A provocation for the coming year, decade, century or millennium.
It’s a cliche of executive life: you don’t have time to do everything. Whether you use little slips of paper, a planner, scheduling software or a Palm Pilot, all attempts at time management fail. Rather than throwing in the towel, I suggest that you need a new frame of reference. Change your focus from time management to priority management.
Create a list of priorities
Your strategic plan should highlight your business priorities. If you don’t have one, take a look at my articles on the subject.. Answer the question, “What is most important to accomplish in this time frame?” Make those priorities explicit,write them out. Keep a list prominently posted by your desk.
The word priority is derived from prior, meaning before, and related to the Latin primus, meaning first. And while some things are more important than others, your list of priorities should contain all the items of first importance – Only the items critical to developing your business, and nothing else.
Rethinking your to-do list
If you are like most people, your to-do list is a long hodgepodge of everything you have thought to do now and in the future, ordered simply by when you thought it. Perhaps you write little letters or numbers next to each “task” and cross out what’s done. Your list grows and grows – you re-write it only when it becomes unreadable. Throw it away!
The List of Seven
Start fresh every day. Today’s list, written today for today, should contain no more than seven items. Based on your priorities, list today’s most important item first, and so on. Each item on the list must advance a critical issue in your business. If it doesn’t, why are you doing it? Remove it from your list. If you still think it’s important, but not that important, delegate it to someone else.
Planning and Reality
Each day brings scheduled and ad-hoc meetings, walk-ins, sit-downs, and emergencies. Plus, you have daily rituals – answering email, your half-hour reading, or reviewing sales figures. Each meeting and each ritual should be evaluated against your highest priorities. If it doesn’t address your priorities, don’t do it. Don’t participate. Give it up. Delegate it away. The time remaining after meetings and rituals is available for your to-do list. Don’t squander it!
Using the list
Put your energies into doing the first task on your list until it’s complete. Only then, move on to the second item. You may not complete today’s list today – you may not even complete item one – but if you’ve spent the day advancing your highest priority, you’ve been productive.
Tomorrow, make a fresh list on a fresh sheet of paper or its computer equivalent. Don’t automatically carry anything over. This will give you a sense of completion and force you to freshly evaluate what’s important. If you have multiple “highest priority” tracks to follow, break up the available time into fixed time slots, and advance several priorities at once.
Evaluation and balance
At the end of each week, match your accomplishments against your list of strategic priorities. Check to see that you are making progress with all your objectives – that all your priorities are moving forward. Don’t let key areas in your business languish. Evaluate your progress against the list provided in New Year’s Planning.
There may still not be enough time for everything, but the things that are critical to your business will get done. Everything else can wait.
(c) Paul Lemberg