“The mark of a great man is one who knows when to set aside the important things in order to accomplish the vital ones.”
― Brandon Sanderson, Author
A question I get asked a lot is how I cross-prioritise work between different projects, people, customers and time zones. While there are several important and complementary considerations, I really cannot stress the first point enough. As leaders we are constant bottlenecks. When we succeed in prioritising work that frees up others to shine half the battle for engagement and efficiency is won. The below is a rough outline of my three pillar model. I call it the triple-M for “mojo multiplier model”. The key consideration is how I can best leverage the creative energy and positive momentum in my organisation.
- Start with others: A key consideration experience has taught me the hard way is to make sure you begin your day with tasks that release others to continue their work. As a leader you are often a bottleneck and even in the most empowered organisations where employees make decisions in a decentralised and independent manner, the leader will still have more than his share of bottleneck moments where reviewing work or making a decision causes waiting time in a process. Get these out of the way first thing in the morning (and again after lunch if they have piled up) and make sure your organisation works according to Hery’s ask for Forgiveness not Permission Principle that stipulates an organisation is better off making 9 good decisions and 1 bad one rather than 1 great decision while 9 others are stuck in the process waiting for approval from someone generally less qualified (that would be me in most decision making situations – I have wonderfully knowledgeable colleagues)
- Prioritise your own tasks: Stephen R. Covey’, of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” fame, designed a wonderful tool in his prioritisation matrix (see below), which plots the urgency of a task on one axis and the importance on the other. The trick is to distinguish between urgent important and urgent unimportant tasks while making time for those that are important but not urgent. Tasks in the first two categories are sometimes difficult to distinguish from each other – especially when the person asking you to do the urgent unimportant task is a pushy, shouty co-worker who makes it socially awkward to postpone the task in favour of a more important one. The important but not urgent tasks are typically more strategic ones such as taking care of your health, writing new original material, like a blog or doing some long term planning. The paradox here is that we usually gain the most satisfaction from working on these tasks, yet we rarely have, or rather, take the opportunity to do so. The onus is on rigorously carving out chunks of time for these tasks each day at the time of day when you are at your mental best.
- Manage your power hours: The key to effective self-management is how you manage the three most important hours of your day. The one just after getting up, the one before you go to sleep and the one which falls at the time of when you are at your best. The third one, the time at which we are at our best, is different for all of us. My closest co-worker refuses to do anything that matters before 10am. My sweet spot is around 30 minutes after waking up. Some people swear by working out first thing in the morning – on the days that I get my way I prefer working until my mid-morning slump and to head for a quick workout then. The last hour before bed should be a complete disconnect from anything detrimental to your sleep. The first hour in the morning will by and large determine how good your day will be. It is impossible to overstate the importance of the quality of your self-talk in that crucial phase of gearing up for the day’s challenges. We are expertly capable of self-sabotaging our confidence and thus our capability to lead by ruining our own initially decent mood by playing negative scenarios in our head. Have you ever managed to get in a bad mood for no other reason than thinking about potential negative outcomes or the negative sentiments of others towards you? You and me both. The quality of your self talk determines the quality of your day.