A man was hired to paint the stripes down the middle of Main Street. The boss issued him a can of paint and a paintbrush and checked up on him after an hour and he noticed he was making reasonable progress. When the boss visited him at lunchtime, he saw that progress had slowed dramatically. At the end of the day, the boss counted only two new stripes since lunchtime and called his new worker to account for the lack of results. The worker said, “Well, just look how far I am from my paint can!”

This is an apt analogy for what I've seen with many business owners. They are often frustrated with their lack of results, but struggle with how to become more effective. They run to the paint can faster and faster, invest in brushes that can hold more paint, and eventually hire people to run for them so they can “be more effective” doing the real work, which is of course, painting the stripes.

A client asked me if I could help him figure out why he felt so ineffective. I asked for his calendar. Between his weekly standing meetings and other scheduled appointments, 26 hours were typically committed to meetings each week. This represents 65% of his workweek! Since many of these meetings were with his associates, I asked them how effective they thought these meetings were. On a scale of 1 to 10, none of them rated these meetings over a “6” – most even lower.

I then asked him for a copy of his project and task lists, which he readily provided. Rather than having a project list and a separate task list, they had become an amalgam of “to-do’s”, with very significant projects intermingled with miscellaneous tasks.

After watching him work for just a short while, it became apparent that he didn’t know how to move from one completed task to the next most important activity. What made matters worse, after each interruption, too much time was lost recalling what he was working on before getting productive again.

The primary resource of a company is the owner’s time and attention. I've seen wonderful companies that underperformed because the owner can't focus his time or attention on what's important. As the leader goes, so goes the company. In other words, if there is lack of focus and effectiveness in the leader, that ineffectiveness will be amplified throughout the organization.

I made the following five suggestions to my client, which have universal application in helping to manage more effectively.

Five Suggestions for Increasing Effectiveness

1. Protect your calendar. Look for the most efficient ways to communicate information or to solve the challenges that are responsible for you needing meetings. Would an e-mail or a phone call be just as effective and involve less time? When a meeting is necessary, and many are of course, the person calling the meeting must provide an objective for the meeting, an agenda, and the amount of time needed. Be ruthless in keeping meetings off your calendar and keeping those that must occur as short as possible. Redefine “standing meeting” as a meeting where everyone stands, especially with those who tend to consume too much time. This ensures that the meeting will be far shorter than when everyone sits down and gets comfortable.

2. Organize your lists. Create a project list that identifies all the highest priority work that only you can do. I define a project as work requiring multiple sittings. Your task list, on the other hand, are those things that are generally completed in a single sitting. Task lists are usually completed in a day, whereas projects typically require more resources, other people’s involvement, and more time. All projects, however, break down into task list items and appointments.

3. Follow the “WIN” formula (What’s Important Now). At any moment throughout the day, if I asked you, “What’s the most important activity you should be working on?” how would you know how to answer? You can only know by prioritizing your activities and putting a timeline on your projects. I suggest timelines for projects versus priorities since projects are often coordinated with other people’s schedules and responsibilities. Therefore a start and end date will drive a project’s urgency.

4. Delegate all you can. Activities and project details that can be performed by someone else 80% as well as you can perform them should be delegated. Next to controlling your meetings, this will buy you back more time than any other activity.

5. Clean your workspace. Only allow one activity or project to be on your desk (and in your mind) at a time. When unavoidable interruptions come, it is so much easier to dive right back into the work with less “Now, what was I doing?”

There is no greater sense of satisfaction than knowing that you invested your day well in the most important work at hand; work that will provide a good return on investment; work that will make a difference. Being an effective leader is a skill that requires understanding your own strengths and weaknesses relative to the rules that govern effectiveness. Do you stumble in one or more of these five areas? If so, can you see how it limits your effectiveness and the effectiveness of those who report to you? If you do, stop painting stripes long enough to go and grab your paint can.


Steve Meisenheimer offers practical insights into leading and managing a growing company through his books, audios, and subscription products. Learn more at

http://www.MeisenheimerInc.com, or e-mail Steve at Steve@MeisenheimerInc.com.

You are welcome to reprint this article in any format as long as the author’s name and website are also included.

Author's Bio: 

Steve Meisenheimer

As an early entrepreneur, Steve Meisenheimer would go door-to-door trimming trees to work his way through school. He continued growing his business until it became the largest tree service in the Southwest. Steve found his passion in business and has now owned nine companies before founding a management consulting firm where he helps small business owners develop their strategies and grow successful companies.

Steve also speaks professionally to business organizations on the topics of leadership and management.

He is actively involved with the Institute of Management Consultants, National Speakers Association and Toastmasters International and has had the pleasure of speaking to a wide range of audiences.

Steve has been married for twenty-four years and has three daughters. He has published over a hundred articles, written three books, hosted a radio show, and is now passionate about helping others live their dreams as well.