Lose weight … eat more fruits and vegetables … exercise more. We all know what we have to do in order to improve our health. That is easy. The difficulty lies in actually following the advice.

Likewise in business, there is plenty of advice on how to succeed. Below, I offer advice that is rarely (if ever) taken and actually followed.

1. Pick up the phone. Especially today and especially among younger employees, everything seems to be done by text or email. But, sometimes, we just have to pick up the phone or (heaven forbid) interact in person to ensure that a matter is resolved properly.

2. Focus on the important not the urgent. This advice of doing first things first (as taken from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) requires us to resist that next email or insignificant but urgent issue in order to do more important (if not immediately pressing) tasks, for example mentoring and developing one’s team.

3. Set limits on ourselves. The goal is to create rules for ourselves that prohibit or limit certain activities, ensuring that we do not get distracted and that we get things done quickly. This conserves our energy and attention for other, more important issues.

  • Keep most documents and analysis to one page.
  • Focus on no more than three to five key goals or objectives.
  • Start the day with the most important task, not emails.

4. Return all phone calls. Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, says it well:

“Return calls and emails in a timely way. That would put you ahead of 99.9 percent of your competitors. People are shocked; people are in awe. They can’t believe it, and we can’t believe that people can’t believe it because we think everybody should do it.”

5. End the day with fewer than 10 emails in the inbox. Be brutal. Read each email quickly. Then, delete 90 percent of them and either file, respond immediately or schedule a task reminder for the rest.

6. Avoid meetings and conference calls. Perhaps the biggest time wasters in business are meetings and conference calls, especially those where someone presents (reads) a PowerPoint to a large group of people. Avoid these like the plague.

7. Fire that annoying, unprofitable customer. It takes a lot of guts for any company to fire a customer. We can immediately see the hit to the revenue line, and we always believe that we can make the customer profitable in the future. But, many customers are just not worth the effort. It is better that we “fire” them and focus our time and attention on other more profitable customers.

8. Write it down. To get done what needs to get done, we need to write down our commitments and promises. As with the waiter or waitress who does not write down our orders at dinner and screws up everyone’s meal, what is not written down is all too often forgotten and not done.