You want to be a productive leader, but your to-do list has more tasks, projects, and goals than you can possibly achieve.
The never-ending list can feel overwhelming. Leadership means a continual stream of information, problems, decisions, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, apps—and that doesn’t include the strategic investments in people and projects that will help you build a better future.
It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.
Two Mindsets to Be a More Productive Leader
There are two mental shifts that will help you end the overwhelm and achieve the results you want.
There’s So Much
It’s not your imagination. There really is more on that list than you can possibly get done.
What do you do with that reality? Does it stress you and paralyze you?
If so, the problem isn’t with your list. It’s with your perspective.
Here’s the reality productive leaders embrace: there is always more to do than you can do. It’s a fact of life.
Right now you could check in with your boss, answer your emails, build a spreadsheet, talk to an underperforming team member, make a to-do list, help your child with her homework, work on your most strategic project, listen carefully to a peer, call a customer, hold a developmental conversation with a mentee, take a luxurious bath, go to yoga, read this article, call a dear friend, check your social media, adopt a cat, clean out the stale food from your refrigerator, and a thousand other tasks.
The list is endless. It always is and it always will be.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, the difference is that you’re more aware of your choices. When you’re relaxed on a beach, there are still a thousand other things you could do with that moment – you’re just not thinking about them.
To turn the problem into power, embrace the fact that you can’t possibly do everything.
You never could and you never will. The list is always infinite.
When you surrender the unrealistic hope that the list will somehow go away and acknowledge that it is always there, always has been, and always will be, it frees you to focus.
You’ve Got Serious Limits
Our son loves to multitask. He’ll watch a YouTube documentary while trying to clean his room. Inevitably, one of these tasks wins (and it’s usually not the room.)
The problem is that multitasking is a myth. He’s shifting his attention back and forth between each activity (or not shifting it at all).
It’s another tough reality for most of us to accept: in addition to the fact that there will always be an infinite list, there’s a very limited amount of you to go around.
The second mindset shift that will help you be a more productive leader is that you can only do one thing at a time.
From that long list, you get to choose one task.
That’s it. One.
Finish that one. Or move it forward as much as you can, then move to the next.
This is the secret of every time management and productivity system: There’s always more than you can do and that you can only do one thing at a time.
So how do you choose what to do?
Mind the M.I.T.
There are many sophisticated systems to answer this question.
We prefer to keep it straightforward: What’s your M.I.T. (Most Important Thing)?
What is the most important strategic outcome your team will achieve this year?
Today, what is the most important thing you will do?
What are the two or three critical behaviors that will produce the best outcomes for you and your team?
As a productive leader, your M.I.T. often shifts from day to day. Today, it may be to clarify your strategy for the year. Tomorrow, it may be to address an underperforming team member. The next day, your M.I.T. may be a coaching conversation or working with a colleague and your boss to get alignment on their M.I.T. It may be to ensure you finish what you’ve started.
Mind the M.I.T. means that you know what’s most important and do it first, if at all possible. Do it before the inevitable rush of interruptions, problems, and fire drills.
It takes humility to accept your limitations and choose excellence somewhere over presence everywhere.
It takes self-awareness and confidence to acknowledge that today’s M.I.T. might be a walk in the woods or time with loved ones.
It takes determination to ignore what’s easy and do what matters most.
When you focus on your daily M.I.T., help your team understand the strategic M.I.T., and know their daily M.I.T. behaviors, you will unleash your team’s energy and transform your results.
To help him be a more productive leader, one Winning Well reader told us that he posted these words from the book on his office wall so he can see them every day:
Focus On the MIT.
To be a more productive leader, embrace the infinite need, remember that you can only do one thing at a time, and focus on the behaviors that will make the most difference for you, your team, and the results you want to achieve.
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