The Cycle of Getting the Important Stuff Done

In yesterday’s post I listed what I called The Hierarchy of Getting the Important Stuff Done. Truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for the immediate and passionate response from my readers.

It seems that staying focused on priorities is one of the toughest jobs we all have.

Several readers correctly identified that while I had outlined the path for staying focused, I hadn’t addressed just how you stay on that path. So, that’s what I want to address today.

Cycle of Important Stuff

By dividing my week into specific kinds of work I get more done

There are lots of time management systems out there and I don’t profess to claim that my adopted method is anything more than the cobbling together of systems from some terribly genuine and creative people like Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach and David Allen of GTD. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with both and credit them with a great deal of my thinking on managing myself.

I will say that, like any good hack, I have my own take and it starts with a focus on managing energy and the whole person over managing time. I wrote specifically about energy here.

People constantly remark that they have no idea how I get so much done. While it does involve mirrors and an incredible spouse, a great deal has to do with an organic system that I’ve used for years and have only recently been able to articulate.

The basic unit of my time and energy management tool and the thing that allows me to stay on important stuff done path is the week.

I divide each week up into days with a specific type of work plan. Each type of day plan has a unique emphasis that is biased towards a certain type of work. I have Intention Days, Attention Days and Ascension Days.

Intention Days are set aside to concentrate on my big ideas, my own personal growth and in some cases renewal. I take my higher purpose into these days and allow myself the luxury of dreaming.

At the risk of getting too personal, these are days where I often spend a lot of time alone and reassess meetings and feelings and words I’ve used wisely and unwisely. These are days when I forgive myself and forgive others. This type of renewal allows me to tap that little flicker of creativity that I so often attempt to extinguish.

While I intentionally protect my thoughts and actions on these days I don’t go as far as banning all digital activity, I simply make certain that I witness my thoughts and spend time doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I go to art museums and read books about architecture and geometry.

Attention Days are set aside to spend as much time as possible making money. Now, this may sound a little too focused for some, but what I really do is spend time doing my three or four highest payoff activities. The kind of stuff that either makes me money now or lays the foundation for meeting objectives down the road.

For me that’s writing, creating products or courses, working with sponsors and customers or writing an email that entices people to sign up for a workshop.

I typically plan these days with my staff during our weekly all hands meeting and take them outside of the office to limit the temptation to stray from full attention.

These days are easy to plan as I limit them to just a few items. In some cases I may only get to creating a PowerPoint Deck and writing one article, but I know it’s the right work and I know it’s time well spent.

Ascension Days are days spent climbing the hill. It’s when I get to those meetings, interviews, WordPress plugin tweaks, accounting reviews, inbox emptying parties and pretty much everything else screaming in my ear.

Maybe one day I’ll get to the point where I never have these kinds of days, but I doubt it. Ascension Days are like physical therapy, you’ve got to do this work so you can grow and get to the high payoff work.

All of these types of days, in fact, all of this type of work, is important, but my experience tells me that if you don’t carve out and make time and space to dream and create and focus on priorities, every day will turn into a climb the hill day of stirring the noise.

My pattern for these days can change depending upon what’s going on around me, but I typically try to take one Intention and two Attention Days a week and it’s the thing that keeps me most sane.

The Hierarchy of Getting The Important Stuff Done

If you like this post be sure to check out follow-up The Cycle of Getting the Important Stuff Done for even more.

There is always more that you want to do than you can humanly or otherwise actually do. That’s just the nature of owning a business and the minute you let up it comes right back at you.

The key is to find a way to focus on the right things and let the other things, no matter how loud and shiny, go.

The trouble is that in the course of a week, a day or even an hour, what’s important work and what’s a distraction can look pretty much the same unless you have a plan – A plan for knowing what’s important, a plan for what’s now and a plan for what’s next.

While this may sound like a to do list, and perhaps there is an element of that, it’s much more than that. It’s actually a strategy that begins with it a clear understanding about what’s pulling you forward, what’s on the horizon, what’s your target, what’s the next hill and what’s on tap for the day.

Hierarchy of Work

Planning the Hiearchy of Important Work

There is a hierarchy of work that must ebb and flow throughout your days and weeks that acts as the filter for your focus. This hierarchy has to inform what you allow yourself to do and not do throughout your week.

You can only focus on so many things and if you are to move your business forward in a way that doesn’t feel like treading water you’ve got to focus on the right things.

BAI – At the top of the pyramid is what I call your one big audacious idea. This is the one thing that is far out there, but that possesses a gravitational pull that keeps you going. It’s the big thing you know you want your business to become, even if you’re not really sure today how you’ll get there.

I believe you must always take stock of this idea and make sure it’s alive and, in some cases, actually big enough to alter your behavior. Without this pull, the other stages can turn into busy work.

Priorities – Each year you should define your top 3-4 priorities. Keep this list small or your focus will become diluted. Most business can’t accomplish more than this number and trying to do so means nothing really get accomplished. This is also a great way to identify the highest payoff work when it comes down to utilizing scarce resources like the owner’s time.

When you pare your list to only the top priorities, you have a filter for making determinations about what projects or great new ideas should actually receive consideration going forward. If they don’t support one of you annual priorities, they go on the back burner for later consideration. It’s a great way to keep everyone moving in the same direction, including the self-sabotaging owner!

Goals – Everyone is familiar with the idea of using goals, but few businesses establish goals as a key way to track and measure progress, particularly as it relates to the stated major priorities for the year.

After you agree upon the 3-4 priority objectives, you must establish goals that allow you to track your progress in ways that help you understand what’s working and what’s not.

Projects – Each of you priorities will involve any number of projects. For example, if one of your primary objectives for the year is to increase revenue by X percent, you’ll probably need to identify a series of projects that are geared towards reaching that objective. This might include a new product launch or aggressive lead generation campaign.

You should attempt to identify only a handful of ongoing projects that support your main objectives on a quarter by quarter basis. These projects should have owners and supporters and progress should be tracked and reported on a weekly basis.

Tasks – The smallest unit of work is the task. Even so, tasks should be associated with projects, which in turn support the primary objectives.

Now, tasks often pop up in the form of the daily to do list. Where people fail in their the day to day productivity is that many don’t use to do lists and those that do employ them don’t always have the end in mind when they plan.

The hierarchy of important stuff suggests that unless you plan with the end in mind, or with a focus on the big audacious idea, you’ll constantly fall victim to the swirl of what seems important at the time.

When you build your pyramid from the top down you can plan your days, weeks and months with each of stages firmly rooted in every decision you make hour by precious hour.

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