We Must Impose Limits… On Ourselves

Limit CartoonAs business leaders, we are constantly being bombarded with distractions, new opportunities, and issues. Everything and everyone screams at us to do more. Yet, to achieve our goals, we must prioritize.

By imposing limits on ourselves, we can better focus on the important and get it done.

Here are five ways we can limit ourselves in order to win.


  1. Limit the Number of Objectives

In order for us to realize our objectives, we need to have just a few goals. In fact, we should limit our goals and the goals of our employees to at most five. This allows these objectives to be memorized and internalized and be active in our day to day thinking. Alas, most companies try to do too much and too many things:

I have worked with a company that has 17 different objectives listed on their mission statement. Another company circulates a list of their “critical few” goals only to have this list run to three pages.


  1. Limit Meetings

As I wrote in my blog last month, we need to limit the time that we spend in meetings. This means:

  • Limiting the number of meetings to only those that are essential
  • Limiting the time spent in meetings by at least 25%; e.g., turning 60 minute meetings into 45 minute meetings
  • Limiting the number of participants in meetings to the few who are truly required to attend
  1. Limit Time

We can limit time by creating shorter deadlines. Instead of allowing a task to be completed in two weeks, we should require that it be finished in two days. Yes, the task may not be completed “perfectly.” But, it will certainly be good enough, and we will be 12 days ahead of schedule.

Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.”

With shorter deadlines, we side-step Parkinson’s law and the excess work that longer deadlines imply. The result will be work that is more succinct, focused on the important, good enough… and done.

  1. Limit Length

We should limit the length of the responses and reports that we require from our employees. This would mean asking for a response with at most 3 – 5 comments or suggestions. This would mean asking that all reports be at most one page. Short responses and one pagers:

  • Are less intimidating and thus our employees can complete quickly
  • Are to the point and focused on the important few
  • Are more likely to be reviewed and edited before being submitted (it is a lot easier to edit a one page Executive Summary than a four page report)
  • Hone our employees’ executive communication skills
  1. Limit What We Do

We need to constrain ourselves from doing certain activities at certain times. The most obvious limit would be preventing ourselves from being interrupted when we are working on another task. Another limit would be to prohibit ourselves from doing E-Mails and mindless administrative tasks first thing in the morning (when we are fresh).

In his book, The 4 – Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss suggests how we can limit ourselves and get the important done:

Get the important done first. What’s been on your to-do list the longest? Start it first thing in the morning, don’t check E-Mail and don’t allow interruptions or lunch until you finish.

Similarly, the famed and prolific writer, Raymond Chandler, developed the concept of the “Nothing Alternative” to ensure that he wrote something substantive every day:

Write or nothing. I have two very simple rules: A. You don’t have to write. B. You can’t do anything else. The rest comes of itself.

In summary, by imposing these five limits and constraints on ourselves, we will ensure that we and our employees get the most important done.


About David Shedd

David has been a President - CEO - COO of an up to $350M group of manufacturing, distribution, specialty retail and services companies, having led 22 different businesses from turnarounds to start-ups to fast growth companies.
This entry was posted in Improve / Turnaround, Perform / Execution, Personal Success and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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