My oldest son, Tom, came to me with a confession. “Dad, I’ve got a bit of a problem: I think I’m lazy.” “What?” I said. “You’re lazy? And on top of that you want sympathy for your condition?” I kicked him out of the room with a smile on my face. “We are all lazy! We just get off our butts and go and do things. Get outta here!”
I don’t have a lot of sympathy for slackers. I’m often at my desk early in the morning and usually start by scribbling out a “to-do” list on some scrap of paper. I must admit though, I love including a few things I’ve already finished, then heavily crossing those out and going to grab a well-deserved cup of coffee.
When I return to my office I’m usually doing things that are urgent or even over-due. Work is so much easier when it’s fuelled by adrenalin and anxiety. Some things though, I just put off eternally. They appear continually on my to-do lists but whenever I even half-think about doing them, something else seems far more important, such as tidying up a drawer or buying spare toothpaste. No wonder I’ve never got around to learning the piano or speaking decent French.
My to-do list has to be on paper, not electronic. I can’t stand a pesky computer or smart phone bugging me about something I’d hoped to do by a certain time. Every time you hit “remind me later” you feel like you’re cheating on a digital device. Save any such guilt for humans! Paper versions of anything though, can have their disadvantages. A friend of mine insisted on using a paper contacts book, until one day she accidentally dropped it in the loo. She managed to fish it out but by then a lot of the pages were unreadable. For a few weeks or so she couldn’t contact anyone whose surname started A-H…
Lists can also be used to make important decisions. I’ve used the mighty “checklist” approach when investing, and I sometimes use it when I’m assessing small companies. I put all the major factors in there, such as the quality of the management, uniqueness of the product, time to market, competition, market size, economic environment and so on. Each of these gets a score between +3 to -3. Then everything is added up and, hey presto, the total score helps me form an opinion. A big plus score usually means of course, that I am very confident. The advantage of a checklist is that it encourages me to look at all angles. It then helps me to restrain my enthusiasm, with say, a great product if the management is a bit iffy, or if the market is too competitive. It also gives me a historic record of my view at the time. I’ve taught this approach to co-workers and when one of them was moving back to Australia, he called me.
“RF, I’ve just been trying to decide whether to live in Sydney or Brisbane, so I have done myself a checklist. Can I run it by you?” “Er, of course mate.” “Climate: Sydney plus 3, it’s not as humid. Cost of living: Brisbane plus 3, it’s much cheaper. Social: Sydney plus 2, I’ve got more friends there….” He went on to list about ten things, including a “big male fish” factor. “I’ve have made a few bucks, and the girls will be much more impressed with me in Brisbane. Plus 2… What do you think?” “Um, I guess that all makes sense mate. What are you going to do?” “I’ve added it all up and Brisbane wins by 2, so I think I’m going to move there.” Wow, I thought, he’s either mad or brilliant.