Make the List and Stick to it

By | July 26, 2019

Every few weeks I am approached by someone on LinkedIn on how to go about starting the business or improving the way they work etc. To be honest I won’t claim to be an expert in this field (by any measure) but the fact that people ask me these question tells me that I must be doing alright. Before writing this blog I intended to delve deep into strategic and tactical planning, managing money, hiring, planning with the exit in mind etc. But after having some time to really think about it I figured the best advice is usually the simplest and easiest to follow.

Often the very first step of doing any task is where people get stuck. The boundary between thinking about the task and actually getting down to doing it.

It could be the story on your Scrum board or the Company Forecast Slide deck. Each of them highlight the challenge you want to solve and I’ve seen people over and over again waste energy and time trying to plan every last detail and actually never start the Project. Sometimes if you have confidence that you have done enough due diligence you should just get started with the work. Sure there might be unforeseen problems but they will the exception not the rule and 9/10 times this approach will see you actually accomplish things. Personally this is still where I struggle even now, here are some of the problems I encounter:-

  • Getting distracted by seemingly high priority tasks of low value.
  • Second guessing my approach.
  • Fixating on a task which causes me to block progress on all subsequent items till the blocker is resolved
  • Procrastinating on difficult tasks
  • Enjoying talking in the meetings and arguing points that do not need to be argued
  • Few people end up doing most of the work due to ownership bias (you trust only few people with really important things)

The above issues significantly affect my output and as a result I ended up having to design a system which would help me get things done. One of my biggest weakness turned out to be a real strength in this case. My OCD of not being able to ignore a task once I’ve added it to the list. It helped me crystalize my actions. Let’s look at a simple example for the sake of clarity.

One of my big goals for this year was to be able to reduce my cloud costs. With applications spread over AWS and Azure involving a number of different services across both vendors the challenge seemed daunting initially. So the first step was simply to break it down to smaller tasks. One post-it just had two items in it.

  • Find out what it costs me right now to run a database in Azure
  • Find out if I really needed the database in Azure By breaking down a large task into such smaller pieces and holding yourself accountable to a piece of paper you are essentially like a child looking down at its feet while taking steps. Achieving one small step after another. Before you know it when you look up, you’re on the other side of the room. I cannot stress enough the value of execution (even bad execution) as it will always provide a result or a learning opportunity. Here is a very basic list of things a person might want to achieve this year when starting his company

Here is a more focused list of what he wants to achieve this week.

Naturally the intention is not to say this is how to start a company but to show that the second list isn’t as daunting as the first one. While I can imagine some of you thinking this advice is very basic, so far this year through my lists I have:-

  • Quit Smoking
  • Done 10 hours of volunteer work
  • Cut cloud costs by 50%
  • Read 15 Non Fiction Books
  • Took my first real vacation in years. ( didn’t make any lists of the vacation however J )

If you have not read “The Power of habit” by Charles Duhigg I strongly recommend it to understand the cumulative effect of seemingly minor changes and a key Reason for me being able to Quit Smoking.





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