Leaders: Get Back to Putting First Things First

With the evolution of technology we have become grossly more productive.

We can read our email while pouring coffee. We can respond to calls on the walk to lunch. Our mobile devices allow us to stay connected to every single thing that is happening every minute of the day. Isn’t it great?

It sure is, but would I be stepping out of line if I suggested that all of this productivity is making us wildly unproductive at times. Allow me to explain.

Over the past few years as more and more information has been made available and as the on-demand world has led to on-demand people, we have become increasingly unable to spend adequate time focused on the right things.

However, we have become so unbelievably busy that we feel like we are working non-stop around the clock.

While ultimately an issue of time management, if we want to see greater levels of success in our businesses, we have to go back to one of the simple business rules of business (via Covey and others):

Put First Things First

The problem is, many of us aren’t doing this anymore, rather we are putting “First Things In Front of us First.” The key difference here is that the email, tweet, phone call, or person in front of us at any given moment may serve as a good opportunity to feel busy, but this doesn’t mean that the activity is the best use of time and resources.

If this is you, don’t be discouraged. Falling into this trap is easy to do, but there is a way out.

I recently encountered a situation that served as both a good example and the inspiration for this post. I was speaking with a friend who shared two significant problems he was having with his business. While I won’t get specific, the issues were related to a lingering personnel issue and a fiscal year 2012 forecast/budget planning issue.

Apparently a member of his leadership team was in charge of completing these tasks. However, these important strategic issues had not been attended to because of continued high-levels of “here and now” distractions. Several months later the issues were not rectified and the lingering effects were beginning to rear their ugly head.

While the flury of activity may feel like both a high level of achievement and a substantive reason for not completing the important strategic tasks, let me assure you that the activity serves as nothinng more than an excuse and a means to poor long term business performance.

What was even more crazy about the whole situation that my friend shared with me was that the two significant problems could be taken care of with probably one or two focused days of work – max!

So now we have a frustrated business owner and an executive that isn’t really aware that the job isn’t getting done. Primarily because much of the business’s daily activity is being driven by external forces.

Bottom line, both my friend and the executive in charge of the strategic activity share some of the blame here. However, blame aside, the problem is more common than one may think, making the resolution slightly less simple. The executive is an overall high performer bogged down by “First Thing In Front Of Me” overload, and my friend really wants to allow his leadership to do their roles without micromanagement.

The Solution:

From the top of the organization down we must remind our teams that being busy and being productive are not the same thing.

With the unbelievable amount of information available along with the mobile tools for accessing that information we can become captive to the devices that we designed to make us more efficient.

We must remember that businesses have priorities and as leaders we are accountable for keeping “First Things First.” While there is not emphatic way to handle the information overload, I have spoken to many executives who only respond to email 2x a day or only return calls during a designated period, barring an emergency, of course. I have had to do this myself as I found myself becoming overrun by the flow of incoming communications.

When determining how to get your time back undercontrol remember that the overarching idea is to not allow other peoples’ priorities to constantly supersede our own and distract us from what must come first.

So the next time your email dings, your text clings, your phone rings, or your tweet bings, do you have the discipline to stay on task?

Dan’s post originally appeared on his blog Millennial CEO.

Photo courtesy of  Tag Line!

Daniel Newman is the Co-Founder of 12 Most. Proudly, Daniel is married to his wonderful wife Lisa and has two beautiful daughters Hailey and Avery. Dan is also an Adjunct Professor of Business as North Central College in Naperville, Illinois where he teaches courses in Strategy, Management, and International Marketing. With a passion for helping emerging companies, Daniel sits on the Board of Youtern.com as well as Click2Cause.com. An avid golfer, a fitness fanatic, and a classically trained pianist; Daniel loves life, his family, and helping others.

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