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What Haven't You Done Today?

by Jo Lane

The single most important question for busy professionals these days is not, “What have you done today?” but, “What haven’t you done today.” Sounds crazy, but stay with me

What Haven't You Done Today?Management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Don’t tell me what you are going to do. Tell me what you are going to stop doing.” Decades later, business is more complex, resources are more limited, competition is fiercer, and this advice has never felt more relevant.

As our span of influence increases at work, it is likely our responsibilities are increasing in other areas, too. Ironically when you are at the peak of your career there is a strong chance that you are dealing with family commitments and, nowadays, that can include the demands of both elderly parents and young children.

Something must give.

In my experience coaching talented yet time-poor professionals, nearly all have a clear sense of what they need to achieve. They are less clear about the how to achieve these things. And they have rarely thought about what they need to give up to focus on what really matters.

People are working longer hours and are usually more than willing to talk about what they have been doing during those long hours. However, most struggle to articulate anything they might have stopped doing to make way for the new requirements that inevitably happen in the workplace—requirements that demand different behaviours and different areas of focus from leaders.

For many years, I have recommended that people write lists to stay on top of all the things they need to do. (And, as a bonus, there’s the satisfaction of ticking things off the list.)

But I am increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of lists for everything, because I am starting to suspect that they prevent us from reflecting as we dive headlong into execution.

I would love to start seeing “Inaction Plans” and “To-Don’t” lists in the workplace. To be truly effective, instead of simply working through our daily list of things to do, we need to start being more conscious about how we are spending our time. We need to make the effort to think about where we are really adding value linked to the goals of the business.

How thought-provoking would it be if leaders started asking their teams, “What haven’t you done today?”

I am currently coaching an individual who has transitioned into a more senior role and we are looking at ways he can shed his “expert” persona and become a coach for his team, rather than simply providing all the answers when they come to him with issues. He is intelligent, action-focused, possesses deep expertise, has perfectionistic personality tendencies, and he wants to help others. This combination of factors and traits make stepping back and empowering others a challenge for him; however, his role has changed and now there are different behaviors and activities are required of him.

DDI research shows that organisations are typically not preparing people well enough to make transitions in the workplace. As a result, the process of stepping into a new role ends up becoming very stressful. People are often promoted based on behaviours they have demonstrated in their current role rather than their potential and motivation to make the shift.

So, what is the solution? Unsurprisingly there is no one answer, but as a start, here are some of my tips for creating a to-don’t list:

  • Don’t accept every meeting request. Consider creating boundaries for yourself, like instituting a “No meeting Mondays” policy, and learning to say “no.” Protect time to reflect and strategize. Remember, you are the leader of your own time, even if you are not a leader.
  • Don’t ignore your natural personality tendencies. Understand your own vulnerabilities as a leader. If you are naturally detail-focused and pragmatic, you will need to stretch your more conceptual muscles from time to time.
  • Don’t be a slave to email. Recent studies show that most people open an email within 1 minute and 44 seconds of receiving it. But if you pay attention to everything that comes to your inbox all day, you’ll never be able to focus. Don’t be afraid to disconnect, and read and answer emails only during scheduled time periods.
  • Recognize you need to change as your role changes. Don’t forget that your priorities are likely to be different in a new role or as the business strategy evolves. Review priorities in line with business goals on a quarterly basis, and examine where you are spending time, and determine which activities and time commitments will add the most value.
  • Don’t try to solve all your team’s problems. As you become a leader, recognize that your value now comes from having the right conversations with your people and fostering a climate of personal growth and innovation.
  • Don’t be afraid to let go. When you delegate, you can both free up your own time and support the growth of those around you.
  • Don’t rely on your own perception of your skills and competencies. No matter how confident you feel about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, accept that we all have blind spots. Proactively seek feedback from others to figure out what your true abilities are, and how you can improve upon them.
  • Don’t try to do it all by yourself. Discuss your issues with a mentor. (If you don’t have one, get one!) Discuss with her your concerns and triumphs. No matter your leadership level, you will never have all the answers, and you will always need someone to bounce ideas off of, particularly someone who’s an unbiased third party.

Finally, recognise that it takes confidence and a complete mindset shift to relinquish key activities that have made you successful thus far. This will look different at different leadership transition points, but the common thread is the process of consciously thinking about what you can stop doing, either because it is no longer part of your job or because the business strategy has evolved.

At the end of the day, what is the worst that can happen?

Click here to learn more about how to unleash potential in your organization and download the new eBook, The Revolutionary Guide to Rethinking Leadership Potential.

When not working as a senior consultant for DDI in London, Jo can be found sewing name tapes into the new school uniform for her twins, who just started school, and singing songs from The Sound of Music up and down the streets of South West London (with or without her children). She has recently stopped taking in parcels for her neighbors as her hallway was starting to resemble a storage facility. If you have any thoughts about what you are planning to stop doing, send them to

Posted: 26 Oct, 2017,
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