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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • June 23, 2012
  • minute read

6 Ways to Fix Your Company’s Frozen To Do List 

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A version of this article first appeared in Inc.com

I’m sure you’ve experienced it often – you’re working on your computer, and you notice that everything has slowed to a crawl. 

You hit a key and wait for your typing to appear onscreen, or you try to save a file and watch, frustrated, as a swirling beach ball (or a frozen hourglass) stares back at you while some memory-sucking program churns away in the background.

When that happens, frustrating as it is, fixing it is usually pretty straightforward: pull up a list of running programs, see which one is consuming the background RAM, shut the offending program down and reboot. Problem solved.

Running a business can often feel just as frustrating – you make what seems to be a great decision, but weeks later it still hasn’t been effectively executed; or you have an exciting new idea, but then struggle to get it implemented.

Worst of all, you can’t put your finger on quite why implementation and execution have slowed – all you know is that you’re looking at a growing number of organizational ‘spinning beach balls’. Your business has hit the organizational equivalent of computer overload.

Sound familiar? The good news is that once you realize what’s happening, diagnosing (and fixing) this type of malaise isn’t actually that difficult:

1. Make an inventory 

Firing up a list of running processes on your misfiring computer is a relatively simple – and logical – thing to do.

It’s a not-so-obvious, but equally important first step in ‘unfreezing’ your organization: take a blank sheet of paper and pen, sit down for however long it takes (usually around 30 minutes) and list out every major issue that has got your conscious and sub-conscious attention.

Think of this as a brain dump of everything that’s running in your ‘organizational RAM’: a complete list of all the people, places, products or processes that are bothering you, intriguing you, or otherwise occupying your mental bandwidth.

2. Identify the issue that’s draining your RAM

Chances are at least one of the issues on your inventory will clearly stand out as using up more of your psychic RAM than the others: maybe a hiring (or dehiring) decision you’ve been putting off, a warehouse process that’s really bugging you, or a reporting process that you know needs radically overhauled.

 In terms of what has been causing your organizational ‘freeze’, this is the most likely candidate – fixing it will unblock the company’s ability to execute.

3. Don’t wait for the perfect time

Here’s where I see most business leaders stumble: almost always, the reason why one issue clogs up the ability of the organization to function effectively is that someone (that would be you) is waiting for the perfect time to tackle the issue – “I shouldn’t make that VP Sales hiring decision until the Q3 revenue numbers are in”; “I musn’t rearrange the warehouse layout while we’re still considering a second shift”; “I can’t change the weekly operations meeting format with a new GM just arrived on the job”.

Here’s the truth: there’ll never be a perfect time. If one issue is clogging up your organization’s overall ability to execute, the time to fix it is now, irrespective of any other considerations.

4. Don’t become fixated on the final outcome

Sometimes, envisaging the totality of a decision is paralyzing: “I know I need a new VP Sales, but gosh, think of the implications for the sales team”; “If we rearrange the warehouse, what does that mean for our delivery scheduling and the size of our fleet?”; “To change the ops meeting the way I want means also redoing the job specs for the folks involved.

Of course, these are all important considerations, and you should think them through, but once you have done so, it’s vital not to get hung up on the implications, particularly if the implications are wide-ranging. Instead –

5. Identify the next action

As my friend (and productivity guru) David Allen says “The only thing you can ever actually do is the next action”.

You can only fix anything by taking a series of discrete, individual steps. What’s the next single action requited to fix your RAM-sucking issue? Setting a date for a hiring panel? Making a phone call to a builder to take down a wall in the warehouse? Drafting a memo to be sent out?

Identify the single next action – as granular as you can make it – and do that. 

6. Repeat until done

Finally, repeat steps 5 and 6 until the offending issue is fixed. Then watch as your organizational ‘spinning beach balls’ disappear, and your business returns to fluid, effective execution and implementation


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