I’ve been successfully spinning lots of plates in leadership now for well over ten years. (I wasn’t successfully spinning very few plates when I was a twenty-something.) There has been years where I have lead 40+ staff and 100’s of volunteers with budget oversight of a couple of million of dollars. There has also been years where I have started over and lead small endeavors and done most of the labor myself, feeling more busy than I care to reimagine.
When I was in my twenties two men taught me two invaluable lessons that multiplied my leadership potential. @Rich Nichol taught and coached me up in the basics of project management. @Sid Pfaff gave me a simple book that revolutionized my leadership and business potential. Both of these men brought to the surface some innate gifts that I wasn’t personally tapping into. God only knows what dumb-ass things I would still be doing today had I been unable to learn from them or to0 foolish to listen.
This is my attempt to convey some personal basic principles and practices that help me get things done. You are sure to lower your stress and get a raise if you practice!(To make this blog straight to the point, so I put all of my extra thoughts in the side notes at the bottom.)
1. It’s All Begins With The Master List
You don’t really know what you need to do until you know everything that you have to do.
I don’t care what kind of tool you use… get a huge piece of paper, a whiteboard or open up a blank page on Microsoft Word, what’s most important is that you turn off every device in your house, clear your distractions and write down every single thing that you can think of that you are supposed to get done, and I mean everything. Every big project. Every little task. Every single recurring item like returning emails or picking up your laundry. Write it all down
Don’t write dates, but assign a numerical priority ranking.
Start assigning things 1 through 100. Figure out what is the highest priority and what is the very lowest priority. It’s not really hard, sure you may get #’s 4-15 a little out of order, but even if it takes crossing out some #’s and reassigning their priority on a second or third pass through you list, start figuring out what is in most urgent need of your time.
Every item on your list should be able to be given an estimate ‘time to completion’ value. I like to use 1 hour increments for most things on my list. If they won’t take an hour, then I shove a lot of little things into a “misc. things for today” little pile to complete all inside of an hour.
4. Eliminate or Assign
On every list of things I need to do, I can find items that I can either purposefully not do or that I can assign to someone else. When I eliminate or assign items, my list shrinks as well as my stress, all the while my productivity goes UP!
After my Master List is prioritized then estimated, my day becomes simple math.
I pluck off about 6 hours of work from the top of the prioritized list. I leave 1-2 hours of my day for correspondence on email or phone calls. I also leave about an hour of my day for what I call “unforeseen”. See… simple math. I have quickly laid out 9 hours of my day for work. (Don’t tell Tim Ferris that I am working 9 hours a day and not 4 hours per week. I am a fan and someday I wanna meet him.)
The only thing that makes it onto my calendar are actual appointments.
I schedule my phone calls with people who work outside of our organization and try to make these hard and fast, pre-determined times. Same goes for stupid stuff like the dentist or laser hair removal appointments (thank you Craig & Jeanette for that 40th birthday gift). By in large, my calendar usually looks “empty” because in reality I am using the rest of the time for work.
Every employer (AKA the boss) has the right and reasonable expectation to see and understand your Master List.
In fact, if you don’t have a master list or if your employer has never asked to see it, then something is broken. Beyond your boss just seeing the master list, what is great about keeping track of everything that you have going on is that it affords you an opportunity to communicate effectively with those who lead you. When I or you can show a boss the entire list, it opens up healthy communication about your work load, your priorities vs. the organization’s priorities and a whole host of other healthy things.
Distractions are your worst enemy!
Email. Facebook. IG. Twitter. The phone. Apps. The list is super long. The worst of all distractions are the “Instant Alerts” that every elfin app on your phone and you computer has pre-tuned to get you to pay attention to them. TURN ALL OF THE DISTRACTIONS OFF! Only two people get listed as “VIP” in my world. That means, only two people’s emails or phone calls get through when I am focused on work and not planning to take calls or be available to others.
9. Work hard
Work is still work and when you you focus on it you can get a whole heck of a lot of shit done.
In one hour last night, I planned from start to finish, a week long remote video shoot in the mountains. The calendaring. The budget. The reservations. The airfare arrangements. The major communications that needed to go out. The shopping list. The gear list. The gear rental. The lodging on both ends. ALL of it – DONE – in one hour. How? Well first I have a lot of experience with major event planning. And second, I focused and I just flat out worked with no distractions. My estimated time before hand? 2 hours. My point? Work is work, and each of us has it, but when I do these other practices, I know I and you both can really accomplish some amazing feats.
10. Take a break and come back at it again tomorrow.
I love a challenging work environment and I love that my job and my challenges are never done.
Yes, I get stressed from time to time still. And yes, there are some random few nights when I think it would be nice to live in a world where I wondered what I was going to do tomorrow cause there was nothing on my Master List to do. But honestly, that sounds like retirement and that sounds lame most every single day. I relax though most every night because my stress is gone knowing I have a usable system to get done everything that needs to get done. I work effectively hard each day because I begin every day with these practices. I also workout 6 times a week for over an hour each time. I read regularly. I have my next four vacations (or “day off” periods) planned because there is a lot of exciting stuff that I love to do outside of my professional life. I love work, but it will still be there tomorrow.
— SIDE NOTES —
– side note A –
Here’s all of the ways I wanted to title this blog…
- 10 steps that you can accomplish in 30 min that will make you a radically more effective leader.
- 10 easy steps that will make you super-human at work
- 10 tricks that will change your work day
- 10 simple steps to being awesome at getting shit done
- 10 must-do’s for your to-do list
- 10 ways to lower your stress and get a raise
– side note 1.1 –
I will confess that I am a list junkie and that I used to try every single tool out there to revolutionize my work and personal life. I landed on some tools about four years ago, and astonishingly, I still use the very same tools today.
– side note 1.2 –
Stress starts with that feeling of being overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed comes from your internal sense that you have more shit to do that you FEEL like you can possibly get done. And why don’t you feel like that you can possibly get it all done? First is because that while you know you have a lot of shit to do, you are so disorganized that you know for sure that you don’t have a clear picture of what all of that stuff is. And then stress also comes from having no realistic plan for how you are going to get all of your stuff done. Most people just start ignoring things at this point, hoping that it all goes away, but realistically knowing that their stress is only going to get worse.
– side note 4.1 –
You need to choose to ignore the negative nuances of the word assign. Cause if I ‘assign’ my children chores, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am a dictator who treats his children as slaves. Rather it just means that there is something on my list of things to do that is appropriate for them to do instead and I will lead them in their role of participating as a functioning human being in our household. Same goes with employees. When I assign work for them to do, it’s done professionally and appropriately because they are on the team to play a role and bring a specific talent”
– side note 5.1 –
If you do a lot of budgeting for projects or events, you should have at least a 10% margin for “unforeseen” in every single one of your budgets. This practice will save your ass!
– side note 6.1 –
People inside of our organization will tell you that I schedule phone calls with them on the calendar but regularly move them around or put them off onto another day if needed. It’s true. It’s not because they are unimportant, it just means that they got bumped for something more important and I trust that they trust me to make the best use of the limited time I have available. Call it a perk of being in leadership at a different level. No, I try not to do this too frequently and yes they can call me at any time for truly urgent items.
– side note 7.1 –
Too many people complain that they HAVE TO WORK MORE HOURS just to keep up. It’s not my experience that boss’ are trying to work employees to the bone, deprive them of vacations or of time off or suck up all of their family time. It is my experience that there is a lack of communication often to be found between boss’ and employees about the amount of work being done and when it is being done.
– side note 7.2 –
When due dates slip and projects are often late because of a lack of organization and communication, many bosses do start to view their employees as lazy, poor performers or not up to the task. This is not necessarily true of most or all employees and it’s amazing just how far some communication and organization can go towards improving the culture of a workplace.
– side note Z –
Yes, this blog post & project was on my list for the day.