Have you ever tried to juggle so many things you end up dropping all of them?
A mentor once told me the secret to good leaders is prioritization. Her illustration was for you to think of everything as balls you are constantly juggling (work, home life, etc) – some are rubber and some are glass. You can already see where this is going can’t you?
Glass balls need to remain in the air (on the move) or they fall and shatter like Humpty Dumpty, never to be put back together again. While rubber balls are the ones you can drop and pick back up. No (long-term) harm happens if they are set aside for the moment. Great advice and a mental image as you think about your busy schedule and conflicting demands.
It’s not always easy identifying which balls are rubber and which are glass because each of us brings our own view shaped by past experience. So I thought I’d try to start a list for you to help start your own sorting:
- Glass balls have long-term unrecoverable results if not addressed and cared for. Ask yourself what happens if this waits a day, a week, or a month.
- Glass balls are not always the “urgent”, but they are always the “important”.
- You may be able to juggle two or three but throwing a fourth or a fifth into the mix means you may drop them all. Be careful what you add to your mix
- Rubber balls can be hard to let go. They could be habits. They could be comfortable to you. But letting them go in times of chaos is a must if you want to keep the glass balls in play.
What do you think are your “glass” balls that if dropped would be unrecoverable? What do you face this week that if they were pushed out would bounce like a rubber ball? Take a moment and write down all that you are facing this week. Then “rack and stack” your list. You may be able to find the thread of clarity you’ve been looking for.
We sat there staring at the list of house work to be done, the list seemingly endless; Garage to be cleaned, patio to be straightened, closets to clean, and last but not least, college football to be watched. We only had a day to get it all done because quite frankly I knew Sunday would be filled with church, reading, visiting with friends on the phone, eating a wonderful meal my husband prepared for me and of course, my afternoon nap. Prioritizing the important to the available resources was going to be crucial to our “success”.
Much like our weekend, there are very few people or companies that have endless resources to support everything that could be done, much less what should be done. Understanding how to: divide and conquer, prioritize the urgent of the day, prioritize to what is important in reaching your goals, balancing the urgent and important – is a daunting task.
Instead of thinking about all the things you cannot get done, flip the equation and ponder on the following:
- Identify your biggest issues. How do they interconnect with each other? Can you find the “end of the thread” and pull on it? If you pulled on the “one thread” would it solve (or begin to solve) more than just that one issue?
- If you rearranged your timeline expectation, could you fit a longer term project in the open spaces of your week? Maybe this longer term project could solve some of those ankle biter issues. But if you never get to the longer term project, the ankle biting will continue
- What could you stop doing that no one would notice? Can you stop attending a certain meeting that takes time but you never seem to provide equal value to the time spent?
- How would you best let go of the lower priorities to make room for the higher priorities? Can a more junior person replace you in a project? They gain valuable growth experience and you gain valuable time to attend to a higher priority issue. So what would you let go and how would you best communicate it to the team?
- When is the last time you tracked your time? Have you ever kept a time log on how you spend the day? Can you justify the time you spend on those things? If not, why not?
Understanding your priorities is the starting place of prioritizing the resources. There are only 24 hours in a day and while some things “just have to get done” – identifying those that don’t can help you plan the right resources to accomplish the right priorities.
As for us, the garage was cleaned, the patio straightened, and football was watched. The closets, they are on the wait list. Maybe I’ll convince my husband that cleaning a closet is as exciting as watching a game. No? Yeah, I din’t think so either…
A long time ago my father in law, now 80, was a mainframe IBM programmer (IBM 1401 4k/IBM 1410 32k). We’re talking a computer that took up a whole room that ran from punch cards. He said when they got 32kb of memory the programming team was ecstatic to have that much “room” to play with. Memory was expensive back then. You had to write tight and fill the “buckets” (sorry Dad, not being technically accurate here). If something didn’t fit quite right the computer stored it elsewhere and before long your hard drive was “fragmented”.
Every once in a while, you would defrag your disc. Simplifying again, defragging squished everything, filling the buckets and thus freeing the unused space. Defragging helped optimize the memory space available. I see some similarities between defragging a computer and optimizing a team.
Since the Industrial Age began, businesses have organized their work based on responsibilities or “buckets”. People work in these “buckets”. If done right, buckets ensure multiple people aren’t working at conflicting ends, and more importantly, ensure two people are not wasting time doing the same thing.
When companies find their resources are stretched in one part of the organization while other areas are not quite fully loaded – some old fashion defragging may be needed. If it is time to defrag your organization here are some suggestions…
Stop doing unnecessary stuff. Not all routine things still need to be done. Tell your team thanks, then tell them it is no longer needed. If you do not read the report, stop having someone write it!
Re-prioritize and communicate the reprioritization. Everyone needs to know the batting order has changed. Stress the important – and walk the talk. Don’t tell people it is not the priority and then still ask for priority report outs.
Consider what must be accomplished. Can any of “it” move from being part of a job description to being a “project”. Project work can go across disciplines. Project work can expose your team to the greater business, growing your team’s foundation, and engaging everyone.
Do some research – who thinks they can do more? Who is interested in some variety? Give them permission to do something outside their day to day responsibilities. Give them the ok to move across the hallway and pitch in.
It may be time to defrag your teams. You may be surprised how much more your team can accomplish if you utilize the empty spaces.
Seldom, if ever, is the day long enough. I could use a little more time to get one more task done, call back one more person, spend a little more time with my family, or maybe get a few minutes more sleep. I would really like to have a 25 hour day.
What if I could save just 2 to 3 minutes an hour? What would happen? What could happen? If I did, I might just be able to simulate having that extra hour. Over the years, I have a few tricks I have discovered that help me squeeze that extra hour a day…
1. Put stuff away.
Somewhere I heard about or read a study that said it took an average of 7 seconds to put something away but it took “x” minutes to find a misplaced item. (Wish I could remember the study. If I find it I’ll add a link later.) Looking for stuff wastes time – whether it is your keys or a computer file, the clock ticks while you look for something. If you always put stuff away, it will save time later. Think of it as your “7 second rule”.
2. Do multiple things simultaneously.
Proper multitasking is not a bad thing. When I use the term “proper” I’m talking about turning your computer on as you first get to your desk. While it’s booting up you can: take your coat off, pour a cup of coffee, scan your to do list, water your flowers or whatever quick task you can get done.
Just like budgeting your personal finances, it is important to budget your time. For example, it’s important to prioritize your finances to pay for a mortgage before paying for a vacation. Similarly with time, it’s important to separate it based the most important things to get done first — or you will find you spent all your time on the irrelevant. (Here’s an earlier blog post about prioritizing.)
4. Eat well. Sleep well. Exercise well. Eat chocolate well.
What? That all takes time! Yep – but just like putting gas in your car and changing the oil when needed we actually are more productive in our time usage if we take care of ourselves. You are a complete person. Your life should reflect that.
5. Don’t let yourself get interrupted (too much).
Try to complete tasks once you start. It takes longer to start back up again rather than if you just finished it in the first place, especially smaller tasks. Or maybe you need to decide how to chunk bigger tasks into manageable slots of your day. Plan to be interrupted. You will be. Knowing this, you can take the initiative and gain the advantage.