Someone on Twitter pointed to Luca Baiguini's How Smart Leaders Talk About Time a "Conversation Starter" from HarvardBusiness.org in October. It talks about the the struggle so many businesses have of having too many things to do and prioritizing amongst them. What is a leader to do?
A successful leader reduces "urgent and important" activities to a minimum, by monitoring:
- How tasks are planned and delegated.
- How "urgent and important" activities can be reduced.
- How much free-of-distraction time people have for high-impact activities.
The Urgent / Important distinction should be familiar to anyone who has paid attention to Steven Covey (or any business writing on prioritization and time management).
I really like the focus of this article on limiting the amount of work, though I would suggest that leaders have to limit all work in process, rather than strictly the urgent and important quadrant of work. The idea is that the leaders are the ones who can really set the stage for what needs to be done now and what can wait for resources to become available. Organizations struggle with this all the time: new ideas arise and they want to start working on them right away, even if there are ten other good ideas already in process.
In my view, once the work has been released into the system, the direction from leadership changes from prioritization of the overall work to removing roadblocks and enabling people to work as quickly as possible on the current activities. Of course, as work gets completed, leaders can then step back and decide what new work needs to be released into the system. It's a never-ending shift from holding back the tide of interesting projects to removing roadblocks and opening opportunities for people to do interesting things.
[Photo: "Change Priorities" by Christine.]