Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:
In a previous post we saw how over time we can amass such a burden of outstanding - and ever-growing - commitments and activities, that we eventually lose focus on our 'real job'.
In place of laser-like execution, instead, we end up using most of our time and other resources just navigating a swamp of our own making.
In the previous post, I shared a simple note-taking exercise to help start the process of draining that swamp. (If you haven't yet read that post or completed the exercise, I recommend doing so before moving on to what follows.)
Step 2: Re-establish Direction >> Only Do What Only You Should Do
In the previous post we saw the importance of regrouping – regaining a clear focus on ‘only doing what only you can do’.
Step 2 is even more important – especially if you have been in your current role for some time, and it's this:
Re-establishing what you should be doing.
There's a vital distinction between only doing what only you can do, and only doing what only you should do.
Great leaders do the former. Transcendent leaders do the latter.
Ever sat on a boat, idly passing a few minutes or hours reading, fishing (or doing whatever you do on boats…), only to look up and wonder at how far you’ve drifted?
Or walked in on your home office after a long absence and wondered where all those piles of 'stuff' and general mess came from?
The same thing happens to our daily activities – over time, myriad pressures, habits, priorities, customs and preferences gradually alter what we spend our time doing, until one day, without realizing it, what we’re spending our time doing bears little resemblance to what we should be doing.
"There's a vital distinction between only doing what only you can do, and only doing what only you should do. Great leaders do the former. Transcendent leaders do the latter." - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success
It’s important every once in a while to do a ‘spring clean’ re-appraisal of your daily / weekly / monthly / quarterly / annual activities, and compare what you’re actually spending your time on, with what you should be doing.
So how do you establish what you ‘should’ be doing? The answer should be simple – go pull out your job description.
Unfortunately the reality is very different. Frankly for most of us, our job descriptions are close to useless. They either don’t exist, are inordinately out of date, and/or bear little or no resemblance to any reality we’ve ever encountered.
Nope, the secret to uncovering (or re-discovering) what we should be focusing on comes from something much more real:
Your Internal and External Customers Dictate What You Should Be Doing
Guess what: everything we do, if it is to have some importance and relevance, is done for someone – some customer, internal or external.
This group of people - think of them as the stakeholders in your success - includes:
- Your Boss (if you have one)
- Your board (if you report to one)
- Your direct reports (if you have any)
- Your peers
- Anyone else in the organization who is a material ‘consumer’ of your output, and
- Real live, external customers (if you interact with them).
So here’s a radical suggestion – why not ask them what you ‘should’ be doing in order to guarantee you deliver what they need and expect from you? Phrase your ask something like this:
What are three things I must do to guarantee I deliver what you need and expect from me, and how can we measure my success in doing each one?
Simple as that - just bear two things in mind:
- Not everyone will feel comfortable asking such a vulnerable question. It requires a rare combination of humility and self-assurance to ask. If you work in a politically toxic environment you may not be able to take this step;
- The most important part of the question is the word ‘must’. We’re looking for what you must do to deliver for this stakeholder – not what would be ‘nice’ or ‘good’ for you to do for them – be ruthless about the ‘must’.
Keep the responses down to three, maximum. Force the person you’re asking to prioritize (this helps with the ‘must’).
In the next post in this series I'll add a third, final step to 'draining the swamp', but for now,