Monthly Archives: May 2014

The 4 Secrets to Completing To Do Lists  

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.” – Margaret Thatcher

There is never enough time in the day to get everything you’d like done. At least that’s the case for me.

My day typically starts around 6:00am, and I always start strong. By 8:30am I’ve usually at least gone through the morning newspapers, knocked out a series of emails, and worked on some new ideas.

It’s around 8:45am that the difficulty starts. New emails come in. My schedule starts filling up with new meetings and tasks. By 11:000am, my To Do List has doubled in length. And so the day continues.

How then do you avoid feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and how do you avoid letting important things drop off?

  1. Setting expectations.  The most important part is understanding that you’ll never get everything done in one day that you’d ideally want to. At least not if you’re an ambitious person. Understanding that helps you avoid feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
  1. Prioritization. Continuing from point one, your focus should be on getting the most important and time-sensitive tasks done first. This includes both the tasks that must be done (however mundane or time-consuming), and then those that are going to have the greatest impact. (Developing a partnership with a hotel chain that operates 150 hotels v. a single business.)

Screenshot 2014-05-30 08.47.58


  1. Share Responsibilities. Wherever possible, do pass on tasks to others and avoid micromanaging (otherwise it defeats the purpose of delegating). My colleague, Apploi CEO Adam Lewis, told me that one of his most valuable management lessons came when someone told him, “wherever possible, make yourself redundant.” Believe me you’ll find more valuable ways to use your time.
  1. Don’t Let the Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good. This is one of my favorite phrases, and we’ve got it framed on the wall at Apploi. My friend and former colleague, and now Daily Beast editor, John Avlon, loved this quote, and I recently saw Facebook’s version, which is “Better Done Than Perfect.” The more time you spend on something, the better it will be; but on the flip side, spending too long delays that – and everything else. You need to find the right balance.

Putting these ideas together, I operate two “To Do Lists.” One, what must get done, and second, what I’d love to get done. (Technology helps: Apps like Evernote and Reminders, keep lists and tasks accessible and organized, and the likes of and GoToMeeting allow productive virtual meetings when face-to-face isn’t possible.)

My day only ends once the “must get done” list is done, and I consider it a successful day (or a “supremely satisfied” day, to borrow from The Iron Lady) when I’ve gone through as much of my “other” to do list as possible.

What works for you?


Why You’re Unhappier on Weekends than Weekdays? (“Sunday Neurosis”)

A recent study found that life satisfaction among workers was consistent during the weekday, but dropped during the weekend.

Why? Because on the weekend workers thought about the coming stress of the work week.

Ironic, perhaps.

Here’s a link to the paper in Applied Economics by the team headed by Wolfgang Maennig.

The study was of German workers though; I wonder if the same is true in other countries.


Should You Bully or ‘Friendly-Nudge’ to Get Change?

Legendary investor Warren Buffet, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has been taking criticism for his approach to dealing with Coca-Cola’s executive pay. As Reuters’ Luciana Lopez reports from the Berkshire’s annual gathering:

Buffett was immediately questioned about Berkshire’s decision to abstain from the shareholder vote on Coca-Cola’s equity compensation plan for executives, even though Buffett thought the controversial plan was excessive.

That revelation drew sharp criticism in the run-up to the meeting – particularly since Buffett has in the past called options wasteful and akin to a free lottery ticket.

Activist investor Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises, was also critical of Mr. Buffer in this weekend’s Barron’s, writing:

My colleagues and I have fought long and hard to change fellow board members’ attitudes and beliefs concerning their responsibility to shareholders, even if this change angers the CEO and some of his cronies sitting on the board. But if a man of Warren Buffett’s stature openly states he abstains from voting on plans he doesn’t agree with because he “loves” management and he doesn’t want to “express any disapproval,” how can we expect other board members in this country to voice their opinions, especially if they are opposed to the CEO’s interest?

Mr. Buffet, in his response to Mr. Icahn in Barron’s wrote:

Carl’s exposure to boards likely involves some adverse selection; he’s probably focused on companies he considers to be poor performers. But I agree that his observations about board behavior are correct in certain cases. I’ve certainly witnessed some of the behavior that he talks about in my 55 years of directorship, though I’ve also witnessed much excellent board behavior. I would suggest, however, that there’s more than one way to effect change.

Mr. Buffet expanded on this at the Berkshire gathering, as Reuters reports:

Seated with Munger at a table containing several bottles of Coke and Cherry Coke, Buffett said that “going to war” would likely not have been productive, and that Berkshire’s abstention sent an even more effective message.

“We made a very clear statement about the excessiveness of the plan and, at the same time, we in no way went to war with Coca-Cola,” Buffett said. “I don’t think going to war is a very good idea in most situations.”

Two very different approaches:

Mr. Icahn’s public naming and shaming (some would say “bullying”) , versus Mr. Buffet’s non-confrontational, behind the scenes, friendly-nudge approach.

Barron’s, in an editor’s note, added at the end:

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Warren Buffett had been working for several weeks behind the scenes, pressuring Coke CEO Muhtar Kent to alter the firm’s compensation plan to be less generous to executives. The story said Coke will probably revise the plan before it goes into effect next year but didn’t say exactly how much the plan will be changed.

A favorite saying of my good friend and the former FBI Agent, Ali Soufan, (CEO of The Soufan Group, my former employer), is: “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” He was one of the FBI’s most successful interrogators and special agents — so it certainly works. (Check out our book, the NYT top-10 bestseller, The Black Banners here).

Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, was known for his more confrontational style (Walter Isaacson’s biography, entitled “Steve Jobs,” is excellent) and it worked for him – just look where Apple is today.

One can well argue, that different scenarios call for different actions. As Ecclesiastes wrote “there is a time for everything,” including:

    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What’s your approach?