What are your (real) priorities?

Success in 2015 will be determined by how effectively the leader of any organization executes against their plan. At the end of the year, the only question that will matter is: “were the goals achieved?”

Most owners, CEO’s and top executives I know are already overwhelmed with daily work, despite the fact that most started the year with goals, a plan and the intent to start moving forward.

Yet, the day-to-day management of the business, what I call firefighting, has already taken the initiative away from some owners who should be focusing on more strategic items.

So, here we are, not even four weeks into the New Year, and already the agree upon priorities of the business are being pushed to the back burner.
What can be done about this? How can the initiative to focus on the strategic be regained?
The answer starts with a question, perhaps the most important question of the year: What are your real priorities?

Many years ago an executive I had worked for at two companies shared advice that I thought was useful. He told me that the priority of his work each day was first, clients; second, ownership; third, fellow employees, and last was business partners, including vendors and strategic alliances.

This is easy to accept and execute if you happen to be working in the same office everyday, and your workload is steady. But this was also in the days prior to the advent of email.

Emails (and texts) no longer allow a person to set the priorities of their day. Work is now being controlled by someone else who sends a request for information or demands time in a meeting.

Instead of having some sort of hierarchy of requests, anyone can (and frequently does) ask for something, and each expects their request to be the highest priority.

What makes this untenable for a leader is that not only is leadership expected to set an example and respond timely to all these requests but there is no longer an opportunity to get the strategic issues addressed.

That daily, weekly or monthly “to do” list is buried within an hour of walking into the office.

The hidden impact of all this is on the stress levels of most employees. People find it near impossible to disconnect from smart phones in order to have some down time for vacation or even to get a decent night’s sleep.

Every business is turning into a 24/7 operation – similar to a hotel, international airport or a hospital.

What should the priorities of a leader be?

The first priority should be personal health. If there is not enough time in the day to exercise, rest, eat decent food and get enough uninterrupted sleep, something is seriously wrong when it comes to personal time management.

The most successful leaders I know do not work anywhere near the 168 hours available in a week. What they do is set goals for each business day and leave work at a set time each day. These individuals understand that no one can be truly effective after more than nine hours at work.

At some tipping point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. People get tired, productivity drops, mistakes are made, meals are skipped, and burnout ensues.

By setting and keeping a non-negotiable, get out of my way time to leave each day, productivity increases dramatically. Things that seemed important earlier in the day are discovered to have minimal importance the closer to leaving time it is.

Meetings start and end on time. People become focused on their highest priorities for that day. Interruptions are brief; people quickly get back to work on what is important.

None of us is getting any younger. If you expect better results in 2015 than in previous years, something has to change, and it starts with having the right priorities in life and in business.