How to Establish Your Priorities
In Jules Verne’s novel, The Mysterious Island, he tells of five men who escape a civil war prison by hijacking a hot air balloon. As they rise into the air, they realize the wind is taking them over the ocean, and they wonder how much longer they have in the air. As time passes, the men decide they must cast some weight overboard to stay in the air. Shoes, overcoats, weapons and other items are discarded. In time, the balloon descends toward the water and the men throw their food overboard. Better high and hungry than to drown with a full belly. Yet, they continue to drift slowly downward. Finally, one man has an idea: they could tie the ropes that hold the passenger seats and let go of the basket. This saved their life. Not a minute too soon—they spot land. The five men jump from the ropes and swim to shore. They live because they got rid of excess weight. They discerned the difference between what is necessary and what is not. They were forced to recognize their priorities.
The same can happen in our lives and leadership. We must learn the difference between what is necessary and what is expendable. A leader is a broker of talent, time, resources, people, energy and money.
Remember these realities:
1. It is not how hard you work, but how smart you work.
Working smart means you doing what only you can do, and delegating things others can do. Hard work is a virtue, but lasting leaders know how to work wisely.
2. We either organize or we agonize.
Learning to organize your projects makes us more efficient. This, in turn, saves us time and frustration. We must take the time to prepare before we execute.
3. We must choose or we lose.
When leaders fail to decide what must be done, we lose the opportunity to actually lead. We play defense instead of offense. Knowing your priorities helps you choose.
4. Your day will be filled with your priorities or with the requests of others.
Certainly leadership is about serving people—but that doesn't mean you only react to others’ requests. You must know what your objectives are and pursue them.
5. You either evaluate or you stagnate.
When we don’t assess what must get done, we can become overwhelmed and stall. All good leadership begins with evaluating current status, then choosing next steps.
6. Are you proactive or reactive?
This is huge. Most leaders start well, but eventually just react to what others want. We focus on getting through the week instead of planning ahead and reaching a goal
7. The issue is not: will my calendar be full, but: what will fill my calendar?
Let’s face it. We’re all busy. The question is—what got into our calendar? The issue is not prioritizing our schedule but rather scheduling our priorities.
Determining Your Priorities
There are three big questions you should ask to determine your highest priorities:
1. REQUIRED: What is required of me in this role?
This one is all about the essential tasks and objectives you've been given in your position. What must get done? What is a necessary part of the job?
2. RESULT: What produces the greatest results when I do it?
When you examine the activities you engage in, which ones result in the most fruit? What do you do that people agree—you are very good at that task?
3. REWARD: What is most fulfilling when I do it?
As you reflect on your projects and tasks, which ones are deeply satisfying? What are the tasks that you love and would enjoy even if you weren't paid?
Making the Most of Your Time
Now that you've answered the questions above, follow these guidelines:
1. Make a “to do” list each day.
Write out what you want to accomplish along with deadlines.
2. Set your priorities.
Next, give a number to each task on your list, putting the most important things first.
3. Avoid perfectionism.
Aim for excellence, not perfection. Trying to be perfect can prevent progress.
4. Question everything.
Don’t let sacred cows keep you from eliminating unnecessary or unproductive tasks.
5. Welcome tension.
Tension can actually improve your focus, force action and keep you on track.
6. Avoid clutter.
Try not to waste time looking for things; organize your messes in proper places.
7. Fight procrastination.
It’s not fun things first, quick things first, or easy things first—but first things first.
8. Monitor interruptions and distractions.
Put margins in your calendar for unexpected people, but don’t get distracted.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you spend time preparing to invest each day wisely? Why or why not?
- What is your method for deciding your top priorities?
- What are your answers to the three areas above: Required, Results and Reward?
- What action steps will you take to choose and act on your priorities?
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