Let’s say you’ve gotten yourself completely organized.
You’ve created a fantastic workflow system. You’re on top of the world – in control like you’ve never been before.
Congratulations. This is a great place to be.
But unless you consistently know the answer to one very important question, no amount of organization or systemization ever will matter in reaching your full productivity.
This vital question is: “What is the most important thing I should be working on?”
The practice of asking and answering this question in relation to this year, this quarter, this month, this week, this day, this hour, changes you more than almost any other question you could ask yourself.
That’s it. Nothing could be easier, correct?
Yes and no.
Discrimination Leads to Prioritization
Of the essential leadership skills identified by EMyth, discrimination is the skill that trips up the majority of owners.
Discrimination is upstream of prioritization. It comes from knowing yourself and being able to develop an inner compass that lets you feel the alignment between your core values, goals, and beliefs and what you are seeking to accomplish in your business.
Without this essential skill of discrimination, you simply cannot begin to successfully prioritize.
Vision, Values, Prioritization
The need to understand yourself and the big picture connection between who you are as a leader/owner and what you seek to accomplish in your business may not seem obvious to you at first.
Many of our clients come to EMyth raring to go in the systemization processes that we are known for, and they are somewhat surprised when we insist that they first focus on the Primary Aim and the Strategic Objective process.
But they soon realize that getting these fixed in their mind, even if not completely implemented, gives them a foundation for prioritization like never before.
So many business owners have a continual spinning sensation, almost like vertigo, as they operate in a vacuum - without any clear ability to know whether they are focusing on what will truly give them the momentum they desire.
But you should see these same owners after they bring their vision into focus through their Strategic Objective and we’ve worked with them to create measurable benchmarks toward its realization.
They know where they are going. They know what to focus on. They are now able to discriminate. They are like high performance machines running down the freeway at maximum velocity (a combination of effectiveness and efficiency); and they swiftly pass by all the other vehicles that are less well-tuned.
Simple Prioritization Techniques
So you understand: First, you need to be completely organized and have a good work flow system and you need to know yourself and what you seek to accomplish.
Then, try a couple of the following simple techniques:
- Often it works to simply settle on what the most important priorities are and stay focused on these. For example, maximizing the customer experience to bring more value is often what is most important to move a business forward and create more profits.
- Use the Urgent/Importance Matrix. The idea of measuring and combining these two competing elements in a matrix has been attributed to both former US President Eisenhower and Dr. Stephen Covey.
Eisenhower's quote sums up the concept of the matrix perfectly: "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” Covey brought the idea into the mainstream and gave it the name "The Urgent/Important Matrix" in his 1994 business classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
This simple technique helps you discriminate between what is important and what is urgent, and dramatically helps you prioritize better. You can easily explore the steps to using the matrix tactically; but I find that all an entrepreneur really needs to do is eliminate the distracting, non-urgent, and unimportant tasks then refocus time for both urgent and important ones.
There are always going to be calls to react to urgently, but (in the big picture) not so very important aspects in every position. But knowing the difference, and making certain you make time to move the important objectives and projects forward is critical.
Many other tools and techniques are available, but as with most higher-level skills, prioritization depends more on you and your ability to create that alignment between your vision, objectives and values and your decisions rather than the techniques or tools. Once you have that foundation in place, feel free to explore whatever you find that will support you in prioritization.
An Entrepreneur’s Prioritization Challenge
I challenge my clients to constantly ask that most critical question: “Is this the most important thing I should be working on?” The answer isn’t always “yes”. Sometimes we do have to do those urgent but unimportant things, and sometimes we notice ourselves doing unimportant and non-urgent activities.
Awareness is the key. The more you observe, the better your understanding. The more you understand, the better you will be at focusing your attention proactively on what matters most. Part of the challenge is honestly evaluating your ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. If your focus is strong, I'll bet that it’s based upon your clarity that you are working on the most important thing right now.
What tools and tricks do you use to help you prioritize?