Archive for December, 2011

What’s Most Important?

It’s New Year’s Eve day and many of us will write, read and share posts, notes and tweets that focus on traditional resolutions for the upcoming year. We’ve all seen or made them before – promises to eat better, exercise more, talk less – and they’re always made with the best of intentions. Yet they are driven by little more than timing. I mean, it is the New Year, right?

This post is not about that.

What I’d like to offer is an invitation to think about “right now,” to step back and reflect upon what’s most important to you today, at this moment. Ask yourself that question – What’s most important?

Perhaps right now the most important thing that you could be doing is to take a nap or a walk. Perhaps what would make your moment would be to eat that last piece of chocolate layer cake for breakfast (I’m all for that!). What is the one thing, the one “do” or “be” that will shepherd you into a place of well-being and contentment?

So often we hold ourselves hostage by the promises we make to ourselves. I’ve been there myself, caught in a loop of trying to lose the same [fill in the number] pounds for the last six years. If it was the most important thing – really…the MOST important thing – then I would have accomplished it some time ago. Other concerns, or goals, or distractions have moved up the ranks somewhere along the way and have made themselves more important.

What’s most important?

It’s a question I often use to begin a coaching session. Of all the things leaders encounter each day, there’s always a “most important” that trumps all others. Focusing on that usually opens the way for other concerns to fall away or slip in prioritization. But after we unpack it, examine it and address it—that most important item—there often comes the sense of clarity needed to get to the other stuff.

There will be plenty of posts today and over the next couple of days that will invite us to plan and make new goals for ourselves, and I look forward to reading them. Goals, too, are very important. Goals are good. We need goals to propel us forward.

This is more about pausing.  This is about awareness and, more importantly, self-awareness. It’s about taking a moment to fully understand what you can be doing or being right now.  What’s most important?

My wish is that we will ask ourselves that question over and over again in 2012.

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Get Moving! Part 2: A Simple Model

In my last blog post (which you can read here) I revealed my oft-used habit of “counting loose change,” my term for procrastination (or, as I like to think of it, “the art of not doing what I should be doing when I should be doing it but don’t want to”). In that post I offered up four simple ideas for how to quickly prioritize your time.

Sometimes, though, there’s simply more to manage than a few simple guidelines can handle.  Perhaps your work to-do’s and your home to-do’s have started overlapping and you’ve found yourself (as I sometimes do) working on a Sunday morning to finish a report or missing an evening dinner with my husband because I’m on a conference call. Or perhaps you’re suddenly faced with a burst of emergencies that only you can handle.

When that starts to happen I often lean on a model I learned several years back.  It’s a simple four-box matrix developed by Steven Covey that addresses a way to manage to-do’s and discern what is urgent, important or trivial.  (He outlines the model quite well in his book, First Things First.)

Covey’s quad-graph provides guidance and language for determining where your time goes by having the reader place tasks in one of four buckets:

  • Urgent/Important – those things that are at crisis mode or deadline-driven,
  • Not urgent/Important – those things that fall into leading, planning, relationship-building and empowerment,
  • Urgent/Not important –those nagging little things that feel like word balloons on the old VH-1 show “Pop-up Videos” — interruptions, some phone calls, some emails, many popular activities (I’d much rather be doing that!) and most of the so-called “pressing matters,” and, finally,
  • Not important/Not urgent – trivia, busy-work, junk mail, some phone calls, and escape-luring, counting-loose-change activities.

And, if you think nothing will ever end up in the Not important/Not urgent bucket, my guess is you’ll be very surprised at how much actually lands there.  Go ahead; try it.  Then let me know what you find out.  My guess is that—like me—you may have spent a bit more time than you’d like counting loose change!

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Get Moving! Part 1: 4 Simple, Practical Ideas

There’s a saying that I learned some years back that captures the essence of unfocused activity: “counting loose change.”  It means this:  I could be, or should be, doing something much more important or of higher priority right now, but I’ve decided instead to pour my efforts into the most mundane, unimportant tasks that I can find—like counting the loose change scattered at the bottom of my kitchen junk-drawer. The exercise often ends with me wondering where the time went, and then cursing myself for not accomplishing anything….

Perhaps you can relate.

Over the years, as I’ve worked with leaders at all levels; I’ve heard a repeated lament:  I don’t have the time to complete my to-do list! Their anguish appears genuine and, in most cases, causes them to question their ability to be a good leader. When I hear this oft-repeated complaint I invite them to step back and take a new and fresh look at their calendar. What’s there that is urgent? Important? What’s there that might be delegated or pushed out to a later date?

In my coaching practice, the wish to explore more ways to manage time comes up frequently. On the one hand, leaders often feel that if they delegated more, their staff would feel more pressure. On the other hand, these same leaders know the importance of keeping a strategic stance and not getting pulled into the weeds. What to do?

The simple answer is to pay attention.  Note when you’re “counting loose change” and avoid it when you can.  Then, think seriously about prioritization.

Here are four things that you can do to immediately prioritize your time:

1.    Plan your work and work your plan:  organize and prioritize your to-do list each morning by placing your most urgent and important tasks at the top.

2.    Relationship-building and planning are important, but not urgent. Plan for lunches or coffee-chats with folks with whom you want to build relationships. Send an invitation for the next two weeks. Done.

3.    Call your staff together and delegate those tasks that fall into the urgent, but not important bucket. Who can represent you at a meeting? Who might take a stab at drafting the report that’s due by the end of the week? This is a great opportunity for developing your employees.

4.    Don’t do or pay attention to anything that isn’t urgent or important. (Or, as an alternative, toss them into your kitchen junk drawer. You can count them later on!)

One final note: it’s not always a bad idea to keep an eye on your “loose change.”  Sometimes it piles up and, when it does, needs to be dealt with.  The key is balancing and creating a productive environment for you and your team.

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