As mentioned in last month’s column, leaders never advance to the point where they no longer need to prioritize, yet not every leader practices the discipline of prioritization.  That being the case, this month I want to follow-up by discussing how to prioritize.  However, I want to share with you a strange and humorous thing has happened as a result of a situation I shared in last month’s column. The situation I shared was:

I frequently see an organization executive at conferences where my company exhibits. In order to keep the identity of this executive anonymous, I am going to refer to the executive as Mr. Smith.  Nearly every conference I attend Mr. Smith approaches me and tells me he would like for my company to perform for his organization one of the services we provide. I respond, “Okay, how do we make that happen?” 

Mr. Smith always responds, “Call me next week.”

The following week, I call Mr. Smith and leave a voice message because he is so busy doing whatever it is he does. After a few days, I call again and leave another message saying that I am trying to get back with him in response to his request.  After a couple of weeks, I send an email saying that I have tried to call and have left messages and  since he is so busy, why didn’t he call me when he has time to talk or send me an email telling me when it would be convenient to  meet.  I may or not hear from him, but the project with which he is asking us to help never gets scheduled. 

Later in the year at another conference at which my company exhibits we have a replay of the request for our services –  me asking him how we make that happen, him responding “call me next week,” me leaving him voice messages and sending an email.

This has happened approximately 3 times per year for approximately two and one half years. 

Many times he apologizes for not following through on his request and says, “I’m just so busy.”

I understand being busy. All of us are busy.  However, we manage to do the things that we really want to do. 

Mr. Smith manages to attend at least three or four conferences per year, yet cannot find the time to do something he says he needs for his organization.  What he says he wants done does not get done because it is not a priority for him.   

The strange and humorous thing I said I would share is that multiple people thought they were the Mr. Smith to whom I was referring.  This confirms to me how prevalent the inability of setting priorities is.

Covey points out the importance of prioritization in his statement: “The bottom line is, when people are crystal clear about the most important priorities of the organization and team they work with and prioritized their work around those top priorities, not only are they many times more productive, they discover they have the time they need to have a whole life.”

He stresses, “The key is not to prioritize your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” We need to schedule time for the things that really are our priorities.

Robert J. McKain says, “The reason most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second thing first,” and as Covey has emphasized, to be successful, we must “keep the main thing the main thing.

With that in mind, how does one go about establishing priorities?

Limit Your Number of Priorities

Successful leaders rapidly learn the first thing we should do is limit the number of priorities we establish. Having too many priorities has a paralyzing affect because the individual with too many priorities cannot make a decision about where he/she should start.  As a result, nothing gets done.

Use the three Rs of Prioritization

In his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Maxwell recommends that we set our priorities by what he calls the three Rs which are requirement, return  and reward.  In living by the three Rs, you live your life based on the answers to these three questions:

  1. What is Required?

We are all accountable to so someone for the work we do.  It may be a board of directors, stockholders, an employer, the government or a spouse.  Maxwell says “any list of priorities must begin with what is required of us.” 

What is it that that you must do that nobody can or should do for you?  If you are doing something that is not necessary, maybe you should eliminate it.  If what you are doing is necessary, but not required of you personally, you probably should delegate it.   

  1. What Gives the Greatest Return?

 Maxwell says, “As a leader, you should spend most of your time working in your areas of greatest strength.”

In their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buck-ingham and Donald O. Clift point out that their research shows that people are more productive and more content when their work is within their natural gifting and strengths.

While leaders need to get out of their comfort zone, they need to stay in their strength zone.

According to the Pareto Principle, 20% of what we do produces 80% of our results.  It would be wise to figure out which of the activities you do are in the group that produces the most results. Make those your priorities.  Whatever else that has to be done, needs to be delegated to someone else.

Maxwell says that if something he is doing can be done 80 percent as well by someone else, he delegates it. He says, “If you have a responsibility that someone could do according to that standard – or could potentially meet that standard – then develop and train a person to handle it.  Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do it.”

  1. What brings the Biggest Reward?

 This question relates to personal satisfaction.  Tim Redmond, president of Redmond Leadership Institute said, “There are many things that will catch my eye, but there are only a few things that will catch my heart.” 

Life is too short not to do the things you love doing. I love helping individuals and organizations to accomplish their visions, missions and goals.  It is what drives me.  I love public speaking. I love writing.  I love spending time with my family.  Regardless of what else I do, I will make time for those things.  Those are the things that energize me.  Those are the things I am passionate about and as Maxwell points out, “Passion provides the fuel in a person’s life to keep him going.” 

What is required of you?  What gives the greatest return? What brings the greatest rewards?  Those are the things that should be your priorities. 

Are they?  If not, why not?

What are your priorities? – Part 2
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