THE BLOG
01/21/2014 05:27 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

The Biggest Price Tag of Our Current Culture

It seems everyone is talking about the fast-paced world we live in today. It's a world of speed, entertainment, pressure, anxiety and very few margins in our calendar. In short, it is a world filled with noise and clutter. Life is noisy and busy for most of us.

The downsides people talk about most are:

  • Less time in face-to-face relationships and more time on screens.
  • Low work ethic and high sense of entitlement.
  • Higher expectations of performance, but lower patience with others.
  • High-tech and low touch lifestyle.

I think, however, these are micro-consequences to 21st century living. They are symptoms of something greater. The macro-consequence is something even more sobering and sinister. It is the meta-price tag for the high-speed world we live in.

We're Only Playing Defense

A world that's full of speed, noise and clutter causes us to get lost reacting to it all. We don't live intentionally any more. We aren't living on purpose. We play defense, simply reacting to everything being thrown at us -- bills, voicemails, texts, posts, friend requests, links, subscription invoices, reference calls and emails in the inbox. Many of us get to the end of our week and are happy to have survived it.

This is not what I signed up for. The outcome isn't worth it.

This past week I met with more than a dozen leaders and spoke to them about this issue. They all agreed: None of them wanted to live this way. No one likes merely reacting to deadlines and pressure. Most want to live life on purpose. It's just that we can't seem to figure out how to do that. We've exchanged proactive for reactive. It's even worse at home. Parents are so exhausted from each day, we end up hoping to survive the week. Forget about all that "training the child to be an adult" stuff.

So, let me propose something to you, leader to leader.

Stop the self-imposed pressure. You don't owe it to everyone to meet their requests. You and I are about serving people and solving problems, but our lives are to be about more than countering and reacting to others.

Remember these realities:

It is not how hard you work, but how smart you work.
Working smart means you are doing what only you can do, and delegating things to others. Hard work is a virtue, but lasting leaders know how to work wisely.

We either organize or we agonize.
Learning to organize your projects makes us more efficient. This, in turn, saves us time and frustration. We must take the time to prepare before we execute.

We must choose or we lose.
When leaders fail to decide what must be done, we lose the opportunity to actually lead. We play defense instead of offense. Knowing your priorities helps you choose.

Your day will be filled with your priorities or with the requests of others.
Certainly leadership is about serving people -- but that doesn't mean you only react to others' requests. You must know what your objectives are and pursue them.

You either evaluate or you stagnate.
When we don't assess what must get done, we can become overwhelmed and stall. All good leadership begins with evaluating current status, then choosing next steps.

Are you proactive or reactive?
This is huge. Most leaders start well, but eventually just react to what others want. We focus on getting through the week instead of planning ahead and reaching a goal.

The issue is not, "Will my calendar be full," but, "What will fill my calendar?"
Let's face it. We're all is busy. The question is -- what got into our calendar? The issue is not prioritizing our schedule but rather scheduling our priorities.

Determining Your Priorities
There are three big questions you should ask to determine your highest priorities:

1. REQUIRED: What is required of me in this role?
This one is all about the essential tasks and objectives you've been given in your position. What must get done? What is a necessary part of the job?

2. RESULT: What produces the greatest results when I do it?
When you examine the activities you engage in, which ones result in the most fruit? What can you do that people agree you are very good at doing?

3. REWARD: What fulfills me most?
As you reflect on your projects and tasks, which ones are deeply satisfying? What are the tasks that you love and would enjoy, even if you weren't paid?

Here's to you living on purpose, to being a proactive leader and not a reactive leader.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric