How to get the Most Important Things Done

by Dr. Donald Sweet

We often ask prospects to name their top five priorities.  They struggle to do that.  Setting clear priorities is critical to getting the most important things done.  If your priorities are not clear, then your team doesn’t know where to focus its energy.

Priorities, along with data and communications, are the fundamental building blocks of a growing business.   If it is not clear what the most important things are, lots of effort will be spent on less important ones.  Priorities must be clear.

We ask clients to determine their five most important priorities are for the quarter.  This is where the heavy lifting is done.  Determining the top five priorities requires spirited debate by the leadership team.  They must adhere to the overall strategy and move the organization toward its BHAG (long term goal).

Spirited examination about what is best for the business is key.  There is no room for protecting turf or pet projects in this debate.  In determining the five most important goals for the quarter, a number of others are left on the sideline.

We often see teams and individuals with “to do” lists that take up a whole page.  When you have twenty seven different things to do it’s almost impossible to get the most important ones completed.  As Pat Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, says, “If everything is important, nothing’s important.”

Pareto famously stated 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.  This is also known as the Vital Few.  When we focus on the vital few priorities we improve our probabilities of getting the most important tasks accomplished.

We also ask our Gazelles clients to name their number one priority for the quarter.  We call that the Top One of Five.  By agreeing and communicating the most important priority for the quarter we leverage the efforts of the entire organization.  When the goal is clear, people respond.

Once this process is in place, it is important to spend the time and effort moving toward the top priorities.  We see too many organizations that set priorities and then discard them when the next shiny penny appears.  This is one of the vital reasons a vigorous debate is required up front.  If we have used a solid process to determine the priorities, we must have the discipline to see them through for the quarter.

So much energy is wasted tacking back and forth, switching priorities during a quarter.  Believe in the process, stick to your decisions and work on your top priorities.  This is the best way to ensure you and your team get the most important things done.