Let Things Slough Off (Day 4 of 30 Days of Getting Results)

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“Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding on to.” – Anonymous

Your Outcome: Learn how to let things go with skill through “fierce focus”.

By letting things “slough off”, you improve your ability to focus on what counts and you make room for YOUR best results.

Welcome to day 4 of 30 Days of Getting Results.

In day 3, we looked at using three stories to drive your day.

Today we look at letting things slough off.  Letting things slough off simply means either letting things go from your plate either by design or as a natural process of focusing on higher priorities.

This is the key to starting each day with a fresh start.

Don’t Get Bogged Down

If you don’t let things slough off, the problem is you weigh yourself down.  This is the problem of big “To Do” lists, which either turn into lists of things that never get done, or you spend all your time managing your list of things to do, but never getting anything done.

If you’re a slave to your “To Do” list, or if you fear the sheer magnitude of its size, it’s not working for you!

Even if you could do it all, you can’t do it all at once.  You only have so much time and energy in the day.

If there’s one take away from all this remember that it’s the achievements under your belt AND the journey that you look back on.

3 Keys to Letting Things Slough Off

There are three keys to letting things slough off with skill:

1. Create a new “To Do” list each day (your “Daily To Do List”)

Start with a fresh “To Do” list each day.  These are your Daily Outcomes.

A simple way to do this is use a new piece of paper and write your 3 outcomes or 3 Wins at the top.

Rather than automatically add everything from the day before, only carry over what you think is an absolute priority for today – and let the rest go.

The key here is to focus on what’s valuable now from today’s vantage point, checking against what you want to accomplish for the overall week.

Here is a tip on naming conventions for your “Daily To Do” list:

If you are using a digital system, rather than paper, then here are two ways I like to use for naming my “Daily To Do” list:

  • “Today”:   Simply name your To Do list, Today.   For example, if you are using email, you can send yourself an email and simply name the subject line, Today.  This is my fastest, simplest approach.  In fact, sending myself an email named Today gives me one place to look throughout the day, for all my important things.   At the top, I have my 3 Wins, next I list my meetings and appointments, next I list my To Dos, and lastly, I have a list of any reminders.   This “Today at a Glance” orients me and gives me a really clear picture of what’s important, what’s non-negotiable, and what my pressing demands are on my time.  I can see the forest for the trees, and it’s always at my fingertips.
  • Today’s date:  You can use today’s date.  If you want to be able to flip back through your To Do lists by date, then then simply create a new file and name it with today’s date.  For example,  for Monday, January 4th, 2021, I would simply name it: 2021-01-04.    I use this approach so that I can sort it easily and flip back through my previous days whenever I want.   This can be good input for Friday Reflection.

2. Create a new “To Do” list, each week (your “Weekly To Do List”)

This is how you implement the Monday Vision practice from the Agile Results productivity system.

Start with a fresh “To Do” list each week.  These are your weekly outcomes.  Identify the three results that you really want for your week and write those down.

Simply grab a new piece of paper each week and write down your three main outcomes or 3 Wins for the Week.

Note that as part of this process, I like to scan my calendar, and take note of any key meetings or events that will take preparation.

I don’t want to be surprised by opening my calendar that day, and finding out I should have prepared a head of time.

This is like taking the balcony view for the week.   I also include any key reminders and my longer list of To Dos that are on my mind.

But always bubble up your 3 Wins or 3 outcomes to the top of your list.

Your 3 Wins for the Week will be your North Star to guide you throughout the week and pull you forward.

Remember these are your 1-sentence headlines or highlights for the week that you want to achieve.

Here is a tip on naming conventions for your “Weekly To Do” list…

If you are using a digital system, rather than paper, then here are two ways I like to use for naming my “Weekly To Do” list:

  • This Week:  Each Monday (or Sunday night, if you prep ahead, like I do), create your new To List and name it This Week.  A simple way is to use email and simply send yourself an email named “This Week”.
  • Monday’s date:  If you want to create a new file and name it the current date.  For example, Monday, January 11, 2021 would be: 2021-01-11.  This let’s you scroll back through your weekly lists of outcomes. And this can help you remember the value of your achievements and appreciate what you’ve done, when you review.

3. Focus on flowing value.

The real key to letting things slough off is focusing on flowing value.  Instead of focusing on your list of things to do or just getting things done, focus on flowing value.  Focus on your most extreme value and let the rest go.

Value is in the eye of the beholder.  It could be value to you, or to your family, or to your team, or to your company.

Simply by thinking in terms of your “wins” each day, each week, etc. you shine the light on your most important victories.

One way to always get back on track is to ask, “What is your next best thing to do?”

Another question to ask is, “What do you want to accomplish?”, or “What do you want to achieve?”

The pattern here is to shift your focus to what’s important now based on what you want to accomplish.

The other thing to remember is that if you let something go and it truly is vital it will continue to resurface.

You can then deal with it when it makes the most sense.

Set Up Boundaries in Time and Quantity

Setting up boundaries is another key to letting things slough off with skill:

1. Set a limit in terms of quantity.

For example, can you prioritize your top three things? … your top 5? etc.  Instead of making a laundry list, can you make your ‘short list”?

The Rule of 3 is your friend for setting limits whenever you are overwhelmed by quantity and you have to let things go.

If you’re a blogger, you might decide that your post will be no longer than two paragraphs or a list of 10 items.

2. Set a limit in terms of time.

You can set limits in terms of time.  For example, you can decide up front that you’ll spend no more than 20 minutes on that.

Or you might decide that after a week, it’s just diminishing returns.

You might give yourself a maximum of spending 30 minutes a day doing email.

In XP development, there is a practice of a “40 Hour Work Week.”   if you’re a blogger, you might decide that you’ll spend no longer than 20 minutes writing your best material and sharing your best insights … anything after that sloughs off!

This means brutally focusing on spending more time on what you value, and letting the rest go.

You might thing of it as either “fierce focus” or “driving with clarity.”

Remember that you “get what you focus on” so spend more time on what you want, not what you don’t. :)

Examples of Boundaries in Time and Quantity

Boundaries in terms of time and quantity will help keep your sanity and help you surf your way through producing great results.

When I first joined Microsoft, one of my colleagues said that their boundary is “dinner on the table at 5:30” and that’s how they achieved work-life balance.

When I later joined another group in Microsoft, a colleague told me that their boundary is they “take weekends off.”

They’ll work their fingers to the bone all week, but when the weekend comes it’s their time to recharge.

When I worked at Tiffany & Company, one of our directors had an interesting boundary – Tuesday nights is date night with his wife.  Another one of the managers at Tiffany & Company had an interesting buffer he used – “Don’t spend $20 on a $5 problem.”

In other words, if the problem is only worth 10 minutes of your time, don’t spend more than that.  For me, using The Rule of 3 to take away three actionable insights from all the books I go through has both saved me a lot of time and generated a lot of value.

Additional Considerations for Letting Go with Skill

Here are some additional points to ponder that will help you let things go with skill:

  • Time Changes What’s Important.  “To Do” lists get stale.  Backlogs get stale.  Laundry lists get stale.  Everything gets stale.  You can spend all your time re-arranging stale things, or you can spend just enough time bubbling up what’s important and taking action on it.
  • Fresh Starts.  By creating new “To Do” lists each day and each week instead of one massive one, you give yourself a fresh start.  You carry the most important things forward.
  • Travel light. Don’t be a beast of burden.  If you bite off what you can chew, you can actually get it done.  This helps you travel light each day and each week.  Rather than start off with an over-loaded pack of things you may never need, you start off with a simple vision and stories of your most important results.
  • Spend more time doing over “paper shuffling” One of the worst things you can do is continuously reshuffle the things you have to do instead of just do them.   For all the things that you keep reshuffling but not actually doing, admit it.  Put them into a “parking lot” or “shelve” them for a later point when you will actually work on them.  Don’t keep them in your face, and don’t let them get in the way of your results.  Most of all, don’t die the “death of a thousand paper cuts.”  (If you’ve never heard this term before, paper shuffling is one way to die the death of a thousand paper cuts.”)
  • Value Delivered Over Backlog Burndown.  Rather than simply burn through your laundry lists of tasks, do the quick reality check and ask whether the task is still important.  More importantly, step back and ask the simple question, if you completed it, “Does it matter?”   Does it connect back to the outcomes that you care about now or in the future, or was it simply a good idea that’s now past its prime or past its time?  In other words, don’t look at your big task lists or backlogs as what drives you.  They are simply input.  Draw from them, but focus on delivering value, not simply blind execution of things that were important at some point, but now are no longer, “your next best thing to do.”
  • It’s a mindset thing. A large part of letting things go with skill is about shifting your mindset.  It’s about thinking in terms of value delivered over backlog burndown.  it’s about asking questions like, “What’s the next best thing for me to do?” or “What do I want to accomplish?”  It’s about focusing on value and your wins and what you got done, over focusing on what you didn’t get done.

Today’s Assignment

  1. Write down three outcomes for today.  This is re-enforcing your daily outcomes AND practicing letting things slough off with skill.
  2. Write down your three outcomes for the week.  Consider the remaining time and energy you have for the rest of the week, where can you get the most bang for the buck?   What would Three Wins for the Week look and feel like?
  3. Set one simple limit on something that’s been wearing you down.  Set either a time limit or a quantity limit.

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