“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” — Stephen Covey
Years ago, in my occupation as a minister, I felt I had to do everything myself to get anything accomplished in my job. I had to have control over every task to make sure it turned out right and that I got all the credit for it when it worked.
I was like that guy I used to see on television shows who would spin several plates at the top of long poles. To maintain balance and keep the plates from falling off the poles, he had to constantly run back and forth between each one. He would shake and spin each pole to keep the plates in motion at the top.
The act became a model for people who had more to do than they could handle. That was me.
Then one day, it all came crashing down on me. When I wasn’t keeping track of everything, someone came along and took over one of my poles and knocked the plate off! I was miserable. I didn’t know how to handle not being in control. And worse, I was getting the credit for the failure.
Then I attended a leadership conference and learned that being busy wasn’t adding to my success; it was prohibiting it. I deserved the credit for the failure to prioritize and delegate things that I didn’t need to do.
I realized I needed to prioritize my agenda. I needed to train and equip other people to do the things someone else could do and limit myself to only doing the things I was responsible for alone. I needed to share authority. I learned I should never do a task someone else could be doing.
Suddenly, my to-do list got amazingly short and refocused! I saw that most of what I was doing could be shared by other people if I equipped them to do it. I had to give up many things that I thought made me important.
This is where the law of priorities comes into play: A goal is a dream with a deadline attached to it. If you set a goal and prioritize your efforts on that alone, you will be far more successful. Never do a task that someone else could do. Activity is not necessarily accomplishment. A leader who spends their time doing meaningless tasks that someone else could be doing is wasting valuable time and not valuing other people’s skills.
If I could say one thing to managers on behalf of their boss, it would be this: A leader’s success can be discovered by looking at their agenda. It’s simply practical. Show us what you spend your time doing each day, and we can tell if you are successful.
Too often, we don’t realize that to become more efficient, we need to surrender something. It may be a small task that robs much of our time. It may be that feeling we get when we feel needed by others.
It could be the desire to be in control of everyone and everything. You spend your time checking up on your employees or making them check in with you. They hate it and admit it.
While in Michigan several years ago, I mentioned that point. A bright CEO in the audience said, “But Jim, I can’t turn over those details to my people. Most of them are incompetent to handle important things.” I really wanted to help him, so I asked, “Who hired these people?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I did.” Then he saw the problem.
If we hire people with the intent that they must check in with us to make us look good to customers, then we are placing limits on them from the very beginning. If people feel they must get your permission to do their jobs each day, you are probably the problem, not them.
The Rule of Five
John Maxwell has a “Rule of Five” for setting your priorities. I have found that if you use the easy five-step process below, you will be able to have a successful daily agenda:
- Write down your main goal. A goal is a dream with a deadline on it. This will be your guiding light as you create your own “Rule of Five.”
- Build your “important” list. This can be done in a variety of ways:
a: Make a to-do list for your day. Include everything that must be done that day, as well as items you aim to complete over time.
b: Write down a list of every task you do to be successful. This can range from reading and writing to engaging with team members and building good relationships.
- Rank the items in order of priority. If various items are similar, you can categorize them to help with the prioritization process. In other words, streamline it.
- Highlight the top 20% of your priorities and make a memorable list of five things that allows you to allocate most of your time to those things. Trust me. I know from experience that the other 80% of your priorities take care of themselves. When things are running smoothly, our problems go from being mountains to speed bumps.
- Print your “Rule of Five” and hang it where it can be frequently seen by you alone. Repetition is key. Practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes habit. Practice these steps faithfully and ruthlessly. Teach your team to make their own “Rule of Five.”
Most of us don’t prioritize because we don’t want to give up something, whether that be a feeling, a duty or control. But many of us don’t prioritize because we don’t think we have the time to make a list and follow it faithfully.
Successful people have discovered what they do best. Successful leaders have discovered what other people do best. Great leaders always ask, “Who could be doing what I am doing?”
Our plans will fall apart unless we prioritize our agenda and give up the authority to do the things we don’t have to do. Make a “Rule of Five” list and stick with it ruthlessly. Don’t let your plates come crashing down around you.