To do or not to do: How to take action when you’re feeling listless

Richard Farleigh
MY OLDEST son Tom came to me with a confession. “Dad, I’ve got a bit of a problem: I think I’m lazy.” “What?” I said. “You’re lazy? And on top of that you want sympathy for your condition?” I kicked him out of the room with a smile on my face. “We are all lazy! We just get off our butts and go and do things. Get outta here!”

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for slackers. I’m often at my desk early in the morning, and usually start by scribbling out a “to-do” list on some scrap of paper. But I must admit, I love including a few things I’ve already finished, then heavily crossing those out and going to grab a well-deserved cup of coffee.

When I return to my office, I’m usually doing things that are urgent or even over-due. Work is so much easier when it’s fuelled by adrenalin and anxiety. Some things, however, I put off eternally. They appear continually on my to-do lists, but whenever I so much as half-think of doing them, something else seems far more important – like tidying up a drawer or buying spare toothpaste. No wonder I’ve never got around to learning the piano or speaking decent French.

My to-do list has to be on paper, not electronic. I can’t stand a pesky computer or smart phone bugging me about something I’d hoped to do by a certain time. Every time you hit “remind me later,” you feel like you’re cheating on a digital device. Paper versions of anything, though, can have their disadvantages. A friend of mine insisted on using a paper contacts book, until one day she accidentally dropped it in the loo. By the time she had fished it out, a lot of the pages were unreadable. For a few weeks or so, she couldn’t contact anyone whose surname started with A-H.

Lists can also be used to make important decisions. I’ve used the mighty “checklist” approach when investing, and I sometimes use it when I’m assessing small companies. I put all the major factors in there, such as the quality of the management, uniqueness of the product, time to market, competition, market size and economic environment. Each factor gets a score between plus and minus three. Then, everything is added up and, hey presto, the total score helps me form an opinion.

The advantage of a checklist is that it encourages me to look at all angles. It then helps me to restrain my enthusiasm in a great product if, say, the management is a bit iffy, or the market too competitive. It also gives me a record of my view at the time. I’ve taught this approach to co-workers, and when one of them was moving back to Australia, he called me.

“RF, I’ve just been trying to decide whether to live in Sydney or Brisbane, so I’ve done a checklist. Can I run it by you?” “Er, of course mate.” “Climate: Sydney plus three, it’s not as humid. Cost of living: Brisbane plus three, it’s much cheaper. Social: Sydney plus two, I’ve got more friends there.” He went on to list about ten things, including a “big male fish” factor. “I’ve made a few bucks, and the girls will be much more impressed with me in Brisbane. Plus two. What do you think?” “Um, I guess that all makes sense mate. What are you going to do?” “I’ve added it all up and Brisbane wins by two, so I think I’m going to move there.” Wow, I thought, he’s either mad or brilliant.

Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.