I recently took a new role with my company. It wasn’t a difficult transition. I have the same responsibilities…just different customers I work with. It was a change I was excited for. Being someone that values growth, how can you learn if you aren’t exposed to new things.
However, with the transition came with a number of other organizational changes as well. With everyone around me also changing roles, it was chaos.
“the way I worked in the past simply wasn’t working anymore”
The Set Up
Over the last six months, there have been consistent weeks where I average 100+ emails per day. I know many of us do. But, these emails are not the typical FYI or corporate newsletter…they are important, related to my responsibilities and almost all required my direct engagement. Here’s the compounding problem: most of the emails require 5-15 min of research / effort to response. It has quickly become the impossible feat.
Thinking the problem was temporary, I just did more of the same. [always a mistake] I got up early, worked nights and gave up free time on weekends to catch up. I soon realized the problem wasn’t temporary, and this extra effort was no longer sustainable. Regrettably, I was also becoming more and more cynical and complaining all the time to friends and colleagues.
Worst of all: I was working harder than ever, and it wasn’t making a difference.
I was refreshing my “digital reading library” the other day and came across James Clear’s blog. I was rather stunned that I knew nothing about his work. I quickly devoured a Sunday evening reading his top articles and found particular value in his writings on Focus.
“Focus is not about choosing what you work on,
but committing to what you won’t”
Warren Buffett once asked his personal pilot to participate in a 3 step goal setting exercise.
STEP 1: Buffett started by asking the pilot to write down his top 25 goals. The pilot took some time and wrote them down.
STEP 2: Buffett then asked the pilot to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. The pilot took some time, struggled a bit, but eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.
STEP 3: The pilot now had two lists. The 5 items circled were top goals, and the 20 items he had not circled were secondary goals.
Buffett then asked the pilot what he learned from the exercise. The pilot responded something like, “This is easy…focus your effort on the top goals and only work on secondary goals if there is time”
To which Buffett replied, “No. You’ve got it wrong. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
My Ah-Ha Moment
Remember the focus quote above? That has been one of my favorite quotes for years. Except, I realize I’ve never put it to practice. Like the pilot, I had it all wrong. Like many people, “everything on my task list is important and just a few things are more important than others”. This is wrong.
Focus is about developing your “never do” list and avoiding it at all costs. And, here’s my failure with my new job…responding to new emails needs to be on that “never do” list.
I’m kicking this week off with a new task management strategy. Here is the framework:
- My 50+ item task list will get prioritized to my “must do” top 5
- Those 5 items are my “only do” list for the moment
- New emails fall on the “never do” list, so I won’t check email until my “must do” items are done
- After done, I’ll check email, triage and re-prioritize the task list
- Take a break
I’m hopeful this is going to help my email problem and boost my work output significantly. I’ll check back in on progress in about a week: Never Do Strategy