What are your top three priorities? It’s a simple question, but it’s rare that it yields a simple answer. Why? Because we all find it just as difficult to stop doing things we’ve been doing for a while, as we do to say “no” to new things that look interesting. So we end up trying to do too much. We lose sight of what’s really important. We lose focus.
Imagine if you only had three things to do. That was it. Just three things, to the very best of your ability. You might spend ten, or fifteen hours a week on each. Now imagine you’ve got ten things to do. You might think you’d get three or four hours on each, but you’d be wrong.
Stuff happens, other things come up, and half of those things you intended to do don’t even get a look in. The very act of switching between things, disengaging your mind from one to the other, costs you time, mental effort, and in business, costs you money. And what’s true for you is equally true for everyone in your team.
Rule 1: The potential impact of everything you do reduces in direct proportion to the number of things you’re doing.
So how do you focus on doing a few things well, and avoid wasting your time doing lots of things badly?
If it was easy, surely you’d be doing it already, right? Wrong. All you need are three words:
Set: Take the time to list out all your priorities, rank them, and then cross out the least important. When you get stuck (probably with about six or seven left) just choose the three that will be your priorities for this week – you will pick up the others later.
Stick: Stick to those three priorities like glue. Resolve urgent “matters arising” as quickly as you can and get straight back to your priorities. If something big comes along, ask “is this a bigger priority than any that we’re working on?” If not, put it on the list to pick up later. If it is bigger, drop one of your three for this week.
Stop: Two things will continually challenge your focus: the feeling you’re missing opportunities; and the feeling you’re going to upset other people. Will those opportunities disappear? Do the other people agree with your priorities? Recognise the challenges, meet them head on, communicate openly with people, and stop being compromised.
If you can create this sharp focus within your own work, it will not only dramatically improve your personal performance, it will transform the way you manage your team and can start a step-change in performance across your business.
BOTTOM LINE: The best way to improve performance is by identifying, and focusing on a few things that will make a big difference. If you agree with that statement, the only thing stopping you improving performance is your own resolve to see it through.