Savage counsel – forming new work habits

In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Chris Savage tackles your agency dilemmas in his weekly advice column.

Hi Chris,

In 2012 I almost killed myself trying to get everything done. If I only form one productive new habit in 2013, what should it be?

Only do what only you can do. That’s my new habit. Get as focused as you can about the things you are absolutely the right person to do, and delegate as much of the rest as you can. But that is easier for me to do as I am a key leader in my group.

So here’s another idea. Get very focused on lifting your efficiency – and do it by becoming a guru at prioritising. Here’s a technique that works. Look at your ‘To Do’ list every day. Divide the tasks into four buckets: a) important and urgent, b) important and not urgent, c) urgent and not important, d) not important and not urgent. Then make sure you are putting the right focus against the first two buckets while dealing with the urgent but not important stuff.

Plan your days in advance, carefully, and ensure you are making the important and urgent, and important but not urgent stuff the absolutely priority. And then stick to those priorities every day.

Train yourself to keep coming back to your key priorities, whatever the distractions. Obviously stuff will pop up unexpectedly that’s urgent and important – add those tasks to the top of the list.

And a final tip – take heed of this quote that I am told adorns the walls at the Facebook office in California. “Done is better than perfect.” Read that again. It’s powerful. Particularly for those perfectionists out there. As legendary US army chief General Patton famously said: “A good plan executed violently today is better than a better plan next week.”

Chris Savage is the chief operating officer of STW Group. His blog, Wrestling Possums with Chris Savage, can be found at


This feature first appeared in the tablet edition of Encore. To download click on the links below.


  1. Honey
    26 Feb 13
    3:29 pm

  2. My mantra is “Perfect is the enemy of done”. This is the single smartest thought you can have in your head each day. The amount of time I see people waste each day on completely futile polishing staggers me. If it takes you one hour to get it 90% awesome and two extra hours to get it 98% awesome, STOP at 90% and complete two other tasks instead!

    My other rule of efficiency is to procrastinate only with tasks in my top ten list. If I get bored with task 2 and task 6 looks appealing, I’ll do that. Completing task 6 will probably give me the motivation to kick back into task 2. And if it doesn’t there’s always discipline to fall back on. Just because I don’t feel like doing it doesn’t mean I can’t do it.

    When I die, people will say of me “she got shit done”. I will be proud.

  3. Cathie
    26 Feb 13
    4:21 pm

  4. I’m with you. I’m a big fan of “the Cult of Done” –

      There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
      Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
      There is no editing stage.
      Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
      Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
      The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
      Once you’re done you can throw it away.
      Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
      People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
      Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
      Destruction is a variant of done.
      If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
      Done is the engine of more.
  5. Anonymous
    26 Feb 13
    5:30 pm

  6. Dunno if I agree entirely with the “culture of done”. I spend an increasingly large part of my day fixing poorly thought out, half-baked projects that, while “done”, are ineffective, inefficient & riddled with issues that require 5x the resources to fix than they would have if they had a bit of extra time scoping.

    I’m more in the “do fewer things, but do them well” camp.

  7. Meg
    27 Feb 13
    2:21 pm

  8. sounds simple but…EAT LUNCH. and that means eat, breathe air, walk, get away from your desk. trying to do more than your body/mind can handle leads to poor productivity. Understand what you can physically and mentally handle, draw a line, and stick to it. when you stop doing too much it’s amazing how much you can actually achieve.

  9. red
    27 Feb 13
    3:18 pm

  10. But Anon, the opposite of ‘done badly’ is not necessarily ‘done perfectly’. What’s wrong with ‘done well enough’?

    I can’t tell you how many conversations we have in our office about giving clients what they asked for and what they’ll be happy with, not the version that comes 30 revisions later that is marginally better but not worth the effort.

    It’s about doing what you need to – and then moving on. The trick is working out when you’ve actually reached the point of having done all you need to.

    For me, it usually means my first draft is my final draft.

  11. Anonymous
    28 Feb 13
    10:21 am

  12. I guess it depends what you do…if you’re agency side & are talking about a press ad or piece of copy then yeah, 80/20 rule FTW.

    I work client side on large projects that involve multiple departments. When the objective is simply to get them “done”, the amount of resources burned in rectifying all the issues that were not identified during scoping far outweighs the resources that would have gone into properly running the project.

    I’ve just been involved in a product launch in which the department running the project involved key parties far too late. The term “broad strokes” was thrown around a lot. It was (is) riddled with issues that we are still fixing, and hit 60% of it’s initial sales forecast, staff are disengaged, resources are wasting time on this when they could be working on other things. Involving those parties a few weeks earlier would have meant a far more successful project.

    It’s nice to get things done; it’s FAR better to do them properly.