The to do list and the not to do list
Good to Great
I have always loved to do lists. They have always made my life easier: I know everything I have to get done in a specific time period, I won’t forget anything and at all times, I know what my next step or my next task is going to be.
Also, crossing off things from my to do list has always been satisfying to me. So satisfying, that sometimes I would add the to do item to my list even after I’ve already completed it – just to get the satisfaction of crossing it off. Looking at a long, fully completed to do list makes me feel like I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish and I can be happy with myself. If in the other hand I don’t get done all the things I set out to get done in the timeframe either me or someone else set, I feel disappointed and can’t rest or relax before everything is done.
I also have talked about the benefits of to do lists with my friends and through various channels online with anyone who would want to discuss the subject. I always recommend to do lists as a time management, stress relief and productivity improvement method. I’m pretty sure I would be completely lost without the simple idea of a to do list.
Keeping all that in mind, I came across a very interesting concept while reading Jim Collins’s book called Good to Great. That concept is, in Collins’s words, “a stop doing list” (Collins 2001).
Before I can go into more details about that concept, I’ll have to explain a few other things Collins discusses in his book Good to Great. The book has been written after a study Collins did with his team comparing great companies to good companies, trying to figure out, how good companies can become great companies.
According to Collins, a company can become great if it (among other principles) only does business that is aligned with the company’s hedgehog concept. A hedgehog concept includes three circles and is created where those three meet. A hedgehog concept is a simple idea with a deep understanding of the topics of these three circles. (Collins 2001, 95-96)
The first circle is called passion. To become a great company, its employees, managers and owners need to know what they are truly and deeply passionate about. The second one is called economic engine. The company needs to know what drives their economic engine and what is the optimal way to generate profits for them. Lastly, the third circle is called what you can be the best in the world at. According to Collins, it is impossible to create a great company, if you don’t only do things you can be the best in the world at. (Collins 2001, 96-97, 100, 104-105, 109)
Then, in the middle of all of these circles, where they collide, is the hedgehog concept. Once this is found through rigorous, honest and deep understanding of you and your business, it is easy to make business related decisions. It is easy to create the to do list with actionable steps to move forward towards achieving your goals and making your company great. After that it is also easy to see, what you shouldn’t do. (Collins 2001, 98, 110-111)
And that brings us back to the concept of the not to do list or stop doing list. Through his studies of the great companies and the good companies, Collins found out that the great companies use the not to do list just as much as they use the to do list. (Collins 2001, 139)
According to Collins, it is not enough to be doing the right things. It is not enough to allocate more resources to the right things. A great company will eliminate all processes that are not aligned with its hedgehog concept. A great company will say no to great opportunities, if they are not aligned with its hedgehog concept. Collins says that “the fact that something is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ is irrelevant if it doesn’t fit within the three circles”. (Collins 2001, 136, 140-141)
This makes sense to me. I think that it would be smart to focus all your energy to the one thing or the few things you and your company are passionate about, can be the best in the world at and can generate optimal profits from. And while this is important for the business aspect of being an entrepreneur, I thought that the stop doing list could also have another lesson for us as entrepreneurs.
Everyone is so busy in today’s technology-filled world. Not only entrepreneurs, but everyone. But us entrepreneurs, we are extremely busy balancing between our personal life and our business life. Al thought let’s face it, there is no clear separation between the two: as an entrepreneur you are your business and it is impossible for you to detach yourself from your business completely.
I think we should all create a stop doing list or a not to do list. We should write down all the things that we are doing because they are safe and familiar but still not relevant to our goal in life. We should eliminate all the things that we are not passionate about and that we can’t be the best in the world at. We should allocate all our resources towards the goal we have set for ourselves.
I will now finish this essay and start writing my not to do list. Will you write yours?
Collins, J. 2001. Good to Great. Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t. 1st edition. The United States of America.