I’m a simple guy with simple needs. My two basic needs at work are:
1. Knowing what I should work on.
2. Getting that stuff done.
We’ve overcomplicated work. Although we are slowly changing our mentality, we still believe in the 8-hour, 9-5 workday left to us by the ghosts of the industrial age. But since most people only have about 2-3 hours of actual work to do each day (look around, you know it’s true), we’ve become masters of inventing meaningless work to keep ourselves busy. And we busy ourselves into too much to do.
Leaders and managers are often the worst cause. We believe that since we’re paying you for a job, you should stay as busy as possible for your 40 hours each week. If you have downtime, we need to fill that up with something to keep you…busy.
I’m going to share with you a productivity secret of high-performers that will power-charge your contribution and impact. And if you manage a team or an entire company, you can use this secret to skyrocket their productivity as well.
Focus 90% of your time on your top three priorities.
How many priorities do you have? Need some help figuring that out? Look at your to-do list and count how many items are on it. Most to-do lists have a minimum of 10 items, most have 40, 50 or more — in no particular order of importance. Because everything is important, right?
And you wonder why you can’t get anything done. You have too many priorities.
What if you only had three things to work on? Sounds glorious doesn’t it? Also sounds impossible. It’s not, I promise. It just takes getting used to the idea and letting go of the need to fill up your to-do list. Here’s how:
1. List everything you think is a priority.
Write down all of the OUTCOMES you are trying to reach. Notice I said OUTCOMES, not to-do list items or actions. An example of an outcome would be “Increase sales by 40%” vs. a to-do list item like “Set up meeting with the purchasing manager at Amazon.”
2. Identify the three big dogs.
From your list of outcomes, choose the top three that will have the most impact on your business. They might be output-related (like increasing sales), or they might be infrastructure-related (like migrating to a new piece of software). They can also be people-related, culture-related, marketing-related, or a variety of other outcomes, changes, or improvements that are important to your business. But at any point in your work, there are three that are more important than all the others.
3. Commit 90% of your time, energy, and resources to your top three priorities.
Yes, that leaves a whopping 10% to do everything else. When you structure your work this way, you will quickly find that many of your former “priorities” are not as urgent and important as you thought. Many/most of them are not “must-dos“, they’re “nice-tos-if-we-can-get-to-them” (a.k.a. busywork).
To do this effectively, you will have to adopt the attitude of “I love ya, but I can’t spend time with you right now” for many of the things on your list.
4. THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP: Review your top 3 priorities early & often.
After identifying your top 3 priorities, review them regularly, like daily. Keep them in front of your face. And then create your daily/weekly to-do list BASED ON YOUR TOP 3 PRIORITIES. Oh, and to keep it simple make sure you only list the next 1-2 actions for each priority. That means your to-do list will only have 5-10 items on it at any given time. By the way, a to-do list is not a project plan. A to-do list should only be focused on what you need to do NEXT. That’s it. This means you have to create a new to-do list often, which is great because each time you’re reviewing your top 3 priorities.
I can hear it now. “But, but but…I have more than three priorities. I can’t let anything go.” And I’m tellin’ ya, that is impossible. In fact, I’m being generous in allowing you three priorities. That is all you have time for.
Let me rephrase that. Your top three priorities are all you have time for if you want to be excellent at what you do and if you want to keep your sanity.
Ok, I’m going to do something different to wrap this up. I want you to argue with me. Leave a comment and tell me why you CAN’T do what I just suggested. I’m interested to hear your objections. I’ll also help with any additional suggestions that make sense. And feel free to chime in with your ideas as well.