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Prune the Dead Wood

 When cultivating a garden, you sometimes have to prune away the dead wood so sunlight and nutrients can encourage new growth. When cultivating business for your clients or your own company, pruning the dead wood is also an important part of the process.

Pruning doesn’t mean whacking away in a slash-and-burn mode. It means deliberately analyzing how you spend your time and your revenue. It means selectively trimming away those projects, initiatives or even people that keep you from growing other aspects of your business.

What is dead wood?

  • That project or initiative that has never really developed as planned. Maybe the market has changed and the project no longer has the same potential. Or it could be that pet project that made sense at one time but never generated results. As the book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt states, sometimes Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers.
  • That employee you thought would be your star but turned out to be uncoachable. How much time are you spending in damage control and counseling instead of grooming and supporting another employee who truly has the potential to bloom?
  • Daily activities that keep you from doing what is really important. Try keeping a time log in 15-minute increments for just two weeks to track how you are really spending your time. You’ll probably be stunned at how much time was spent reading and responding to emails and unnecessary texts, shuffling through the same inbox projects, and churning out work that isn’t growing the business. How much of your day is spent on dead wood instead of meaningful work?
  • Disease that can quickly spread and cause damage and destruction. Do you have a poisonous person in the office who spends time spreading rumors, refusing to change or undercutting others? How many good people do you risk losing because of one person’s attitude? Is it time to cut that person away to bring back some sunshine and allow others to grow?

Of course, you can’t always just wipe out a project or person because they negatively impact your work… or so homicide detectives tell me. But you can determine how much time or energy you devote to it. 

Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlighted the idea of “20% Time.” They encourage employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google. This concept led to huge innovations. 

But to deliberately build in time for innovation and business growth you may need to cut away the dead wood that is blocking this time. A new year or new season is the perfect time to take stock of what you must do for future growth, but it’s also an activity you can do at any time of the year. Start by guiding your team or your clients through key questions:

  • What has been effective and ineffective in the past? Did it generate a return on investment? Did it achieve specified goals? Did it move your business forward? 
  • If a project or initiative was ineffective, can we cut it and shift our focus to something else? What are the coming changes in the industry and what do we need to do to be ready? What can we cut away to free up time for new projects and business innovation? 
  • If it can’t be cut, can it be handled by someone else? If you no longer really need to do a project yourself, perhaps it could be used to grow the skills of a co-worker. So many times we say, “It’s just easier to do it myself.” But that doesn’t help your team or your business grow. 
  • Do we have the right team in place to achieve our goals? If there is a co-worker who is just not a good fit, isn’t it kinder to cut them away than set them up to fail? No one wants to work in a negative environment, and when someone is unhappy and coaching isn’t working, it may be time to trim.

As the saying goes, Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein only had 24 hours in their days, too. It’s all a matter of using the time wisely. Now is a perfect time to assess what is important and start pruning so you will have the time and resources to achieve your goals.

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