In the world of entrepreneurship, there are endless things to do. Tasks, to do lists, new initiatives, new projects, and P1s. Leaders spend a lot of time planning, especially in the context of “we have to grow more, do more, and get bigger.”
Lately, I’ve been suggesting to a few of the CEOs who I work with to make a “2019 Won’t Do List.” While this is a high-level list of things not to do, it can be on multiple dimensions.
I like to start with things that often are optional, but consume a lot of time and energy. Examples would be “an acquisition” or “a financing” or “an IPO.” Let’s take “acquisition” as an example. Assume you are a fast growing company with plenty of financial resources. Maybe you’ve made some acquisitions in the past. But, you haven’t thought about it specifically, so it’s a reactive or opportunistic move. It’s very freeing to decide “this year we aren’t making any acquisitions and we aren’t going to be distracted by the motion around an acquisition.” The nice thing about being a CEO, especially of a company in a strong position, is that you can change your mind. But by declaring what you won’t do up front for some time, it makes the decision one where you have to actively change your mind about what you won’t do.
Then, I like to roll into metrics that create a floor on how the business will operate. For example, “We won’t have a month of negative EBITDA.” Or, “well never have negative cash flow of more than $500,000.” Or, we won’t hire anyone new, other than replacing attrition, until after we have revenue of $X / person.” These are different than what your goals are, where the goals look like “We are going to grow 10% month over month” or “We will adhere to the rule of 40 for a healthy SaaS company.”
Then, I like to end by pushing the CEO to define personal Won’t Dos. These can be behavioral or functional. Most people are comfortable with the functional ones, but struggle to identify the behavioral ones. I like the struggle around this – it almost always generates fascinating conversations that are highly personal.
An example of something from my Won’t Do list is “take on another book project.” I have several that I’m working on and I’m happy about them, but once I’m finished with them, I’m not going to do any more non-fiction for a while. I have a desire to write some near-term science fiction and see if I’m any good at it. Since I want to finish the projects I have and know that I have poor impulse control around says “sure – I’ll work on that book project,” by putting this on my Won’t Do list for 2019, I say no to everything.
A personal example on my Won’t Do list is “buy another big thing other than art” (e.g., house, car). I’ve got enough. Amy and I talked about this around my birthday (she was looking into getting me a new car) and I didn’t want one. I suggested that we buy a half dozen Subarus and park them in front of my friend Dave’s house (Dave hates Subarus) and call them an “art installation” instead. As I thought through this, I realized I don’t want something new like this for a while. In contrast, I exempted art because when I thought about it, I wanted to buy some additional art this year (especially sculpture.)
What’s on your Won’t Do list for 2019?