In the spirit of the New Year, I'm reading three—that's right, three—self-improvement books that I hope will help me be better organized and more efficient at home and at work. I'm learning how to manage paperwork and e-mail, make to-do lists that don't end up crumpled in the bottom of my purse sans checkmarks, and master time management once and for all. Most of all, I want to learn how to get more done in less time, so I have more time to enjoy my life.
These days—with staff dwindling and budgets disappearing—doesn't everybody?
One of the common themes in these sorts of books is that of identifying your priorities and figuring out what's important and what's not. One book has a page-long list of items the average person might aspire to: Be more spiritual, have a fulfilling career, spend more time with friends and family, give more to your community, spend time doing what you love—the list goes on and on. Everything on it seems important. But the author says you can only choose five.
Before you undertake any activity, the author says, you must ask yourself if it is one of your five priorities. For example, as it turns out, washing the dishes thoroughly with soap and water before loading them into the dishwasher is not one of my five personal priorities. So I stopped doing it.
Wouldn't it be lovely if we could do the same at work? You could tell the director of the money-losing service line that you're very sorry, but creating his or her brochure is simply not one of your five marketing priorities. You could choose which three-year project you're going to focus on and give it everything you've got—really make it a success—rather than scrambling to keep up with seven different projects all at once.
Well, maybe that's not going to happen. But play along with me for a minute. If you had to choose, which of the following would you pick:
Once you are forced to make a choice, suddenly your priorities become much clearer. And if you keep them in mind, it will help you make the 100 decisions you face every day. You can choose to put the most energy into projects that matter. And, perhaps more importantly, stop obsessing about those are not mission-critical.
You should be able to quickly evaluate everything you do—forming or joining one more committee, attending or organizing yet another meeting, adding your two cents to a never-ending e-mail discussion, or agonizing over every single tiny little last detail of every last marketing task—to determine if it is a priority that warrants your time and effort (and your organization's money).
I'm not saying you won't have to do the tasks that are not high-priority. But perhaps you could avoid getting caught up in minutia and trying to make everything perfect. You're not doing yourself any favors. And you're not doing your hospital any favors, either.
If you're the boss, tell your employees (or remind them) what the organization's marketing and strategic priorities are. In return, you'll get more focused and productive employees who produce better quality work.
If you're not the boss and you don't know what the organization's marketing and strategic priorities are, then ask. The benefit to you is a more satisfying and less frustrating work day—and maybe even a little of that elusive work-life balance that I hear folks talking about.