There’s a story (possibly apocryphal) about Charles Schwab, the head of Bethlehem Steel in the 1930s, seeking help to become more effective. Management consultant I. V. Lee gave him a simple piece of advice, with a request that Schwab try it and then pay him whatever he thought it was worth. Schwab was so impressed with his results that he sent Lee a cheque for $25,000 – a fortune in those days (and not too shabby even now).
Lee’s advice to Schwab was simple: Start each day by making a list of his top priorities, then work on #1 until it was complete, then work on #2, and so on.
Even if the story isn’t true, the principle is powerful. American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault does something similar, each night listing his top three priorities for the next day.
Productivity expert Neen James suggests you spend 15 minutes on this at the start of each day, writing your top three priorities on a Post-It note, which you carry around with you during the day. Whenever something else arises, look at your list and compare that with your priorities. With a few exceptions, most things aren’t as important, and you can say No gracefully.
This means you might spend less time on social media, decline invitations to less important meetings, write shorter reports or eliminate them altogether, stop “dropping in” unannounced on colleagues or team members, and so on.
Even if you need to be diverted from your top three priorities, you still keep them at the back of your mind, so you’ll be more efficient when doing everything else. There’s no time for fiddling with fonts and margins when more important things are waiting!