Loving The Main Thing

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“The main thing Is to keep the main thing the main thing.” ~ Stephen Covey

Keeping on the rails is so hard when our brain loves to pull us to distractions. It’s not only the distractions, but we are barraged by other people’s demands and priorities continually.

The main thing  to do can easily get buried or rationalized away.

I keep checklists to stay focused. Those things will get done. The timing and energy are part of what makes the main thing the main thing. If I’m low on mental bandwidth, I take care of physical actions to move around. If I feel energized, I will tackle that big hard task which requires long mental focus.

Part of the challenge is to pay attention and decide on what the right thing is to do at any given time in context.

What is your highest contribution?

How can you get things off your plate that get in the way of contributing?

What are things you can do to make executing easier?

Sometimes knowing what matters most comes from getting away and seeing things from afar. Other times, you have to work a bit and get in the details to appreciate what you are not seeing.

It’s wasteful to be working on the wrong things. A bunch of busyness with no impact, result or contribution kills opportunity. You can’t get those hours back.

We have this luxury of choice that starts with the right thought, translated into the right action, at the right time. Make your work count.

It’s a Matter of Priorities

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Moving the needle becomes quite a challenge for everyone these days. When we are drowning in a sea of information, it’s hard to decipher what work is contributing to the bottom line and what is simply wasteful and busy activity.

I usually have a nagging sense of dissatisfaction when I find myself doing unimportant activities that contribute little or nothing to my goals or my team’s goals. It’s a sixth sense and I tend to take pause when I find myself working hard for no good reason.

A lot of work these days is a thinking person’s game. You have to step back and get clear on what matters and what doesn’t. Sometimes, having dialogue around all the swirling issues and pulls helps to put a spotlight on what is important and what does not matter.

Too often, we suffer from attachment. We get attached to something that may have mattered in previous work or projects and we still put energy and investment into those lingering effects.

William Faulkner famously pointed to the importance or prioritizing in writing, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

I think in knowledge work, you have to do likewise. Our sunk-cost biases and blind spots towards some things we may have been vested in previously can hold us back from truly breaking through. It’s critical to take stock and ruthlessly kill our darlings regularly, those things that are not meaningful contributions towards our goals.

Setting priorities is like getting a cleanse and allowing a reset. You feel lighter, more focused and able to execute. You get rid of the drag that creates cost in your actions and thinking.

You can always take a look at your:

  • Commitments
  • Projects
  • Relationships
  • Apps
  • Material belongings
  • Overhead
  • Recurring costs

Make a decision in these areas and unburden yourself form those things that may have mattered at one time but are simply taking up space in your new reality.

We don’t get to be automatically aligned. We have to make priority setting a natural part of our approach to work to stay focused.

What Moves the Needle?

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Most of the people I know are in a daze. Life is simply overwhelming. Sure, we have revolutionary technology that increases our productivity. However, are we really more productive?

We can push more information and work around like never before. But much of what is being pushed around is noise. It often doesn’t have much to do with the goal.

I’ve often stated that most things don’t matter. If you start with that premise, your mind can focus. You can cut through the onslaught of demands and unimportant projects that can suck your energy, time and attention. You can redirect your mind and work to what does matter. And my guess is that this is a very short list of items.

You have to honestly ask, “What moves the needle?”

For this, you have to figure out what your goal is. What do you want to exist that is not reality today? That goal has to stay front and center. Let’s say you have a business and want to make money. Here would be some things that don’t matter:

  • Coffees with people that cannot say, “Yes.”
  • Reading endless newsletters and emails that don’t change you
  • Traveling all over and making no deals
  • Working endlessly on your website look and layout
  • Organizing your office supplies

These are simply busy activities without a relationship to the goal. While we can be blinded by activities and effort, it does not move the needle. Wastefulness happens often because of our ability to rationalize and delude ourselves. Richard Feynman said it best,

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

I think it’s fine to do all sorts of fun activities. However, if you want to move the needle, then there are likely a few things that matter above all others and those are the activities that must be considered as top priority. With the goal of money-making for a business owners, it could look like:

  • Thinking specifically and creatively about creating value for customers
  • Spending time with the best customers
  • Talking to ten people a day that can say, “Yes.”
  • Developing ideas to help solve problems for people that can say, “Yes.”
  • Making selling a process that is repeatable and specific for a team

Those are examples that could focus your thinking and schedule so you don’t fool yourself. It’s an input/output approach to money-making. Do things that matter and move the needle.

It sounds simple, but we have to think about where we put our attention these days, lest the pull of things that simply don’t matter sucks all the hours out of our day and energy from our souls.

Consider making a short list of what moves the needle. Can you identify 3 things you need to do that moves the needle in your pursuits that have to be done above all else consistently?

Busy or Productive?

We run into the challenge every knowledge worker is facing today.  We are all overwhelmed.  There are more emails than what we know what to do with.  There are more phone calls than we can return.  There is more news than we can absorb.

Information moves with such abundance and ease that it is hard to keep our bearings.  Often, we shut down and lose what is most important as human beings:

  1. Decision-Making: Information is presented to us in order to move to an action or a decision.  Everything else is noise.  When we develop a continuous habit of letting our inbox fill up and not making decisions, we develop a habit of being indecisive.  The tragedy is that the items that are a crisis are what get addressed.
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