Draining The Swamp

Oct 19, 2006

A prerequisite of Predictable Success® is to be clearly focused on what gets done, by whom, and when. Yet most of us are quite the opposite – drowning in a sea of commitments, to-do lists, black holes and open loops. Here’s how to fix thatA prerequisite of Predictable Success® is to be clearly focused on what gets done, by whom, and when.

Yet most of us are quite the opposite – drowning in a sea of commitments, to-do lists, black holes and open loops.

I’ve been occupied much this week with the issue of ‘draining the swamp’ – getting on top of that paralysing amount of outstanding work that seems to drain us of energy, enthusiasm and focus.

There’s no use pretending that we can get to Predictable Success® in that frame of mind – it’s vitally important that we break the cycle and regain total control of our time and other resources.

Here’s the first step (I feel a series coming on):

Step 1: Regroup >> Only Do What Only You Can Do

For the next week, concentrate on one thing only:

Re-establishing a laser-like understanding of what your real job is.


When you’re in the swamp of over-commitment and undelivering, the main ‘vicious circle’ at work is this:

  1. We’ve so much on our plate, it becomes harder to prioritize and differentiate – everythingis screaming at us with the same sense of urgency;


  2. As a result, we become less and less clear on what exactly our job is – where our responsibilities begin and end. We become confused and find it harder to differentiate between what would be ‘good to do’, and what we must do;
    As a result of (2), we become less and less able to turn away even more commitments and requests – we’re rapidly losing any limitations on what is ‘our responsibility’.

So the first step is very clear: Re-establishing a laser-like understanding of what your real job is.

You will do this by applying a simple litmus test for the next week:

For the next week, Only do what only you can do.


Read that one more time – it takes a minute to sink in.

As you work this incoming week, review the activities you get involved in – how much of it is ‘stuff’ that only you can do, and how much of it could (maybe even should) be done by someone else?


One rule here: ‘Everyone else is too busy’ is not does not make an activity something that ‘only you can do’ – we’re talking about skills here, not availability.

Use this form to help you, if you wish, or use any recording process that works for you – just make it light-touch and simple to operate.

Download Predictable Success® Activity Log

Click ‘Next’ to see what you’re going to do with this information.

Draining The Swamp: Step 2: Stopping the Drift

Are You Doing What You Should Be Doing?

To get ‘out from under’, last week we saw the importance of regrouping – regaining a clear focus on ‘doing only what only you can do’.

Step 2 is an equally important one – especially if you have been in your current role for some time: Re-establishing what you should be doing on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.

Ever sat on a boat, idly passing a few minutes or hours reading, fishing (or doing whatever you do on boats…), only to look up and wonder at how far you’ve drifted? Or met an old friend after some time apart, only to be shocked by how much weight they’ve gained (or lost?)

The same thing happens to our daily activities – over time, myriad pressures, habits, priorities, customs and habits gradually alter what we spend our time doing, until one day, without realizing it, what we’re spending our time doing bears little resemblance to what we should be doing.

It’s important every once in a while to do a ‘spring clean’ re-appraisal of your daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly / annual activities, and compare what you’re actually spending your time on, with what you should be doing.

(As part of the Predictable Success® Methodology we do this as a minimum every 18 months.)

Guess Who Knows What You Should Be Doing?

So how do you establish what you ‘should’ be doing?

The answer should be simple – go pull out your job specification.

Unfortunately the reality is very different. Frankly for most of us, our job descriptions are close to useless. They either:

  • Don’t exist;


  • Are inordinately out of date; and/or


  • Bear little or no resemblance to any reality we’ve ever encountered.

Nope, the secret to uncovering (or re-discovering) what we should be focusing on comes from something much more real:

Your Internal and External Customers Dictate What You Should Be Doing

Guess what: everything we do, if it is to have some importance and relevance, is done for someone – some customer, internal or external. This includes:

  • Your Boss (if you have one);


  • Your board (if you report to one)


  • Your direct reports (if you have any;


  • Your peers;


  • Anyone else in the organization who is a material ‘consumer’ of your output;


  • Real live, external customers (if you interact with them).

A Radical Suggestion…

So here’s an idea – why not ask them what you ‘should’ be doing in order to best meet their needs?

The wording we use in Predictable Success® is this:

What are the three things I must do for you, and how can we measure my success in doing each one?

Simple as that.

A couple of important things in this question:

  1. Not everyone will feel comfortable asking such a vulnerable question. It requires a degree of humility and self-assurance to ask. If you work in a politically toxic environment you may not be able to take this step;
  2. The most important part of the question is the word ‘must’. We’re looking for what you must do to succeed for this person – not what would be ‘nice’ or ‘good’ for you to do for them – be ruthless about the ‘must’;
    Keep the responses down to three, maximum. Force the person you’re asking to prioritize (this helps with the ‘must’, as well);
    Get a metric for each item – however subjective it might be. Here are some examples:
Sample ‘Must Do’s and Associated Metrics
CEO VP Mentor me in leadership skills At least one 45-minute mentoring session per month
VP HR VP Sales Provide me with high-quality hiring shortlists At least 3 acceptable, prescreened resumes within 4 weeks of an open position
Sales Manager Sales Rep Provide me with high-quality leads At least 15 new leads per month
Sales Rep Sales Manager A reasonable percentage of self-generated leads At least four self-generated leads per month
Account Rep Data Entry Supervisor Substantially ‘clean’ customer orders A maximum of 5% of customer orders returned as incomplete or incorrect
COO CEO Deliver the monthly cost containment plan Achieve + or – 5% of the monthly cost containment budget

Next Week: Using this information to regain control of your daily schedule.

More later!

Les McKeown

President & CEO, Predictable Success®