April 13, 2020
Here’s a question for you: Have you ever noticed that your list of things to do never decreases? Have you ever noticed that the more you do, the more you take things off the list, that the list continually grows? The more senior you become, the more responsibilities you have, the longer your list of things to do becomes. Hence, a key aspect or a key skill that you need is the ability to prioritise.
I am constantly astounded by the number of leaders I speak to who do not have empty spaces in their diaries. In other words, their days are full. They have back-to-back meetings, and not only do they have back-to-back meetings, there is no space at times to go to the bathroom or even grab a meal. They have a meeting that starts at 8:00 to 9:00, 9:00 to 10:00, 10:00 to 11:00, 11:00 to 12:00, maybe a lunch meeting from 12:00 to 1:00. When is there time to just pause, ease up, think about what’s been happening, and think about action steps that come out of those meetings?
I wonder sometimes, if for some of these individuals, it’s connected to a sense of importance. Does one get a sense of importance because their diary is full? It’s my belief that this then leads to the person mostly likely becoming less effective in their role. As you become more senior, a key thing that you need to be able to do is let go. Let go of some of the tasks you used to do when you were lower down the rung and take on other tasks.
I love the book by Marshall Goldsmith titled, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. It’s a great read. I recommend it if you haven’t read it, because he talks about the 21 habits leaders have that get in the way of them being successful, and one of those things is in fact prioritising.
There are many ways to look at prioritising. You may have come across different models. I like the model by Stephen Covey which involves a two by two grid. On one side of the grid is ‘what’s urgent’ and on the bottom side of the grid is ‘what’s important.’ Covey says that most of us are constantly spending time on things that are urgent but not important, because we didn’t deal with them when they were important. Of course, you want to be dealing with things that are both urgent and important.
A senior leader I once worked with, who was really one of the most effective leaders I’ve ever met, said to me that every day he would look at his tasks lists and ask himself the question – ‘what are the things here that only I can do?’ In other words, these are things that only I can do and no one else can, and those are the things I focus on, everything else I delegate. The prioritising is really based on what’s important, what are my KPIs, and what are the things that only I can do.
I also think, that it’s important to have a sense of balance in your life. In other words, success is not just about work. You need to be able to prioritise in your week, in your month, time for yourself, time for your family, time for your community, time for intellectual pursuits and spiritual pursuits.