There are many forms of self-sabotage when it comes to reaching your goals, whether those are goals for your life or goals for your job. For example, one of our friends has a sign on her desk that says “I don’t procrastinate … I reschedule!” While procrastination is a very obvious form of self-sabotage, prioritization can also be self-defeating if it is not done correctly. Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling leadership book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, captured this truth perfectly in his classic quote:
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”
In order to better understand this insight, consider: as a leader in business, you undoubtedly have countless tasks, calls, meetings, reports, and responsibilities clamoring for your attention. If you keep them all on your schedule and try to prioritize them, you will make some headway but you will never get everything done. Even worse, you may not get the truly important things done because what is urgent usually succeeds in crowding out what is important.
To schedule your priorities rather than simply prioritize what is on your schedule, take the following steps:
- List the key roles that you play (this can include roles both at work and outside of work).
- Identify one or two priorities for each role that must be executed on during the following week in order to drive those priorities forward.
- Put appropriate blocks of time for those priorities on the calendar.
- Guard those blocks of time and use them ONLY to execute on those priorities!
For example, suppose a leader is the VP of marketing. In that role, her top two priorities for the coming week are to make a decision about which marketing software vendor to partner with and to onboard her new director of marketing. She determines that she needs a concentrated block of three hours to accomplish the vendor selection, and one-hour time blocks each day to onboard her new hire.
Now comes the first major challenge: putting those time blocks on the calendar. For instance, she may not have a three-hour spot open. If so, she needs to actively make space, perhaps by rescheduling meetings or by delegating certain tasks. If this truly is a priority, then it must be scheduled in. Otherwise, it will not happen.
As the week unfolds, she will – in all likelihood – face additional challenges to executing on these priorities. She will get meeting invites that are for the same times she has reserved. She will receive unexpected demands. Certain tasks will take longer than she thinks. It is like a colossal conspiracy to steal those time blocks away from her. But if these are her priorities, then they have to take precedence over everything other than an end-of-the-world type of crisis.
The result is well worth the effort involved: at the end of the week, she will have the satisfaction of knowing that she has made a good vendor selection and that her new hire is rapidly gaining the ability to work independently with confidence. Yes; other tasks, calls, and activities may not have gotten done. But she delivered on what was most important for the business.
Now, she is positioned to set priorities for the upcoming week. As she continues with this approach week by week, she will deliver outstanding performance. Why? Because she is scheduling her priorities and executing on them consistently. She can then begin to schedule even larger priorities month by month, quarter by quarter, and year by year. There is no limit to what can be accomplished when priorities are truly treated as priorities.
You might be thinking, “Great concept – but you don’t know what my schedule looks like!” We don’t. But let us share a true story of a great leader who put this principle into practice.
A high-level executive had a son who was going through a difficult divorce. There was one child involved who was ten years old. She was struggling with her parents’ divorce. The executive recognized that in addition to his work roles, he had an important role as a grandfather. For that role, he made the decision that it was a priority to call his granddaughter every day after school at 3:00 in order to support the child through the divorce.
Did work colleagues understand this? No, certainly not. His own administrative assistant tried at first to schedule calls and meetings over the 3:00 timeframe. The executive had to explain, calmly but firmly, that 3:00 was sacrosanct. Nothing would interfere with him calling his granddaughter at that time each and every day.
This amazing executive – and outstanding grandfather – delivered on his top priority every day for months. Sometimes, he had to leave the building to sit in his car in the cold or in the heat to make the call to his granddaughter in order to avoid people breaking in on that time. He knew how to schedule his priorities.
Scheduling your priorities takes both effort and commitment. Yet, in the end, it comes down to a simple question: “Is this really a priority?”
If the answer is “Yes,” then don’t delay, come up with excuses, or allow anything else to crowd it out. Make your priorities a priority. Start today!