It has been said that if you really want to know what someone's values and priorities are, check how they spend their time. How you spend your time is more powerful and compelling than anything you can say - because what you do shouts far more loudly.
Your priorities are determined by your key goals or objectives - whether they are tangible work deliverables, projects to execute, family goals, relationship goals or any other goals that matter to you. If it really matters to you, it MUST make it onto your schedule.
Anyone in a leadership role has their lives run according to their calendar, so your calendar is the most powerful tool you have in managing your priorities - it enables you to set out time to pay attention to your most important priorities. What goes in your calendar is what goes on in your life.
So how do you make sure that you actually give the requisite time to your most critical priorities? I find that the best way to do this is to take charge of your calendar. Even if you have an amazing PA or Executive Assistant, you must be the boss of your calendar. Either alone, or in discussion with your PA, you must decide what types of activities go into your calendar because they speak to your priorities, what activities are declined or delegated, and what activities are up for discussion.
As a business leader, your priorities will be determined by the activity''s impact on:
- Your team and their ability to do their work well and deliver results;
- Your customers, whether internal or external and their willingness and ability to "buy what you are selling" (and you are always selling - read "To Sell is Human" by Daniel Pink);
- Your shareholders or principals - that means your manager, your board or your actual shareholders.
And if you follow the leadership principles of Richard Branson, these priorities are IN THAT ORDER.
I bet that made some of you cringe! Am I really saying that your managers are lower down the pecking order than your team? Yes, I am. How you manage that is a different story.
Generally, human beings think more clearly and are more energetic in the mornings (yes, I know there is a significant minority of night owls, but this is a general rule). That means that activities that speak to your priority areas should happen earlier in the day, with your lower priorities happening later. There may also be a case to be made for relational activities to happen later in the day when the more urgent "tasks" have been taken care of - since relational activities are best served when one is feeling relaxed.
The key to making sure your priorities see the light of day is in your planning:
- Your annual strategising and planning sets your priorities in terms of projects and key deliverables, as well as outlining the activities that must take place in order to make sure that consistent action is taken. It probably also sets out the regular meetings that must take place on a weekly or monthly or quarterly basis in order to assure progress.
- Your monthly planning (sometime in the last week of the month) sets out what must be achieved during that month in order to make good progress, as well as the specific activities and meetings that must get into your calendar other than those regular meetings you set out as part of your annual plan;
- Your weekly plan sets out how you will carve out time in between your meetings to actually do the work that you must do in order to do your part in taking care of your priorities. It is also your time to look at where you can slot in those activities that are not key to your priorities, but which are important to a colleague or team member.
- Your daily plan really just reviews your plan for the week and may involve moving things around to accommodate the unexpected.
Your team members and colleagues can help you in staying focused on YOUR priorities by understanding what they need to to do get some of your time and attention, and in order to help you manage your calendar appropriately. It is useful for you and for them to ask the following questions when new issues come across your desks (tasks, requests, meetings, etc.)
- Which of MY priorities does this speak to?
- Based on the answer to the 1st question, MUST it be done? Why?
- If yes, MUST it be done by me?
- If NO, by whom?
- If YES, then when.
Too many of us end up being victims to our calendar, but it is worth considering this:
Your calendar can either be a tyrannical master or a faithful servant. You decide.