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Stop the busywork #1: 7 strategies to do more Great Work

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“Do more Great Work!” I say, full of vim and vigor and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of someone with a book about to be published.

“Yeah yeah,” you say. “Don’t you know how busy I am, how many emails I have to get through, how many meetings I have to attend?”

Well yes, I do. Or at least, I can guess. I saw a recent report that said that in Intel people spend an average of 20 hours a week ON EMAIL ALONE!


So if you’re looking for something practical tips, here we go. One page, seven tactics.

(It’s the press release from my publisher, so if you want to forward it on to a powerful journalist who wants to feature me, so much the better.)

Oh – I’d offer up one twist on #1. Define just one thing that you really  will do. And have the other two as gravy, bonus tasks that if you get to them you’ll be happy and if you don’t you won’t beat yourself up about it.

[OK – I tried long and hard to insert the pdf, and failed dismally. Here’s the press release in all its glory]

“Seven Ways to Stop the Busywork” from Michael Bungay Stanier,
author of Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork, and Start the Work that Matters

Contact: Oleg Lyubner; 212-614-7768;

1. Define three things

It’s not a measure of success to check off forty-seven “to-dos” in a day if you haven’t actually accomplished what matters most. Define the three high-impact actions you want to take each day, and list them as “all-day tasks” on your calendar so you remember what they are.

2. Know who matters

The brutal truth is that if everyone else is happy, then you’re likely not doing Great Work. Great Work involves making choices, so you need to be very clear about who you want to say “Yes” to—and who matters less. Define your A-list (three people) and your B-list (five people) of who matters. You can consider saying “No” (or at the very least a “slow yes”) to anyone not on these lists. As an added tip here—because it’s always tough to disappoint people—frame any feedback you might get as being professional not personal.

3. Say Yes . . . Slowly

It’s difficult to say “No” in most organizations—but until you know how to say “No” to some of your Good Work it will be difficult to say “Yes” to more Great Work. So master the art of saying “Yes” slowly. Rather than making it your default response, ask at least three questions before you make a decision.

4. Time your meetings

We all know that meetings can be an enormous waste of time and energy. Marketing guru Seth Godin famously doesn’t do meetings. But for those of us who have to, make how much time they’re taking obvious. Google projects a four-foot-high clock onto a wall in their meetings—and people know exactly how long they’ve got to make their point.

5. Do a McKinsey

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company are famous for weeding out the bottom 10 percent of performers in their organization every year. This “up or out” philosophy is harsh—but effective. Apply the same approach to your meetings. Figure out the most ineffective meetings you’re asked to attend—and stop attending them (Ask to be sent a list of action items instead).

6. Control the Blackberry

Our culture of relentless connectedness disrupts our focus and our ability to do Great Work. Find systems or structures to manage the relentless flow of e-mail—because answering 150 e-mails a day is no one’s definition of Great Work.

7. Change places

When you sit down at your desk at the start of the day and crank up your computer, you set your body and brain into Good Work mode: be productive and efficient. Great Work requires a different type of thinking. Find somewhere else to do your Great Work—another place in your office, an empty meeting room, the cafeteria, a coffee shop down the road. Changing the context will change the way you work.

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