I’ve always been a productivity junkie and have entertained almost every process that’s come out in the last 20 years. Steven Covey’s task prioritization method (A1, A2, B1 B2…) was great when you were first learning about time management. Of course, it can’t stand up to load or your boss dropping an “urgent” task on you and blowing up your day. The next wave was Getting Things Done (GTD) and I admit, I was a zealot. Getting things out of my head, the two-minute rule, batching tasks, and the weekly review are absolute lifesavers, and I continue to use these principles today. The system can handle load, and you genuinely become more productive. Where it fails is ensuring that you are effective. Working on the “right things” often means saying “no” more often than saying “yes.” If you are familiar with GTD, you know that no matter how organized your system is, having 100 items on your to-do list is demoralizing. I love you David Allen but not every task has equal importance. And it’s a personal productivity system and doesn’t lend itself to ensuring your team is working on the right things.
Before I introduce the system I teach entrepreneurs to gain massive traction with their startups and their teams, there are a few notable caveats. First, I’m not a big fan of “goals.” Obviously, you need a target, but the term goal is fixed and not achieving it often creates a feeling of failure. I believe you should always be improving your entire life. There is no “end goal,” therefore I like to use the term “objectives.”
It’s more than just semantics. Objectives are adaptable (because life happens) and every day you can strive to do more toward achieving your objectives than you did yesterday. In gamification terms, a goal is working towards hitting 1,000 points. An objective is working every day to beat yesterday’s high score, and there is no ceiling.
Humans are terrible at focus. There are too many distractions, too many responsibilities, and too many desires. Don’t believe me? Try to focus on the second hand of a watch for 60 seconds without thinking about anything else. You can’t do it. I know a CEO who was proud that he had a system to track all his categorized, separate action plans.
Simply put, he had a list of lists.
He was also scattered because he couldn’t isolate which items were most important today with any confidence. In his mind, they were all important. Regardless if you subscribe to Covey principles or Gary Keller’s “One Thing,” there is power in focus. Imagine if, among all your responsibilities, there was only one item every day you knew was moving you powerfully towards your objectives? What if you knew your team was doing the right items every day and would hold each other accountable?
Finally, annual goals are too far out to be meaningful. They’re great directionally, and I know companies “need” to go through a planning process, but companies rarely hit all their targets. If they do, they sandbagged their objectives. A lot can happen in a year. New entrants, industry shifts, losing key employees, etc. Your crystal ball can’t foresee a year in advance. Your industry is changing too fast. Objectives should always be just out of your reach, and they should be revisited quarterly. As you are about to see, a lot can happen in just 90 days. Ready?
This system works amazingly well for anyone with a strategic aspect to their role (senior managers to CEOs). We all plan to focus on the strategic issues that move us forward. Then life happens. Clients that need to be salvaged, an HR issue that needs to handled, the deadline that can’t be missed. Tactical, even important, items that take you away from focusing on the strategic items that have leverage. You’ve been there. Rescheduling those items again thinking this month will be different.
I want you to focus on one item each day. Too simple? If you have the discipline to stick to this plan, you will see amazing results.
Pick four areas in your role strategically important (objectives), give you leverage, or multiply your revenue. These are big items that if they were accomplished within 90 days, move the needle.
- Take each objective and create three one-month milestones or checkpoints
- Break the milestones into four key tasks, so the objective has 12 key tasks. No more. No less.
- Schedule one key task each week. Monday: objective 1 task 1, Tuesday: objective 2 task 1, etc.
- Fridays would be floater day if a task wasn’t completed.
- Spend as much as 60% of your time on today’s task. Do not go to sleep until you accomplish the task. No exceptions. Yes… you have other duties. That’s what the rest of your days is for (not social media, television, sleep, etc.). Also, it’s time to empower your team and delegate operational items.
It’s that simple, but if you stick to it, you’ll move the needle in four areas of your business consistently. It’s easy to lock in on one target every day. If you need to swap out or rearrange tasks, that’s fine. Just accomplish one key task every day that is strategic or has leverage. 90 days from now, you’ll pick another four objectives.
As a senior executive, this tool works great to achieve team alignment.
- Have each direct report go through the same exercise. Their objectives should “roll up” into company objectives.
- Have a Monday “stand up” with your team and have each team member review last weeks key tasks and state their four new items. The team should hold each other accountable.
- Have quarterly off-sites where the team sets and shares their 90-day objectives
Here is how to visualize the model:
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Imagine if each direct report accomplished the 48 most important tasks in 90 days that align with your corporate objectives. I know it seems simplistic, but I guarantee you aren’t accomplishing this much, every quarter, consistently.
Go do epic shit.