How to Get Stuff Done


“I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest”. 

Can you imagine having only one leg and being in a butt-kicking contest (if there was such a thing)? You’d be working so hard to protect your own bottom that you wouldn’t have any time to score your own strikes. 

Often life can feel a bit like a big butt-kicking contest. We get caught up in the urgent needs (protecting our bottoms) that we don’t have any time to make measurable progress on our goals. If we had the right tools, maybe we could do both. 

That’s why the organization is so important. It’s what enables us to balance our time so that we can have time for the things we really want to do. In life, those goals may be working out more so we are healthier. Maybe it’s being able to be more focused on work so that you have time to read in the evenings. Maybe it’s saving more so that the nest egg is a little bigger. Whatever the goal, being organized will help you spend more time on what you want, by making the rest of life flow easily. 

The same is true in leadership and hospitality; it’s natural to get so caught up in solving problems that we don’t have time for the things that really matter. In hospitality, our goal is to create memorable hotel experiences. But that can’t happen without organization. We need the tasks each day to effortlessly get done, (without errors) so that front-line staff have time to engage with guests. Staff need to be able to take time to make the stay special. They need to be able to really think about the process and how the guests may perceive it. Operations are vital to service. 

Simplify The Process

During my first job at a seasonal hotel, I nearly cracked. I was 22 and had accepted a position as a guide to implement a program that had never been run before, in a hotel that hadn’t even opened yet.

There were so many problems, all the time! The rooms were never clean in time for guests. The front desk staff couldn’t figure out the system. The guides lacked communication. The leaders pressured us to perform but didn’t support us. We were so busy taking care of the operation that we could barely keep up. I found a leader I admired from a different department and unlaid all my woes on him.

I thought that if we could get the rooms clean, then we’d have more time to engage with guests, learn the systems and improve communication. I was looking for ways to be faster. I suggested we use incentives or punishments to motivate the team to clean the rooms faster. I thought maybe we could schedule more people. We could start earlier, or push check in later. I had all these ideas to work on the speed. I thought I was doing pretty well to come up with so many ideas. I’ll never forget the perspective this leader shared.

He just asked, “is there anything that can be cut?”. We didn’t need to go faster. We could do less. Maybe if we simplified the tasks, we would be done in time. Instead of thinking in a direct line, the leader showed me how to solve problems creatively and think about all the options.  Instead of thinking “we’re slow, we need to be faster”, he was thinking “the process isn’t working. What are our options?”

Since then I’ve really tried to think of all the options, not just multiple versions of the same option. For me, engaging with guests and being available for them is the utmost role of a guest service agent. But on check in, there’s also a lot of technical tasks that need to be done. Even as an experienced person, it’s often difficult to navigate the systems correctly, ensuring all the details are accurate. So I’ve worked to simplify the check in process so that it’s easier and the agents have more time to engage with the guests

Simplify the Environment

It’s easy to underestimate how much our environment affects us. Water for example is completely controlled by the environment, it changes state with the temperature and flows in whatever direction is easiest.  To change the path of water, trying to convince it or use subtle persuasion isn’t going to work. The only way to get it to do what you want is to make that the easiest option.

Humans are 60% water. We do whatever is easiest. 

Our motivation for a task has to be greater than the effort required to complete it. Traditionally, we use either the carrot or the stick to increase motivation. We’ll try to motivate people or punish them if they don’t do what is needed. In our personal lives, we’ll often use the same tactics on ourselves. We’ll tell ourselves that if we don’t work out, we’ll get fat (a threat), or that we’ll feel better (a reward) if we do work out.

At one hotel I worked at, they used the same carrot and stick methods. We spent the majority of our days outside in the snow, so having good jackets was vital. Our supervisors wisely wanted to care for the jackets and wanted them hung up after each use. Any time they found a jacket laying on the ground or shoved into a cubby, they’d get mad at us. Eventually, it got so bad that they were handing out written warnings for not hanging jackets up. But we were still tossing the jackets anywhere that was convenient.

They never stopped to ask why the jackets rarely got hung up. They thought if they threatened us enough, we would be motivated to hang them up. But even their threats didn’t motivate us enough. 

I evaluated my own motives and realized that I didn’t hang the jacket up because it was too hard. If anyone wanted to hang the jacket up, they’d have to go all the way to the back room, wrestle a hanger out of the tangled mess and then push all the clothes to one side to wedge their coat in. It was a lot of work!

On one slow afternoon, I quietly got rid of all the old clothes to make lots of room on the coat rack. I neatly hung a bunch of sturdy hangers and tidied the back room to make access easy. Magically, most of the coats got hung up! We didn’t need any threats or rewards, all we needed was a change in the environment. We’re controlled by our environments. If our environment naturally channels our efforts, like a riverbank channels water, we’ll be able to spend more time doing the things we want, instead of fighting to do what we need to. 

Structural Changes

If we want to direct water, making the channels is great. But if we want to block the flow of the water, we need to build a dam. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, the ease to do the opposite of what we want is still much greater than our motivation, so we need to block off the options altogether. 

When housekeeping, we’d have a morning meeting to know what to expect for the day. We’d find an empty room, sit down and talk about the day. But sometimes, these meetings would last 30-45 minutes. We’d get comfortable, distracted and goof off. It was a real problem and delayed the actual cleaning. We tried setting timers. We tried writing out the agenda. We tried having different people lead the meeting. We all really tried to not get distracted, but it was just too easy, and fun.

None of the methods to reduce distraction worked. One day, all the rooms in the hotel were occupied, so we wandered off and had our daily line up in the stairwell. We were in and out in less than five minutes. This uncomfortable space allowed us to discuss our objectives but didn’t allow us to get distracted. By changing the location of our meetings, we effortlessly changed our behaviour. 

We’re still doing what was easiest, but with all options for distractions blocked off, now the easiest thing was to have our meeting and get going. When we changed this part of our day, we had more time to actually work on our main goal of cleaning rooms. 

I’ve shared before how often guests complain to be heard. Often they don’t realize why, but a discount doesn’t satisfy their needs. I’ve learned that as long as I take steps to show we care, often guests don’t need anything else. 

But just offering discounts and free breakfasts is so easy! Just throwing money at the problem often makes guests feel like you’re just trying to bribe them not to leave a poor review. It does nothing to restore their faith. So what if we prevented discounts from being offered? Then we’d be forced to find other routes to make the guests happy. We’d be forced to listen to them, to empathize and find other non-financial avenues to recover their trust.  

When I write, I also block distractions. For a long time, I beat myself up and tried very hard to be dedicated. But eventually, I stopped trying. I downloaded a few focus apps and have made a habit of turning them on wherever I need to focus. They block all internet connections so I can’t get distracted. Writing suddenly becomes the most attractive option because all the dopamine-filled distractions are blocked. 


Lists help us create structure in our systems. It’s easy to see lists or checklists as just written forms telling us what to do. If telling isn’t motivating enough, they shouldn’t work, right? Except a good checklist does work, just ask pilots. 

Checklists aren’t telling us what to do, they’re making the process easier. When the checklist says to “push the red button, then the blue one” the easiest thing to do is push the red button, then push the blue one. The harder thing is to try to figure it out for yourself. 

Is really easy to get lazy and not check for special requests when assigned specific rooms to guests. But when it’s on the checklist, it’s a gentle reminder to put the guest first. When you’re tempted to do one thing, the list gently brings you back to the important tasks. It blocks the excuse that you can do things your own way. 

When I had my first job in a hotel, I was the freshest kid you could imagine. I didn’t have a credit card and had no idea what the difference between a debit and a credit card was. I had no clue that BAR stood for Best Available Rate or that B2Q meant a balcony room with two queen beds. There was so much to learn that I got overwhelmed. I could follow processes as one step led to the next, but forgot what I’d need to prepare for the day, until it was too late. I needed to count the cash float, I needed to print off the contingency reports in case something happened, I needed to read the pass on to see about any ongoing issues. I needed to clean the breakfast room, I needed to polish the cart and I also needed to check guests out, take proper payment, take reservations and somehow ensure that we had enough pancake mix for the next day made up. There were so many things to do, I would inevitably forget some of them. Thankfully, we had a pretty good daily checklist. I went over that thing every day and eventually I could progress through the day so efficiently that I finished work early and could focus on either deep inventory, engaging with guests, developing new sheets to help organize the office or just watch YouTube. But I needed that list to help remind me what to do when and to force me to take action on the steps that maybe didn’t feel needed, but were. 

I’ve seen a few lists that are not as helpful though. Do I really need to count the check the stock of paper clips each day? As soon as one thing on the list can be ignored, then the motivation to complete the list is gone and the whole list is often ignored. The best lists help remind one of the essential tasks and keep the day progressing to set one up for success. It’ll become such a habit that you won’t even need to use energy any more. And that’s the real power of lists, they help build a routine. 


Each habit and routine is made up of three parts: the trigger, the process and the reward. An Army dude in the middle east had a problem with riots, there was a riot almost every day. It was exhausting for his men and preventing him from making progress on actually achieving peace in the area. 

He noticed that most riots started with a predictable pattern. When people started getting restless and frustrated, they would gather and talk in the town square, they got angrier and angrier as the day passed. Eventually, food vendors would begin serving the crowd and then after a few hours being agitated, a riot would start. It got so bad there were riots almost everyday. People just seemed to be in a habit of rioting. This smart leader took a page from my mentor’s book and created a “backwards solution” to try something I don’t think many others would have tried: he banned food vendors in the town square. 

The riots stopped overnight. It seemed that without the vendors selling food, all the people got hungry and just headed home instead of rioting. By making one small change, in a seemingly unrelated area, he prevented riots, because it broke the flow of the routine. 

Studies have shown that about 40% of our day-to-day actions are routines. Think about it, when you brush your teeth, do you put your toothpaste on before or after wetting the brush? How hard would it be to change this? Which side do you start brushing on? Do you floss? If we were truly mentally doing the tasks, it would make sense that sometimes there would be some fluctuation based on the surroundings, but there’s not.

If you want to change behaviour, try changing the routines that govern them, by either making a list to set the routine, or changing the structure to block old habits and make new ones. If we do things like brush our teeth in exactly the same way each time because of the habit, think about how consistent you could get the service if that was a habit. It takes time to change a habit, and a lot of effort or drastic changes to the environment. But over time, if we change habits, we can change our life. 

Being your Best Self

In a hotel, you could smile and be welcoming, you could do everything right, but if you check the guest into the wrong room, it will ruin the guest’s stay. Through many of the concepts discussed already, we can create systems to help prevent confusion. But we can also use time wisely. 

In a hotel, it seems that things are either crazy busy or super boring. To survive during busy times, we need to set the stage for success during the slow times. If we use the slow times to cover these details, it not only makes the slow times less boring, but it makes the busy times more manageable.

I find during slow times, I forget more than I do during busy times. When it’s busy you’ve got to be prepared and go crazy to keep up. That continual effort makes things happen. But when it’s slow, it’s easy to put off the preparations or get distracted doing unnecessary tasks. For example, on my last shift, I had only three check outs. All of them checked out within my first 1.5 hours on shift. So I had another 6.5 hours with nothing to do! But I forgot to count the float, I didn’t take the old registration cards out of the file and I didn’t even prepare the new arrivals’ keys. Making a list can help focus the efforts so you aren’t left daydreaming when you have nothing to do. If I can make a list when I remember things, then when it’s slow and I have time, I can work on those tasks

I like to use lists a lot. It helps me gather my thoughts and collect ideas so that I don’t need to worry about forgetting them. If someone asks me for a fresh towel, but I can’t do it right away, I’ll likely forget later. So writing down all the requests helps me stay on top of all the details when it’s busy. When things slow down, I go through the list to make sure I did everything I needed to.

In my very first hotel, the manager drilled into me that polished luggage carts are important. To this day I still cringe when I see an unpolished cart. But often things get busy and I can’t do it before heading to the parking lot to greet guests. So I stashed a bottle and a few clothes in the luggage stand so that if I ever had a few minutes while I was outside, I could polish the carts. When I had motivation, I took a step that guaranteed I was enabled to take advantage of any opportunity that may arise. Little fixes like this help change the atmosphere and direct change. 

In life, our motivation fluctuates, just as much as a hotel’s business levels. Opportunity and motivation won’t always line up. If we can take action when we have high motivation that will guarantee success when we have low motivation it has tremendous impact. 

You might not always feel like saving money. But after seeing your credit card bill, you might, so take that moment and set up an automatic saving plan. During one moment of strength, you can make a change that will guarantee success and even thwart your spend-happy self.

Putting Everything Together

We all have goals. But often those goals seem so lofty that we never reach them. I saw a quote recently; it said “Don’t Make Resolutions, Make Change”. When we are organized, we can actually arrange things so we have time to work on the goals, instead of just wanting to. 

In hospitality, there are several things that make a guests’ stay great and these need to be the focus of the operation. We need to make sure that guests feel genuinely welcomed and are given a chance to engage with staff. We need to make sure to elevate specific moments out of the rest to make the experience memorable. And we need to continually use psychology to help us have the greatest impact possiblele. 

But even if we do all those things, if the beds are not made, if the guest is double charged or if we forget to bring extra towels when they request it, then the guests stay has been tarnished. 

One must balance both sides of the coin and ensure the operations take up as little time as possible to free up as much time as possible for the actual engagement and improvement. We need good systems and organization. We need to simplify the process as much as possible: one good system is always better than needing to write three notes in different spots as reminders. An environment that encourages the desired behaviours will outshine even the greatest rewards or darkest threats. Often blocking channels off all together will help ensure that progress is focused where it matters. A well-crafted list is invaluable as a reminder of the details, but also as a place to catch ideas and notes. And if we work with those systems long enough, eventually we will develop habits, which will produce great service, every time. 

At the end of the day, we want guests to leave with a smile. And we need to show them that smile first. We need to put our best foot forward every time, and use our time wisely. 



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