A few years ago, a client told me this story. She was the European financial director of a large global technology company. The company had a factory in a deprived economic area in the UK. New legislation to boost employment meant that her company was now entitled to claim government grants worth £5 million.
Getting the money would involve much bureaucratic palaver and a lot of my client’s time as well as much effort from her team.
Her boss, the global financial director, got wind of this jackpot and sent an urgent email to the effect of…
”…Free cash? £5m? This has to be your top priority. Please advise me on the actions you are taking immediately…”
To which my very capable, but very overworked, client responded:
“Delighted to make this my top priority. Please let me know which activity I should downgrade instead: the £150 million pound organisational restructuring or the £50 million tax negotiations?”
She heard no more about it being a ‘top priority’…
Don’t do it
Most organisations are rubbish at prioritisation. This is because most people think that prioritisation is about deciding which things are most important.
It isn’t. Any fool can do that – and I’m sure that most people reading this have worked for such a person.
Prioritisation is, instead, about moving the less important stuff to the bottom of the list and then choosing not to do anything about it.
Doing this allows us to apply our finite time and resources on the things that make the biggest difference, rather than frittering away our time – and more importantly, our attention – on the stuff that is, yes, important, but not as important as the big stuff.
As my client showed, we don’t want to waste time on £5m if we have £150m and £50m to worry about.
The price of success in 2014
In this, I am with Tim Ferriss, author of the Four-Hour Work Week. As he points out in his article, The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen:
“…oftentimes, in order to do the big things, you have to let the small bad things happen. This is a skill we want to cultivate.”
Most of us are terrible at letting bad things happen. We worry that important stuff doesn’t get done, that key things will get missed, that we will disappoint some customers.
But the alternative is that we continue to muddle through, to try to do everything, to keep wading through the corporate treacle – and end up doing the really important stuff badly, because we can’t give it the time and attention it needs.
But if letting bad things happen is the price we have to pay to deliver the really critical stuff, if this means that the big, big breakthroughs happen, if this is what it takes to transform the experience of all our customers – then isn’t it worth it?
Many of us are thinking now of our goals for 2014. Perhaps we should also be thinking about the things that are indeed important but which we won’t deliver this year – so that we free ourselves instead to work on the big things that will really make this year a success.
What won’t you do this year so that you meet your most important goals for 2014 ?
(Image credit: Karva Javi under a creative commons license. His Flickr stream is excellent.)