Have you ever found that it all just becomes a bit overwhelming?

When I was younger and growing my executive career, I came to a point where I was really grappling with the need for more structure, in particular structure around managing priorities, planning, dealing with people stuff, dealing with customer stuff, and so on. One of my mentors at the time, suggested what he called a stocktake; he told me to sit down and write down everything that I could think of that I had done as a business manager or leader, in my various roles.

As it turned out, I spent a couple of days writing down everything I could think of; things that I had done as a business manager and leader, in all sort of different roles. In my case that meant everything from running a surf life saving club, a paid lifeguard service, selling Xerox photocopiers and fax machines (remember fax machines?), building my own computer and office equipment dealership and studying at Stanford University. I listed the various issues and outcomes from my European consultancy adventure and my time at Colliers in NZ and Australia, running a multi-national multi-million-dollar real estate organisation coming off what was then one of the worst real estate recessions since the 1930’s.

So, I was sitting in my study and started writing my list. I devoted one line of my yellow pad for each “thing”. In no particular order, the list included:

  • Organise patrol captains and roster
  • Raise money for new inflatable rescue craft
  • Negotiate a major leasing fee
  • Systems review, decision and implementation
  • Travel to Adelaide to attend management meeting
  • Lead property management presentation
  • Give a speech to new recruits
  • Renegotiate bank credit limits and interest margins
  • Attend employment disciplinary matter in Melbourne
  • Restructure divisions and decrease headcount
  • Replace underperforming state manager
  • Rescue a lost photocopier sale
  • …… and so on.

Two days of thinking produced 30 items per page and 20 pages of assorted experiences. The first thing that became clear was how much stuff I had really done. That alone gives you some confidence in your own ability.

I then threw my pile of pages into a desk drawer for a couple of days and pondered what I would do with my new list. Two days later I pulled the assorted papers from their resting place and began putting my thoughts into some form of logical order. Moving down the margin, I started categorizing the list into headings. It may have been a banking matter, a brand matter, an employment issue or a sales opportunity. I analysed the points and refined the definitions in the margins. My first cut produced 20 or so headings. Too many, I thought. I re-categorised a couple of times. It took two days to complete the list but then, after some creative thinking, everything on those 20 pages fitted under just 7 headings. And I call those headings the 7 Principles of Profit. The list read like this:

  1. Dealing with change
  2. Leadership
  3. The Back Office – Finance & Administration
  4. Products and Services
  5. Sales & Marketing
  6. People
  7. Customers

And I’ve since learned that everything we do in business falls under one of those seven headings.

Since then I’ve had a further 3 CEO roles, countless consultancy projects, various directorships and chairmanships, with privately owned, publicly listed and private equity ownership and of course various voluntary bodies. And I’ve worked across industries as diverse as heavy transport and warehousing, publishing, to appliance retailing and professional services. And yet there is nothing else that I have come across in the last 20 years, that doesn’t fit under one of those headings.

The best part is this. As you’re thinking, planning and doing in your business, a list like this provides boxes to put your ideas in, a framework for your thinking and a format for you to communicate to others. It gives you a series of headings to consider as you think about your business and your plans.

So if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed – here’s a couple of options – have a look at those 7 headings and try to organise your challenges, thoughts and ideas around them. Alternatively, take a seat, turn off the phone and the computer and write down the list of things that you do … and build a structure that suits you.

And most of all, have fun. We all spend too much time working, not to enjoy ourselves.

Thanks for watching. Have a great week.