Why Setting Priorities -not Long To Do Lists – Can Save Your Life?
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Ok, so here is the usual situation.
You start your work in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, briefly talk to your colleagues and then you open up your computer.
Sooner or later you start going through the looong list of e-mails with all sorts of things.
For example, one of my management coaching clients used to regularly clear her e-mail inbox form “Unread” messages by 10 pm each night only to find out at 7 am the next day that her management has shot her another 20+ emails with all sorts of tasks, assignments and instructions at night.
OK, so let’s get back to the beginning of your usual business day
You finish reviewing this loooong list of e-mails from last night plus a number of new ones that arrived just when you thought that you can start planning this day.
You are smart, so you apply all the proven time management techniques.
For example, you:
- skip all survey invitations,
- ignore or delete most of or all e-mails where you are on CC,
- accept all obligatory or critically important meeting invitations and skip the rest,
- quickly ask for more data in response to all general requests,
- forward, delegate or get rid of anything else that you don’t need to or shouldn’t engage in personally…
Yes… living in the dynamic work environment is a brutal game where you have to fiercely protect your focus and energy all the time.
Nevertheless, after all these smart steps you still arrive at the TO DO list of 40 top important tasks for today.
Does that sound familiar…?
This is the moment, when your blood pressure may get little higher or you may even start panicking.
This is the moment, when most people desperately start developing fancy to do lists, setting up multiple to do reminders, or even looking for to do list apps!
In essence, they immediately try to deal with the quantity, not quality of their tasks.
However, you don’t need to be one of those people.
And you really don’t need to obsess about your to do list only to look for ways how to cope with stress later on.
Luckily, there is less painful and much smarter way in which you can disarm your task list.
It is unbelievable how often we are made to think that our job success depends on accomplishing all the important tasks that we were assigned to or planned ourselves, with no verification of their validity, relevance or actual importance.
- if you are in sales, your success depends on how well you understand your clients, how much they trust you and, ultimately, how much you sell to them,
- if you are in project management, your success depends on the number of projects that you deliver according to the agreed objectives such as specific outcomes, time, budget, etc.
- if you are HR director, your ultimate success is a healthy, creative, motivated, engaged corporate culture where people want to work and perform,
- if you are in product development, your success is characterized by the number of new innovations or new products launched on the market and valued by their target customer groups.
No matter in which functional area you work, the ultimate business success in that area should determine the importance, relevance and validity of tasks that you engage in. All the rest is distraction and dilution which will consume a lot of your energy while not bringing you any closer to the success in your functional area.
And there is always a clear critical path of key steps that you need to take in order to achieve the success in your functional area.
Interestingly, once you start reflecting on your 40 to do tasks from the perspective of a critical path to your success, you may discover that only a few of these tasks really contribute to your success each time.
The remaining tasks most probably hold you back rather than move you forwards. They only make you lose your focus, energy and creativity.
Thus, the key to success lies in aligning priorities with your critical path to success and cutting off distractions rather than in trying to cope with all the tasks that you see on the horizon.
And the less priorities you have at the time, the more energy, accuracy and focus you have. The less priorities your have, the more effective you work.
This relationship may be illustrated by the graph which correlates the number of daily priorities with the accuracy, quality, focus and the energy level of a person.
According to our management coaching experience, people are most effective when focusing on 1-3 priorities per day, while their focus virtually disappears with more than 6-7 priorities per day.
Also, with more priorities for the day people work longer hours, operate on lower energy levels and, thus, dramatically decrease their creativity, social sensitivity and awareness level which are all important i.e. for complex problem-solving or addressing difficult interpersonal situations.
For the above-mentioned reasons we believe that setting the right priorities – not long TO DO lists – can save your corporate life while making you happier and more balanced.
If you resonate with this concept, you may wish to apply our model to your work while reflecting each day on the following three questions:
- What are the key success criteria of my work? What defines my work success?
- What is the critical path of tasks which, once completed, lead to that success?
- What are the 2-3 tasks out of my today’s to do list which, once completed, will let me move towards my success along its critical path?
We invite you to apply such an approach to your work.
It can make you not only more effective, creative and enthusiastic, but also more healthy, social and balanced – which each of us needs both at work and for other things in life.