Want to Accomplish More? Think LES
Jan 24, 2019
“There just aren’t enough hours in the day” or “I am doing more work with less time.”
Sound familiar? These laments have become all too common in today’s lean workplace. Many people mistakenly believe that not having enough time in the day is the only barrier to success. In reality, time is only one part of the problem, and I would argue it’s not even in the top three. Based on numerous conversations across industries, I think the top three barriers are lack of strategy, lack of energy, and lack of follow through. The solution is common sense, yet not common practice: practical prioritization.
People think they don’t have enough time to prioritize tasks. In reality, most people waste time by not prioritizing. It’s similar to the return on a long-term investment. By investing time in strategically prioritizing, your return is a more focused pursuit of your objectives and the ability to accomplish more in less time.
When you don’t create a map of priorities you end up taking the wrong path. It’s estimated that the average worker wastes 2.09 hours per 8-hour work day (not including lunch and break time), according to a survey conducted by America Online and Salary.com. You can mitigate the risks of wasting your own time by the simple act of being strategic.
The solution: think “LES” and accomplish more
When working with senior level executives that have a lot of smarts, but not a lot of time, part of my role is to save them time and help them become more effective simultaneously.
One approach is to incorporate a plan that includes three key dimensions, which can be abbreviated as “LES:” Long-term, Enjoyment, and Short-term. By keeping these three in balance, executives are able to deliver on long-term strategic directives, drive results for the short-term, and keep themselves engaged by ensuring they find time to do aspects of the job they still enjoy. This balance is a key ingredient to creating an atmosphere where employees are motivated and inspired to produce.
Determine your personal LES
Long-term: What can you do that will benefit the organization from three to five years from now?
When you are able to think ahead and be proactive, you are much more likely to get to where you want to be rather than end up somewhere you don’t want to be.
The benefits of focusing on the long-term:
1. Efficiency of moving toward organizational vision
2. Anticipate future barriers that may derail strategy
3. Increased hope and optimism
Enjoyment: What keeps you energized and engaged?
If you don’t have fuel in your tank, it doesn’t matter where you want to drive. The more energy we have, the more energy we can give. Don’t take my word for it. Think back to a time when you were in a job and you weren’t able to participate in any tasks that you enjoyed. For a relationship-oriented person, it may be that you only were working on completing meaningless tasks. For a results-oriented person, it may have been you were constantly stuck in meetings that didn’t lead to actions. If you are consistently deprived of your enjoyable activities the result will eventually be burn out, apathy, or mediocre performance.
Identify three work tasks that you enjoy. It may be mentoring others. It may be balancing the budget. It may be setting next year’s objectives. No matter what it is, do it! This will help buffer the challenges and stress you will face on a daily basis.
Short-term: What will get you “wins” in the short-term?
By getting wins during the short-term you build your credibility and keep yourself engaged.
The benefits of focusing on the short-term:
1. Increased confidence
2. Stronger credibility
3. Increased perception of leadership effectiveness
Most of us are quite good at getting things done for the short-term. Often these tasks are the most mission critical or strategic. However, it is essential that you continue to complete tasks in the short-term that will also lead to benefits in the future.
Practical Prioritization: Three Simple Strategies
1. Identify Your Energy Enhancers and Evaporators
By asking yourself strategic questions you can raise your awareness and better understand your energy patterns and preferences and make decisions accordingly. For example, if you know that you often have low energy in the late afternoon, you can take action to schedule critical meetings in the morning.
- What time of day do I have the most energy?
- Which people within my organization enhance my energy? Which people evaporate my energy?
- What activities (related to my career) do I enjoy the most? What percentage of my week do I spend participating in these activities?
- What activities do I dread the most? What percentage of my week do I spend participating in these activities?
- What have I not done to move from a preference to a priority?
- What is one step I can take toward accomplishing my priority?
2. Prioritization Calibration
Ask your direct reports:
- What do you think your top three priorities are?
- What do you think my top three priorities are?
Next, write down your answers to these same questions. Now, read each others’ responses. Then have a dialogue around where the alignment and gaps are for both of you. This will give you a process to identify the areas that are critical for both of you.
3. Develop a Dashboard (for your vulnerable priorities)
In my work with executives, a number of themes have emerged in relation to why important items do not get completed or seem to “fall off the radar.” We are creatures of habit and urgency. It is easy to keep critical items that are on everyone’s radar, such as sales numbers, on the top of our mental lists. It’s the items that may not always be topics of conversation, but can add tremendous value to the business that often get forgotten. Here is a process I use to help executive develop a “dashboard” to keep priorities in front of mind so they can be completed (see Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know, by Malcolm Gladwell, p. 217).
- Make a list of your objectives
- Rate each objective in relation to four dimensions: Importance to the organization, Difficulty, Energy Drain, and Likelihood of Falling Off. Use a scale of 0 (low) to 5 (high)
- Review your list and identify the three items with the highest scores.
- Review your dashboard weekly, reranking the items. Then schedule activities related to your top three priorities. (The higher the score, the more intentional you need to be about scheduling activities to complete the objective). Be strategic: spend 80% of your time on your top 20% of your priorities.
The Bottom Line
Prioritization is about motivating yourself to invest time in yourself ahead of time. Modeling this leadership behavior pays dividends. When people perceive you to be strong at strategy and execution, it enhances your credibility and motivates those around you to excel. Along the way you will accomplish a lot more when you use LES a lot.