The Street Smart Law Blog

Writing 2
  • Frederick L Shelton

How an Executive with (minor) Attention Deficit Disorder Gets Things Done

I'm certain if I'd been born one generation later, I would have been diagnosed with ADD. I'm as easily distracted as they come.

"Squirrels!" is the running joke at work because during training and meetings, I'm prone to wander off into the world of personal anecdotes etc. and someone will inevitably yell out "Squirrels!" to remind me I'm like a dog who was just distracted by a squirrel that ran by.

Fine. At least I'm self-aware.

I've run and managed businesses for over 25 years now. Ive seen every type of organizer, software and time management system imaginable.

I've used several with zero luck, some with a bit of luck and currently use the basics with a great deal of effectiveness.

A good CRM (customer relationship management) program is worth its weight in gold. So is Outlook. The problem is that like many people in upper management, I have a lot of stuff to do. My Outlook opens 5 - 20 new items the moment I log in, and it throws more at me throughout the day.

I used to have "To Do" lists that were 50+ items long. I would sort, circle, prioritize, grade by letters and so on, in order to make sure I got to the most important items first. But guess what? The "Squirrel Factor" came into play.

I got distracted. Stuff fell through the cracks. Important stuff. Occasionally THE most important stuff would go neglected because somehow, the other items managed to work their way into my schedule.

Sound familiar?

If so, then I recommend the Three Item To Do List. I might have a daunting list of tasks that need to be done on a given day or during a given week but I go through them and pick out three. Only three. The three "Bet the Company" priority level items, are the only ones that go on my post it note. By limiting the list to three, I eliminate The Squirrel Factor.

I might take a call, reply to an email or do the other things that are unavoidable during a business day but nothing else gets done until those three action items are completed.

The result? I usually end up completing the most important tasks on my desk by lunchtime or at least by COB that day. If it's a project that requires starts and stops, a new list is developed and that item stays on the list every day until completion.

If you're the head of a SMB or a high-end professional, there are only a few things you do that actually make you money. One of them usually involves business development activities. Yet how often do we keep ourselves busy with minutia?

It's easy to fool ourselves into believing that "busy" means "productive". It doesn't. I've seen and managed more people than I could count, who were always busy and never made real money.

Pick three items. The items that are most critical to your success right now. Do nothing else until that are done. If two get done and one carries over for days, weeks or longer, then simply add two more at a time.

When the mind sees only three items, there is greater focus and the chance of getting distracted, decreases dramatically. No squirrels!

Yet another iteration of The Street Smart Rule of 3.