If you looked at the title of this post for more than .5 seconds, then you might be thinking to yourself “wait a minute. I thought you said at the beginning of this month that you hated the ‘no goal’ philosophy.” If that thought entered your head, you would be correct. I absolutely despise the ‘no goal’ philosophy. I despise it like I despise waiting in long airport security lines with my shoes in one hand and holding up my pants with the other… like I despise sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway in the middle of summer dripping and it’s only 7:45am… like I despise abusive bosses, nasty coworkers and poor behaving relatives. So what am I talking about with this post? I’m talking about setting “no” goals, not “no goals.” In other words, what are you going to stop doing this year and / or say “no” to in order to achieve what you have set out to achieve?

Managing the noise

One of the most common themes I’ve heard over the last several years is the increase in all of the “noise” that surrounds us every day. From new initiatives and evolving strategies to increased workloads, the noise for all of us is intense. Simply put, if you are going to achieve the new goals you added to your plate, you have no choice but to remove something else (unless, of course, you have plenty of free time, but my guess is that your plate overfloweth).

What to say “No” to

As you are thinking about what you should say “no” to, consider the following thought-starter categories. They have helped me (and many of my clients) a time or two.

  • Not Part of Your Role / Responsibilities – There is nothing easier than to say “yes” when asked to do something. However, if you took an inventory of what’s on your plate, do you have things you are doing that are not part of your role or responsibilities? If so, consider removing some or all from your plate. For example, maybe you are doing one of your direct report’s jobs for him or her. Or perhaps you’ve gotten sucked into to doing your boss’ job for him / her. Either way, it’s all about knowing what is your stuff and what isn’t.
  • Less Than Your Hourly Rate – A slight offshoot of the “role / responsibilities” category, this category is about asking yourself the following question every time something is tossed your way “Given I make X per hour, should I be the one doing this?” My favorite example comes from a CEO and business owner several years ago. As he described to me all he did in a given week, my ears perked up when he described his Friday routine. Turns out he was driving to Costco, buying candy bars and stocking the vending machine. That is one expensive vending machine attendant that company has employed, let me tell ya.
  • Inconsistent with Your Brand – Perhaps you could argue that the thing(s) you are doing are within your job and you are adequately paid to be doing them, but are they consistent with the brand you are trying to promote? In other words, are you doing things that may point you down the wrong direction of your career because you are being labeled as the person that does that? PowerPoint is my version of this evil trap. I am pretty good at PowerPoint (I was once called a “PowerPoint princess” but that is another story). And while it might be necessary, I have found that when I have worked on teams, I would quickly become the PowerPoint “guy.” Accurate, but not how I wanted to be known. I had to reposition myself and so I would either not take on the role of driving PowerPoint or I would offer to do it as the lead presenter. How ‘bout you? Are you doing something that is branding you inaccurately?
  • Things Slowly Killing You – Are you doing things that are killing you? Dramatic I know, but are you? Are you trying to squeeze in extra work in a day by sacrificing your exercise or your sleep (less than 7 hours consistently is dangerous)? Are you eating poorly in an effort to save more time? Are you smoking or drinking daily in an effort to manage stress or simply to relax? You’re not gonna get anywhere dead… unless of course, you become a workplace zombie.

Setting Your “No” Goal(s)

Hopefully you are feeling sufficiently uncomfortable (I’m all about uncomfortable) and ready to set your “no” goal(s). Remember, you don’t need to say “no” to everything I laid out above. Just pick one. Once you’ve got it, the challenge then is getting enough courage to do it. One final thought, great leaders set “no” goals. They are clear on what isn’t a good use of their time and they either delegate the activity, outsource the activity (as a geeky consultant friend of mine once told me… he “outsources” his lawn), or they flat out say “no” (for help saying “no”, here you go).

Get your “no” goals in hand and get started clearing your plate. You’re gonna need the space.

As Willy Wonka so eloquently put it, there is “so much time and so little to see. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” What a poet…