To produce results, do less stuff

Welcome to the Year of the Dragon, one of the most revered in the Chinese new year calendar. Auspicious for innovation, the Dragon signifies action, speed, progress, and unpredictability. With such energy turbocharging 2012, wise executives will resist what leadership expert John Kotter calls false urgency. “This can mean making the difficult decision to stop activities that don’t have enough urgency behind them, as Google’s Larry Page did back in November, dropping more than 25 projects that weren’t popular enough as part of an effort to refocus the company and increase its speed and execution,” Kotter says. “Too often, people mistake being busy with being urgent.” Innovation expert Vijay Govindarajan says destruction is just as important as creation, but many executives fail to stop things – “underperforming products and services, obsolete policies and practices, outdated assumptions and mindsets” – that sabotage future growth. “Organisational memory is particularly powerful in companies that tend to promote from within … and (have) long track records of success,” Govindarajan says. “Such deeply rooted memory may be great for preservation, but if it is not tamed sufficiently, it gets in the way of creation.” For individual executives, the best approach in the Year of the Dragon may be to trim the to-do list and focus on what’s genuinely needed to get things done. Software entrepreneur, Jason Fried, pilloried “busywork” in his bestseller Rework. Just as full employment isn’t necessarily good for the economy, full capacity isn’t always great for your mind. “When I meet with ambitious young entrepreneurs, I am invariably asked, ‘How can I get more done in fewer hours? What can I do to jump-start my creativity? How can I keep my edge?’,” Fried says. “Here are the three answers I can offer: 1. You can’t. 2. Stop trying so hard—if it feels like work, something’s wrong. 3. Do less stuff.”

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