They never will. Accept chaos as the norm and learn to be an adaptive-style leader.
Stop avoiding discomfort. Ask the tough questions. Self-disrupt relentlessly. Seek to be unsettled. Remember, discomfort is neither good nor bad. It’s a byproduct of change.
Stop taking people for granted. There is no substitute for positive recognition. You can’t reward and recognize or say thank you too much. This is the fastest way to shift your culture.
Stop ruling by fear. Never snap at, berate, belittle, or disrespect employees. Not only is it terrible for morale, it makes people feel too unsafe to tell the truth. Without psychological safety, you will never be a high-performing organization.
Stop rescuing employees. This is park ranger leadership, and it sets the expectation that you will swoop in and fix every problem that arises. Insist that people find their own solutions. This encourages ownership and leads to a more innovative and resilient organization. 
Of course, you can’t do (or stop doing) all of these things at once. Take a few at a time and work on them. You will find that when you start breaking your bad leadership habits one by one, you’ll free up a lot of time and energy to do more meaningful work. That can change your business, your relationships, and your life.

What are some other things you should stop doing?

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