The subtle art of getting sh*t done | Inquirer Business

The subtle art of getting sh*t done

/ 02:22 AM April 01, 2024

The subtle art of getting sh*t done


In the world of relentless demands and unyielding deadlines, the pursuit of peak productivity isn’t just a goal—it’s a necessity. For top executives, CEOs and business owners, the ability to get stuff done effectively and efficiently can be the difference between leading the market or lagging behind. It is about mastering the art of self-reliance, keeping promises, holding oneself accountable and setting strategic deadlines.

These are not just practices but principles that, when implemented, can transform your personal and professional life. Drawing inspiration from my work with some of the world’s most famous business leaders and countless clients around the world—from Fortune 500 CEOs to billionaire entrepreneurs—let’s explore how you can harness these principles to unlock your top productivity.


Embrace these principles not just as strategies but as values to live by. Let them guide your actions and decisions. Remember, in the grand scheme of things, productivity is not just about doing more in less time; it’s about making each moment count. It’s about leading by example and inspiring those around you to rise to their highest potential.


Your most important question

I always tell my clients to ask themselves the one simple but very powerful question: How do I perform best? If you ask yourself this question every single day, you will not only get to know yourself better but also unlock many hidden productivity hacks that are unique to your style of working. The answer to the question is different for everyone.

The issue is that few executives or business owners ask themselves this question every day, and so they are always lagging behind on what they could be doing. It is no secret that we feel happy, energized and fulfilled when we are pushing the limits of what we can achieve. If you combine a thorough understanding of the principles below with the question above, you will become unstoppable.

Self-reliance: The cornerstone of productivity

Self-reliance is not merely a virtue; it is a weapon in the arsenal of a business leader. It embodies the capacity to trust in one’s abilities, to make decisions with conviction and to navigate the tumultuous seas of business with an unwavering compass.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, in his essay on self-reliance, posited self-reliance as the foundation of all true success. For a leader, this means cultivating a deep reservoir of knowledge, honing your skills and fostering an environment where innovation is not just encouraged but demanded.

Self-reliance is the bedrock upon which productivity is built. It is the unwavering belief in your ability to initiate action, solve problems and achieve goals with minimal external assistance. In a landscape where reliance on others can often lead to delays and disappointments, self-reliance empowers you to take control of your destiny. No wonder that business magnates such as Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson cite self-reliance as the key ingredient of their success.

Practical tip: Start your day with a ‘Power Hour’—an hour dedicated solely to tackling the most important task of the day without any external interruptions. This not only sets a productive tone for the day but also cultivates your habit of self-dependency.


The sanctity of promises

Promises, whether made to oneself or others, are the threads that weave the fabric of integrity in the business world. They are not mere words but commitments that define your reliability and trustworthiness. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, exemplified this through his relentless focus on customer satisfaction, a promise that catapulted Amazon from a modest online bookstore to a global behemoth. Each decision, each innovation, stemmed from this unwavering commitment to deliver on the promise made to millions of customers.

Promises are the silent vows that bind us to our actions. In the realm of business, keeping promises to yourself and others is not just about integrity; it’s about building trust and credibility. When you consistently deliver on your promises, you not only affirm your reliability but also inspire and elevate those around you.

A lot of the CEOs and business owners I have advised define “keeping promises” in terms of keeping them to others—but not to themselves. Being accountable first starts with yourself, then extends to others. First check if you keep the promises you have given to yourself. If not, it will slowly erode your self-confidence.

Don’t make promises you cannot keep—to yourself, to your family, to your colleagues, to your people. It is simple in theory, but many executives still take a rain check here because in practice, it is hard.

Practical tip: Maintain a promise journal. Write down all the promises you make—big or small, to yourself or others—and regularly review and tick them off upon completion. This practice not only keeps you accountable but also provides a tangible measure of your reliability.

The rigor of accountability: The key to results

Accountability is the linchpin of productivity. It is the acceptance of responsibility for your actions and their outcomes. This principle is vividly embodied in the leadership of Satya Nadella at Microsoft. Under his stewardship, Microsoft underwent a transformation, not just in its product offerings but in its culture. Nadella’s commitment to accountability saw Microsoft fostering a growth mindset, where success is not just celebrated, but failures are also embraced as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Accountability is the bridge between aspiration and achievement. In a world teeming with distractions, holding yourself accountable for your results is paramount. It means having the courage to look in the mirror, and owning your successes and failures alike. It’s about making a commitment to continuous improvement, regardless of the circumstances.

Practical tip: Establish a monthly accountability meeting with yourself. Review what you’ve achieved, what you haven’t and why. Use this insight to adjust your strategies and actions for the following month. Consider this meeting nonnegotiable, a sacred time for reflection and recalibration.

Setting deadlines: The art of time management

Deadlines are not just markers in time; they are powerful motivators that compel us to focus and prioritize. The art of setting challenging deadlines forces you to strategize, organize and mobilize your resources efficiently to meet your objectives.

Ambitious deadlines instill a sense of urgency, focus the mind and prioritize tasks. Even if you barely miss them, you will have done so much better than you would have if you had set less ambitious targets.

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Practical tip: Adopt the ‘Reverse-Deadline Method.’ Start with the end goal and work backward to establish interim milestones and deadlines. This approach not only provides clarity and a sense of urgency but also helps in identifying potential bottlenecks early in the process. INQ

Tom Oliver, a “global management guru” (Bloomberg), is the chair of The Tom Oliver Group, the trusted advisor and counselor to many of the world’s most influential family businesses, medium-sized enterprises, market leaders and global conglomerates. For more information and inquiries: or email [email protected].

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