Very often I find myself very busy trying to get things done. And I am not alone. We run around here and there and join the rat race from morning to night, just to find ourselves exhausted and not satisfied that we have done enough. So we continue to work longer hours and during the weekend, forgetting to spend quality time with the ones closest to us, our family and friends. A very important gift is therefore to be able to leave things undone. You see, we can do and have anything we want but we cannot do and have everything we want. We need to make choices. We need to do the right things and do them right. The rest we have to learn to let go. So the biggest challenge we face is to know what the right things are to do. Then we need to make sure that we actually do them. The reason why most goals are not achieved or why projects are not completed in time is because time is spent doing second things first. While most of us know deep inside what really needs to be done, we are often caught by a thousand other issues that come our way from the moment we wake up and get ready to go work. Chances are that before even leaving the house we received one or two telephone calls, distracting us from what really needs to be done. Interestingly enough, it is other people that distract us and make us do other things, most probably their things. But even our own desires can be so diverse and our attention can be so scattered that we often are not sure what should get our attention. That is why we need to focus. To be successful, we cannot just run on the fast track. No, we need to run on our own track. People who reach their potential and fulfil their dreams determine and act on their priorities, every day.
So how do we do that? Here are some suggestions:
1. Ask yourself three questions:
- What is required of me? Make a realistic assessment of what it is that you must do in your role as employer, employee, leader, volunteer, husband, wife, chairman etc. And if you are in a leadership position ask yourself what it is that you must personally do and cannot be delegated to others.
- What will give you the highest return for your efforts? Some activities yield a much higher return for the effort to put in than others do. Find out what those activities are and focus your attention on those high return activities.
- What gives you the greatest reward? If you do only what you must and what is effective, you will be highly productive but you may not be content. It is important to consider what gives you personal satisfaction. Don’t take this question as the starting point though. Before the reward question come the other two.
2. Stay in your strength zone. People don’t pay for average and look for a mediocre restaurant for example. Finding your strength zone however may take some time and exploration:
- Trial and error. We all make mistakes. Learn from them and move on. You have to take the risk of failing to find your successes.
- The counsel of others. Ask others what they think of your performance. Be sure though to choose people who really want to support and coach you.
- Personal experience. You really get a feel for how well you do something by doing it repeatedly.
3. “Plan your life, live your plan.” You will find that you will only be able to do this effectively when you have clearly defined your objectives, while your values provide a useful compass on the way. Next comes to actually stick to your plan and carry it out. This sounds simple but is probably one of the most difficult things to do as we are often taken off track by unimportant issues and urgencies, giving us a feeling of accomplishment (“I have been so busy.”) but turning out to be time wasters instead. In other words, prioritise and a simple way of doing this is to sit down a few minutes and list down the most important things that need to be done, prioritise them and begin working on them one by one until completed. Don’t worry if you have finished only one or two at the end of the day but instead be confident that you have been working on the most important issues.
4. Evaluate your priorities daily. Priorities don’t stay the same and they need to be revisited every day because conditions change all the time. And so do methods of getting things done. Your values, once defined, are steady though and you will be able to rely on them. But how you carry them out needs to be flexible.
5. Delegate. Now that you know what it is that needs to be done and now that you actually start working on the most important issues, you may find out that you cannot do it all by yourself. This is when effective delegation comes in, which most of us find very difficult to do. We need to realize however that we cannot do everything ourselves and that while we work on our priorities, routine tasks need to continue. More often than not we have difficulties to let go and trust others to do what we normally do ourselves. A guideline that John C. Maxwell suggests is that if someone else can do a task 80 percent as well yourself, hand it off. And if you do a good job of motivating, encouraging and rewarding, that person will only get better and in the end may even be doing a better job than you could yourself. Such people are so valuable because they now begin to allow you to work on your priorities.
6. Surround yourself with the right people. One more thing to realise is that every day we are surrounded by other people we spent much time relating to. But are we spending time with the right people? People, who can take us to another level, who help us to move forward? Or are we spending time with people who instead take us back and distract us from what we should be doing? So while you want to treat everyone with respect and try and have a good, positive relationship with everyone, you should not be spending time with everyone equally.