biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: Making an “I DON’T” List

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Brigitte Lyons. Brigitte shares breakthrough strategies for life and business at Unfettered Ink. She also courts all sorts of good karma by serving up free PR Ideas for Busy People to Biz Ladies (and gents). Today she shares her strategy for doing the work you love and avoiding the work you don’t through an “I Don’t” list. Thanks, Brigitte, for this inspiring post! — Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump . . .

Back when I worked at a PR agency, I often fantasized about rising to a position where I could dedicate all my time to strategy. Who are the influencers that clients should connect with? How do we grab their attention? What is the key message to communicate?

In my fantasy, I worked as a partner with CEOs to craft these brilliant, focused PR plans and delegated all the work of pitching and monitoring the results.

Some of my friends in the industry didn’t understand. Didn’t I think it was a thrill, as they did, when a journalist picked up a story I placed? Sure, it felt good to see my clients on CNN, knowing I got them there, but implementation never was my strong suit. I’m a thinker through and through.

For years, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would pay me for my brain?” but dismissed the longing as an impracticality. Well, wouldn’t you know, that’s precisely how my business is structured now.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that, just as writing and painting are different skill sets, so are strategic planning and implementation. It’s okay to specialize. Indeed, by focusing on my core power, I do much more good than serving as a generalist.

Perhaps you have the same longing.

What if you only worked on projects that tapped into your most creative self, no matter what brings out the creativity within you? How could you even begin to structure your business this way?

Create an “I DON’T” List

The idea behind the I DON’T list is simple: List all the tasks and projects that drain your energy. Stop doing these things. I know. This sounds terrifying.

Will you lose customers or clients?

Will you make enough money to go on vacation or put Ben through college?

What if someone else steps in and offers a more comprehensive offering? Where does that leave you?

These are the demons torturing all of us.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

This is easier than it sounds. (Girl, I hear you.) So I broke it down in seven easy steps.

1. List all the tasks you’re qualified to do.

Make this list as comprehensive as possible. Once you begin freeing up your time with an I DON’T list, you will find yourself bursting with ideas on how to combine your core strengths to better serve your market.

2. Highlight the items you love doing.

Note that I said “love.” Not “like.” Not “don’t mind.” Love.

3. With a thick black marker, put a line through everything you hate doing.

It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it. I hate pitching, and yet my clients were featured in news outlets all over the US. “Good at it” doesn’t mean you need to be the person doing it.

4. Hang this list on your wall.

This is your compass, guiding you to your own personal true north.

5. When you get a new request, glance up at the list.

Every time. Don’t skip this.

6. If the request involves more tasks that you hate than ones you love, propose an alternate arrangement or refer the business to a friend.

Hold firm. Do not fill your days — or worse, your years — with work you hate. It does a disservice to you and to your clients. Before long, you begin to resent your career, your clients and your life.

7. Spend the time you otherwise would’ve put into the dreaded project creating something you love.

Ahhh. Here it is. The payout.

Imagine what you can accomplish — in a day, a month, a decade or a lifetime — when you fully invest in your core power.

At times, you will be sorely tempted to ignore your I DON’T list. I am not immune to wavering, especially when I love the client but not the project. In these instances, suggest an alternate structure or project that fits both your needs. Be prepared to accept a firm but gentle “no thanks.”

What if you need the money? (and other objections)

If you don’t already have an I DON’T list, I expect you’re harboring a good deal of resistance to the idea.

Is making a living doing only work you love a rainbow and unicorn dream?

What if you’re just starting out and sorely need the money to pay the bills?

This is a process. Unless you’re loaded, you can’t wake up one morning and fire all your clients (although it worked out for Laura Roeder).

Already, you make decisions not to offer certain services or products. If you aren’t a certified accountant, you won’t offer accounting services. If a friend is looking for an accountant, you aren’t raising your hand to do the work. You know someone else is filling that need, and you’ll cheerfully give a referral. It’s an easy I DON’T. The answer is so clear you don’t even need to add it to your list.

Why wouldn’t you use the same discrimination when evaluating all your projects?

Cheerfully refer the work that falls in the murky zone — the projects you can do but loathe. Free up time, your most valuable resource, for the work most suited to your own core strengths. The result is thrilled customers, referrals, a sterling reputation and a legacy of exceptional service.

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  • i couldn’t agree more, but you do have to fight the seemingly ingrain female urge to please and fix.

  • I completely totally fully and wholeheartedly agree with this when you are at the point of having too much work. When you have requests from all angles, it is the right time to focus and do what you love.

    However, I think this mindset is somewhat the downfall of our generation. We think it is a right to do what we love as our work. I recently listened to a podcast where a young comedian was interviewed. Without going into loads of detail, he was “doing what he loved” while on public assistance. I think it is a travesty that others are paying for this person’s “right” to do what he loves. I believe you make a living first and then as you succeed, you can start to peel off the layers of meaningless chores. I don’t think it can be the other way around or else someone else is going to have to pay for it.

    All that said – I am SO for following your dream and I believe this article is inspirational and a fabulous starting point for someone that is responsibly following their lifelong passion.

  • What a thrill to pull up Design*Sponge today and see my contribution on the home page! D*S was one of the first blogs I followed when I was miserably toiling away at my agency job. Reading stories on this site inspired me to make my own leap.

  • I was just thinking about this during my morning bath. If I do a good job with my brand, my customers are going to want more from me. Some of those requests are going to be things I just don’t want to do. Thanks for thinking this all through for me!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for this piece! I’ve been mulling this over lately too…..I started my own children’s clothing line this summer and though it’s very small, I’ve had people ask me to sew custom orders for them. I live in the south and people (not all, but alot) here love a “theme”, for instance clothing for all holidays or a mickey mouse shirt to go to disneyworld…… and I don’t enjoy doing things like that. It doesn’t fit my brand as I see it. I really love designing my own clothes, the ones that I dream of and sketch and imagine in my head. So I think i’m going to take your advice and just stick to my own vision. This was a really great post!

  • Hi Amy – You bring up a really important point. I briefly mentioned that you can’t fire your clients overnight, but I’m glad you called it out further.

    What you don’t see in this post are the 10 years I put into a career I didn’t love, so I could build enough expertise to confidently build an offering around what I thrive in (and develop a savings cushion, so I wasn’t forced to compromise). That’s an entirely different discussion — and a worthy one.

    I often find myself speaking with entrepreneurs and artists who think they have to take the familiar, boring path. We have to fight against our fear of testing and failing new models. I think our passion can be a force for real innovation, which is the mindset that led to this post. But it’s always a risk.

  • This post was exactly the encouragement I needed this afternoon. Thank you for the necessary reminder to fight to be yourself.

  • Thanks so much for this article + advice! I really need this as I’m just starting up my own design studio and need strong advice like this to prioritise. :)

  • I think this is my favorite Biz Ladies post so far and super timely. I just announced I am offering eDecor services and started getting out-of-left field requests on everything from sewing pillows for people to offering blogging advice. I guess I already knew those things belonged on my don’t list, but I feared turning business away. I feel like this post empowered me to start off on the right foot and be very clear about my don’t list upfront, so I can stay focused on what I am best at and where I can really give my clients value! Thanks!

  • Thanks a lot for sharing this. I’m super scared of not having enough money, and so I put my art aside in order to earn what I think I need. Not a good deal at all.

    I love your blog, by the way. It’s pretty and very inspiring.

  • Oh, so well done Brigette. I love this post. I am thinking about this a lot lately and using this concept on so many levels in my business. We are opening a retail store this fall and I am constantly deciding when to use my skills and when to contract out. I have to balance between my skills, budget and cost benefit. Although I want to do everything, I have to be honest with myself… am I a photographer, accountant, visual merchandiser the list goes on. I also use this idea when selecting products, developing a marketing campaign etc. ‘Is this our brand’ is a litmus test that we apply to everything and in a way it’s very much an ‘I do’ or ‘I don’t’ list.
    Thank you for your insight. I am making my list today. I feel a bit less stressed just thinking about it!

  • I did this when I became self-employed. The few times I break my rules, I’m sorry. Really Sorry.

  • I love this Idea!
    I have a “To Don’t” list up next to my “To Do” list in my office, but it was more funny and playful than useful…
    This on the other hand is a great way to stay connected, authentic, and fulfilled as a small business owner!

  • Thanks Brigitte, great advice as always! I have to do a lot of things I don’t enjoy doing right now as I grow my business, but plan to be able to pass those tasks off to staff/team members someday soon, this list will definitely help with that.

    Also to anyone reading this, I subscribe to Brigitte’s newsletter, I can ONLY recommend it! Great, thoughtful content that you can really use!

  • After being laid off 4.5 years ago, struggling to get consistent freelance clothing design while trying to pursue new career ideas that would be more “stable”, (as if that is a real thing!), I ended up with a lot of different talents and skills that I “like” and don’t “LOVE”. My “LOVE”s seemed to be ridiculous waya to make money: sewing, crafting, pinterest etc. But after a recent mission trip to Kostroma, Russia, where I taught post orphans life skills, sewing and knitting, I was in heaven! Teaching and inspiring these young ladies really made it clear to me that this is what I was meant to do this. So after some research and pondering I am deciding to open a sewing and craft studio, “Craftopia”, where our community (in Fresno, CA) can get together to learn and make beautiful things. I am launching a kickstarter campaign soon and am hoping that this studio will soon be a reality!

  • I think it is important to use the power of the referral! As a freelancer graphic designer I sometimes feel like I should be offering more services. The reality is that I can’t be good at everything! But most of all you won’t love what your doing any longer. Thanks

  • An very powerful exercise that I like to do when I need to focus on my life goals is write down all the ‘stuff’ that I do in a day; email, answer customer enquires, design drawings, sourcing, etc. Then cross out 25% of the items that I would delegate if I could. I then do this another 2 x times. What you are left with is the work that you ‘Love’ to be doing.. not Like, Love! Very powerful and capable of creating a big ‘Uh Huh’ moment and change in your life. Try it!

  • I guess the “I Don’t” is the new ” To Do” List. Great point of view.

    I also love the idea of spending your time focussing on things you love doing and are good at rather than draining your energy forcing yourself to do things your heart is just not into.

    Thanks Bridgitte