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Posted: October 08, 2009

Control what you can—and don’t sweat the rest

More rules to put you a cut above

Laurence B. Valant

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, "Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance."  

10 - Understand what you can control (very little) and what you cannot (all the rest).

One of the hardest lessons I have ever had to learn was how little I actually control. Because I thought I had much greater control than I actually had, I worked very hard to make everything and everyone behave correctly.

My attempts to control encompassed almost every aspect of my life, from how the people closest to me behaved, to how drivers on the road behaved, to the incompetence of our political leaders. As you can see, I had lots to control requiring a great deal of effort.

Unfortunately, when all those people did not behave as they should, I felt no small amount of stress. The stress of course, was totally unnecessary.

At some point, it occurred to me that most of my stress was caused by my effort to change things that were beyond my control. Once having made this discovery, I tried focusing on those things I could control: my own thoughts and actions and letting go of those things I couldn't control, which was just about everything else.

This epiphany was the beginning of my ability to truly enjoy life

11 - Write it down so you don't forget it.

A key part of being viewed as reliable (and this should be everyone's goal) is not forgetting. And invariably, most of us when we are busy, will forget what we don't write down.

We have all observed those who write their to-do's on a scrap of paper and then wonder where they put the scrap of paper. More now than ever, in the era of computers and PDAs with built in reminders, forgetting is not an acceptable excuse.

My personal rules are:

• I write down my commitments in my Outlook task list or calendar, clearly defining what I have to do, when it is due, and for whom.
• I set due dates with reminders and alarms.
• I review and update my task list and calendar at the beginning of each day
• At the end of each day, I review my meeting notes and the happenings of my day, updating my calendar and task list.

Your memory may be better than mine, but everyone I know who is reliable and who meets commitments has a similar methodology of writing things down, keeping track of due dates, and meeting their commitments without fail. The ability to not forget things clearly sets you apart from those who remember most of their commitments most of the time.

Meeting all your commitments all the time is a huge differentiator between you and those who don't.

12 - Always use a meeting planner.

If you are asking people for their time - give them a well planned meeting! When you are taking time from busy people and requesting they attend a meeting that you are hosting, what do you owe them?

A meeting planner that contains the following:

- Beginning and ending times
- Clearly stated objectives
- An agenda for getting to the objectives
- A listing of deliverables resulting from the meeting
- Clear record keeping and summary of decisions
- Next steps

A well thought-out meeting planner, with clearly stated meeting goals, where the beginning and ending times are respected, provides a powerful leadership statement. A leader who develops and adheres to a meeting planner cannot help but have effective meetings.

Caution! Learn to speak sparingly and briefly when you lead a meeting. Avoid the temptation to wax eloquent - a recipe for a bad meeting and a trait often associated with weak managers. The disciplined use of a meeting planner will develop the enviable trait of getting to and sticking with the meeting objectives.

The discipline of using a meeting planner will transform your meetings, develop your reputation as an effective leader and will be welcomed overwhelmingly by your attendees.

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Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit

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