Executives are under siege from countless disparate business priorities all claiming to be number one. The competing priorities are all persuasive. Priorities can come from you, your board or other boss, or from employees. Some priorities are strictly minor leaguers -- minions of the here- and-now thrills of the short-term fix. Other priorities are major-leaguers with a perspective on the past and a vision for the future.
Executives influenced by minor-league priorities are forever putting out financial and personnel fires. As a result, forward progression of the business can be stalled. Executives persuaded by major-league priorities systematically meet their goals and bypass the tempting detours along the way. But how does the besieged leader find the right priority to listen to? How does s/he stay focused on the majors? Specifically, how does s/he focus on the priorities that impact the business most long-term without harming it in the short-term?
Change is constant and each day offers its own unique challenges. It is easy to get distracted from the big picture. Executives juggle the need to stay competitive, grow volume, expand services and products, and stay afloat with operations. They play to multiple audiences of media, stakeholders, customers and employees.
While some executives have a management structure to support them and share the oversight workload, not all do. No matter what size of organization, there is a balance between the time needed to position the organization for the next decade with the time needed to manage and keep operations going smoothly day-to-day.
Effective time managers know they cannot do everything at once. It's the order of the doing that is so vexing. And the order is determined by having the minor priorities march lockstep with the major ones.
Here are the 8 successful tips which help you focus on the majors:
- Make it a habit to have strategic planning as part of your weekly work focus even if it is just an hour. This habit ensures that you are thoughtful about the future on an ongoing basis.
- As you review your priorities, sort them electronically, on paper or in your mind, as to which has the most value to you and the organization if handled
- For operational priorities, take timeliness of response into consideration as well as the severity of the situation
- Separate out the items you would like to accomplish from those that have to be accomplished. Park the "like to accomplish" items in a place where if you have to find the list you can. This keeps your list from filling up the computer or notebooks and decreases your mental stress which increases when you have an inexhaustible list.
- Refuse to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent - where you spend your days putting out fires. While fires happen, some can be handled by others in your organization and some problems come camouflaged as being urgent, and aren't. If you can delegate the management of a fire, do so. If you find it looked urgent and isn't, resist the urge to fix it.
- Pace the work. There are happenings that make the organization stop to address them, but those should not be the norm. Deal with the urgent and pace everything else.
- Don't take the work so seriously. This is a lesson that is hard to learn, but the reality is that if you were gone tomorrow, the organization would somehow survive. Organizations are great at survival.
- Don't lose sight of what is important for the organization. Stay focused and you will accomplish what is critical to address. Everyone watches the leader; model priority setting well and others will emulate your habits. Model the tyranny of the urgent and others become confused about the organizational priorities. Part of our responsibility as leaders is to major in major things; to articulate business goals, devise the plan to achieve them, and inspire your employees to accomplish them. Staying focused on the majors is the pathway to business success. And it's more fun!