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How to Hit the Reset Button When Things Go Haywire

August 30, 2022

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This is a guest post by Trainual Certified Consultant Elizabeth Yarbrough with Untangled.

They say success in the startup phase of a business requires saying yes (a lot!), but continued success? That means saying no.

For most entrepreneurs, that’s easier said than done. We probably got to where we are because we chased down lots of different opportunities or kept working on ideas until one finally clicked.

So how do you focus on what really matters and just say no to the rest?

Saying no is the essence of prioritizing. What do you really want, and what are you willing to sacrifice to get it? Here are some guidelines to help you regain focus when your so-called “priorities” start to feel like one giant, never-ending to-do list.

4 Guidelines for Setting (and Resetting) Clear Priorities

Prioritizing isn’t just deciding what’s most important — it’s deciding what gets our time and attention and what doesn’t. Because, unlike so many other resources, our time and attention are finite. We have a limited amount to use every day until they’re gone.

A man pointing at his watch.

So if we choose to do X, then we choose not to do Y. But how do we decide? Here’s your starting point:

Priorities must be few.

When we have hundreds of priorities, we truly have zero. A good rule of thumb is to make sure no one has more than three priorities at any given time. Everything else? It'll have to wait. Then, when you’ve accomplished one of your all-important priorities, it’s time to add another to the list.

Priorities must be documented.

Have you ever stopped and thought, “Oh yeah, I had that fantastic idea — but then forgot all about it!” If you’re spinning as many plates as I am, it can happen much too easily. That’s why our priorities must be documented. Whether on your calendar, in a project management tool, or on a sticky note on your desk (my personal favorite), make sure your current top three priorities are written down.

Priorities must be visible.

Don’t stop at documenting. To stay clear on your priorities daily, put them somewhere where you — and your team, if applicable — can’t tune them out. We like to believe that if something is really that important, we’ll automatically remember to focus on it. But it’s just not true. Make sure your top three priorities live somewhere you can’t miss.

Priorities must be regularly revisited.

Documenting priorities and keeping them visible does not mean they just magically get accomplished. How exactly does work go from strategy to execution? There are whole books about that, but it starts with constant calibration and regular reprioritizing. Let’s dig into that more now.

How to Keep Your Priorities Straight

If you’re a business owner, you can get help with many different things. You can hire a bookkeeper to help with tedious accounting tasks. You can find a marketing expert to help you generate new leads for your sales team. You can even hire leaders to help you build the company culture you want.

But no one can set your priorities for you. That’s your job and yours alone.

A woman in a desk chair saying, "That's my job."

I don’t know what your priorities should be, but I do have some questions to offer. And in my experience, patiently asking the right questions leads to clarity on how to move forward.

Look 90 days back.

Take a second to reflect: How have you been spending your time? How has your team been spending their time? Do the activities, meetings, and to-do lists support progress toward your goals? If not, what needs to change? The activities or the goals?

Has your environment changed? Have new market forces made it an uphill battle to continue pursuing the priorities you set before? Are there new opportunities you need to take advantage of?

Look 90 days forward.

And once you’ve asked those questions, here are a few more: Have your strengths changed? Do you have a new rockstar employee that you didn’t have before? A new product customers are raving about it? Or did you lose one?

Do it, delegate it, or delete it.

Finally, what does the data say about what’s working and what’s not? Don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy. That makes us think we must keep working toward a goal because we’ve already invested so much in it. If something — or someone — isn’t jiving with your end goal or your company culture, it might be time to let it go.

Do it, delegate it, or delete it. But don’t drag it out.

3 Tools for Your Priorities Toolbox

If you still feel stuck, it might be time to borrow tactics from experts in prioritizing to see what works for you.

1. Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix.

The famous Urgent/Important Matrix can help you identify what must be done first, what must be done but can wait, what should be done by someone else, and what doesn’t actually need to be done at all.

To use this model, make a grid with four quadrants. Label the X axis “Urgent” and the Y axis “Important.” Then do a brain dump of all of your priorities, putting them into the appropriate category:

  • Urgent. These projects or tasks have to be done by a certain time. Think putting out a fire with a client, fixing a busted pipe at the office, or getting your taxes paid on time. Often, urgent tasks can be delegated to someone else, so you can focus on what’s most important.
  • Important. These initiatives matter to your business, but they don’t matter tomorrow. Their impact will be felt in weeks, months, or even years. Think about creating marketing content to generate inbound leads, improving your employee experience so you can attract the best talent, or taking time off to avoid burnout.
  • Urgent/Important. Some tasks will fit neatly into both categories —  they are urgent and important. But this is where the work is. Not everything belongs here. Be honest with yourself about which of your priorities belongs where.
  • Neither urgent nor important. Finally, many items you thought were priorities need to be cleared from your mind altogether. Once you’ve identified a task as something that’s not actually urgent or important, it’s time to hit “delete.”

2. Warren Buffet’s “2 List” Strategy.

A master prioritizer, Warren Buffet kept two lists. Not a detailed calendar, not a complex board in a project management tool… just these two lists.

The story goes that one day when he was flying, Buffet instructed his pilot to follow his two-list model to plan his future. One list was for his top five priorities, and the other list was for his next twenty priorities. When the pilot asked if the first list was for primary priorities and the second for secondary items, Buffet replied, “No, that second list is what you should avoid at all costs.”

What a lesson in sacrifice. Buffet’s mindset of continually clearing away the less important to make room for the most important is a lesson for us all.

3. David Allen’s Someday/Maybe List.

So what exactly can you do with all the priorities you have to say “no” to? What about those goals you deemed important but not urgent?

That’s where a Someday/Maybe list comes in handy. It’s a holding place for all the great ideas you can’t get to yet. David Allen, a productivity guru, advises documenting everything you may want to get to someday, but that’s clouding your focus at the moment. To get it out of your head so you can focus on what’s most important now, jot it down on this list. Then, build a habit of checking your Someday/Maybe List once a month or once a quarter. From time to time, you might just decide it’s time to move one of those items to your list of current priorities.

Leadership is a dance between defining what needs to be done, then redefining it when things change. And things always change. So, you need to stay clear on your north star, even when you pivot as new threats and opportunities arise.

As Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

As business leaders, when we clear away the clutter, then focus our time and attention on what matters most, that’s where the magic happens.

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Article

How to Hit the Reset Button When Things Go Haywire

August 30, 2022

Jump to a section
Share it!
Sign up for our newsletter
You're all signed up! Look out for the next edition of The Manual Weekly coming Wednesday am!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

This is a guest post by Trainual Certified Consultant Elizabeth Yarbrough with Untangled.

They say success in the startup phase of a business requires saying yes (a lot!), but continued success? That means saying no.

For most entrepreneurs, that’s easier said than done. We probably got to where we are because we chased down lots of different opportunities or kept working on ideas until one finally clicked.

So how do you focus on what really matters and just say no to the rest?

Saying no is the essence of prioritizing. What do you really want, and what are you willing to sacrifice to get it? Here are some guidelines to help you regain focus when your so-called “priorities” start to feel like one giant, never-ending to-do list.

4 Guidelines for Setting (and Resetting) Clear Priorities

Prioritizing isn’t just deciding what’s most important — it’s deciding what gets our time and attention and what doesn’t. Because, unlike so many other resources, our time and attention are finite. We have a limited amount to use every day until they’re gone.

A man pointing at his watch.

So if we choose to do X, then we choose not to do Y. But how do we decide? Here’s your starting point:

Priorities must be few.

When we have hundreds of priorities, we truly have zero. A good rule of thumb is to make sure no one has more than three priorities at any given time. Everything else? It'll have to wait. Then, when you’ve accomplished one of your all-important priorities, it’s time to add another to the list.

Priorities must be documented.

Have you ever stopped and thought, “Oh yeah, I had that fantastic idea — but then forgot all about it!” If you’re spinning as many plates as I am, it can happen much too easily. That’s why our priorities must be documented. Whether on your calendar, in a project management tool, or on a sticky note on your desk (my personal favorite), make sure your current top three priorities are written down.

Priorities must be visible.

Don’t stop at documenting. To stay clear on your priorities daily, put them somewhere where you — and your team, if applicable — can’t tune them out. We like to believe that if something is really that important, we’ll automatically remember to focus on it. But it’s just not true. Make sure your top three priorities live somewhere you can’t miss.

Priorities must be regularly revisited.

Documenting priorities and keeping them visible does not mean they just magically get accomplished. How exactly does work go from strategy to execution? There are whole books about that, but it starts with constant calibration and regular reprioritizing. Let’s dig into that more now.

How to Keep Your Priorities Straight

If you’re a business owner, you can get help with many different things. You can hire a bookkeeper to help with tedious accounting tasks. You can find a marketing expert to help you generate new leads for your sales team. You can even hire leaders to help you build the company culture you want.

But no one can set your priorities for you. That’s your job and yours alone.

A woman in a desk chair saying, "That's my job."

I don’t know what your priorities should be, but I do have some questions to offer. And in my experience, patiently asking the right questions leads to clarity on how to move forward.

Look 90 days back.

Take a second to reflect: How have you been spending your time? How has your team been spending their time? Do the activities, meetings, and to-do lists support progress toward your goals? If not, what needs to change? The activities or the goals?

Has your environment changed? Have new market forces made it an uphill battle to continue pursuing the priorities you set before? Are there new opportunities you need to take advantage of?

Look 90 days forward.

And once you’ve asked those questions, here are a few more: Have your strengths changed? Do you have a new rockstar employee that you didn’t have before? A new product customers are raving about it? Or did you lose one?

Do it, delegate it, or delete it.

Finally, what does the data say about what’s working and what’s not? Don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy. That makes us think we must keep working toward a goal because we’ve already invested so much in it. If something — or someone — isn’t jiving with your end goal or your company culture, it might be time to let it go.

Do it, delegate it, or delete it. But don’t drag it out.

3 Tools for Your Priorities Toolbox

If you still feel stuck, it might be time to borrow tactics from experts in prioritizing to see what works for you.

1. Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix.

The famous Urgent/Important Matrix can help you identify what must be done first, what must be done but can wait, what should be done by someone else, and what doesn’t actually need to be done at all.

To use this model, make a grid with four quadrants. Label the X axis “Urgent” and the Y axis “Important.” Then do a brain dump of all of your priorities, putting them into the appropriate category:

  • Urgent. These projects or tasks have to be done by a certain time. Think putting out a fire with a client, fixing a busted pipe at the office, or getting your taxes paid on time. Often, urgent tasks can be delegated to someone else, so you can focus on what’s most important.
  • Important. These initiatives matter to your business, but they don’t matter tomorrow. Their impact will be felt in weeks, months, or even years. Think about creating marketing content to generate inbound leads, improving your employee experience so you can attract the best talent, or taking time off to avoid burnout.
  • Urgent/Important. Some tasks will fit neatly into both categories —  they are urgent and important. But this is where the work is. Not everything belongs here. Be honest with yourself about which of your priorities belongs where.
  • Neither urgent nor important. Finally, many items you thought were priorities need to be cleared from your mind altogether. Once you’ve identified a task as something that’s not actually urgent or important, it’s time to hit “delete.”

2. Warren Buffet’s “2 List” Strategy.

A master prioritizer, Warren Buffet kept two lists. Not a detailed calendar, not a complex board in a project management tool… just these two lists.

The story goes that one day when he was flying, Buffet instructed his pilot to follow his two-list model to plan his future. One list was for his top five priorities, and the other list was for his next twenty priorities. When the pilot asked if the first list was for primary priorities and the second for secondary items, Buffet replied, “No, that second list is what you should avoid at all costs.”

What a lesson in sacrifice. Buffet’s mindset of continually clearing away the less important to make room for the most important is a lesson for us all.

3. David Allen’s Someday/Maybe List.

So what exactly can you do with all the priorities you have to say “no” to? What about those goals you deemed important but not urgent?

That’s where a Someday/Maybe list comes in handy. It’s a holding place for all the great ideas you can’t get to yet. David Allen, a productivity guru, advises documenting everything you may want to get to someday, but that’s clouding your focus at the moment. To get it out of your head so you can focus on what’s most important now, jot it down on this list. Then, build a habit of checking your Someday/Maybe List once a month or once a quarter. From time to time, you might just decide it’s time to move one of those items to your list of current priorities.

Leadership is a dance between defining what needs to be done, then redefining it when things change. And things always change. So, you need to stay clear on your north star, even when you pivot as new threats and opportunities arise.

As Stephen Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

As business leaders, when we clear away the clutter, then focus our time and attention on what matters most, that’s where the magic happens.

Article

How to Hit the Reset Button When Things Go Haywire

August 30, 2022

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