Working to identify criteria describing attractive target customers, our small group had spent several weeks considering, selecting, and tracking down what we thought were the most relevant variables. There was a sense we could spend weeks more refining and tweaking things to get to our list of top prospects. Problem was we didn't have time to do that.

At that point, the group's leader made an intriguing suggestion. Our meeting was set to end at 4 o'clock. His direction to the group was to assume we had to report our list of 15 accounts by the end of the meeting. If that were the case he asked us, did we have confidence in our ability to come up with a defensible recommendation. Our answer was a resounding "Yes," and we generated our list based on the work we'd done to that point.

With our proposed short list, we had an artifact for our effort. In additional analysis we did, we quickly matched up new possibilities against what became known as the "4 p.m. List" to see if they provided significant improvement. In all, the list paved the way for us to wrap up our recommendation in a timely fashion.

We learned from this, and with one of my strategic thinking partners, all we have to say is, "Let's do a 4 p.m. list," to know it's time to force a recommendation assuming we know most of what we're ever going to know at that point.

So if you're stuck on a project, turn the clock to 3:50 p.m., and wrap it up!