Stop It!

How would you like to do a lot less work and get the same or better results? I thought so.

Some years ago I was in Houston advising the CEO of a large energy company. I particularly enjoyed our meetings because they often took place over dinner in a nice restaurant. (For those of you who know me, he was the fellow who bought me my first pair of wonderful Luchesse boots. Yes, the very same brand of beautiful and comfortable pointy-toed cowboy boots I still wear.)

On one visit to his company a fellow stopped me in the hall and asked if he could talk to me in his office. Upon entering he closed the door, plunked a thick binder onto his desk, and asked if I would give him some advice. Of course I said of course.

He then proceeded to describe his dilemma. He told me that every month he spent countless hours gathering information for a report, then several days organizing everything and putting the  binder together. He distributed copies to about 50 people.

He had been following this lengthy procedure every single month for quite some time. And he never got a response from anyone who received the monthly volume.

The fellow wondered: Is it worth it to keep doing this? Does anyone read the report?

I thought about it and suggested that the following month he complete the report as usual but that he not send it out to anyone and see what happened. I figured the worst thing that would happen would be some people would ask for the volume. But he’d be able to deliver it to them and he’d find out how many people actually wanted it every month.

He looked at me skeptically, but I convinced him to give it a try and reminded him that my client was his CEO and that I would jump in if necessary.

A few weeks later I received an excited call from him. He had followed my advice. To his amazement only one person asked him where the monthly report was. As we had discussed, he asked this person if he needed the whole report or only a part of it.

I could see the smile on his face when he shared the response with me. The only thing this person needed was a number that appeared on one of the early pages, a number he used in one of his regular reports.

The result of our little experiment? From this time forward the former binder builder spent only about an hour a month gathering info to develop this one number and then gave it to the person who needed it.

I’ve shared this story many times, always to great incredulity and amusement. This is quickly followed by furrowed brows as the listener starts considering how much time they waste preparing useless reports or performing other unnecessary tasks. I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t come up with something they can immediately stop doing.

This is a true story, crazy as it sounds.  If you doubt me, give me a call and I’ll visit you and we’ll figure out what things you can stop doing. And if you don’t doubt me, do yourself a favor and keep the useless binder in mind as you perform your daily activities. Figure out which things you’re doing that would be fine left undone.




Commenting area

  1. In real estate it is common to produce a Competitive Market Analysis. Several programs help produce animated Powerpoint presentations, or three-ring binder, or at least a nice pack of stapled pages. Conventional wisdom says they are required. I’ve asked most clients. They want a number. That’s all many of them want. What is the price they can ask for? Simply done. (Got to explain that to my manager that, though.)

  2. Thanks for the great story. A different version of my story. Too bad that in your case even knowing what the customer wants isn’t enough to get management to decide to stop having you do useless work. Steve

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