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5 Business Killers

November 29, 2010, 1:00 PM UTC

Dread looking at your to-do list? It’s easy to fall behind if you, like many businesspeople, are short-handed because of recent cutbacks. My solution: Just stop all those activities that drain energy out of your company, and focus on the work that will actually produce profitable growth. That’s what Jana Eggers did. The chief of Spreadshirt, a 250-employee company that helps customers design and sell their own apparel, stopped deploying full sales teams in Scandinavia and focused instead on core markets in Britain and France. The result? Sales in those countries rose. Here are five ways you can cut that endless to-do list.

1. Stop paying attention to the bad news

At Austin-based Falcon Containers, CEO Stephen Shang suggested in 2009 that his sales team quit watching economic news for two weeks and spend more time connecting with customers. Result: The company, which leases repurposed shipping containers as storage units, made a deal to create an Iraqi “village” out of the containers for an anti-IED effort by the U.S. Air Force. That led to more military business — fostering a 20% sales increase.

2. End a contentious relationship

Tired of worrying that his creative talent would quit because the main contact for a huge client was abusive, Kim McConnell, founder of agricultural marketing communications firm AdFarm, pulled the plug on the relationship. Morale improved immediately. “Very quickly the revenue from this very sizable account was made up,” he says. “I guess it put pressure on our people to go and find the revenue we lost from this client.”

3. Quit selling some of your products or services

Niraj Balasaria, CEO of Petron Pacific, a 14-employee steel-and-wire-products importer that brings in more than $15 million annually, says he saved his company from disaster by pulling back from three new product lines earlier this year. His team was pulled in too many directions, leading to mistakes. “I lost tons of money simply because I went outside of my core competency,” he says. He’s now refocusing on the company’s three most successful lines.

4. Don’t answer your own e-mail

Finding himself spending far too much time tackling his in-box, Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, the $100 million clutter-removal service, asked his assistant to take over and handle his e-mails two years ago. He says getting rid of this “business killer” improved his productivity and has made him a better manager, freeing him to encourage and inspire his team. “It’s given me time to walk around and talk to people,” he says. Imagine that!

5. Stop eating alone

Scrimp on business lunches — as so many companies are doing — and you’ll lose vital business leads. Ask McConnell, who has broken bread with professional contacts and employees every workday since 1984. He’s won several huge clients for his company, which has sales in the $15 million range, as a result. “It didn’t occur over lunch, where two minutes later I walked out with a multimillion-dollar client, but it was definitely the catalyst that allowed it to occur,” he says.

–Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm.