What should you actually be doing next?

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While I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific answer to that question, you don’t need me to tell you that life can get incredibly busy. There has been an exponential increase in technology and so there are an almost infinite number of priorities pressing for our attention every moment of the day. thinking web pic It can be practically anything from emails to instant messaging and social media to the person who comes to you saying “Do you have a spare minute?” And you know its going to be a lot more than a minute!

Effective leaders understand that activity does not necessarily lead to accomplishment. It is not enough to be busy – the question is what are you being busy about? There are basically only three kinds of work that need to be done:

  • The work that was planned in advance.
  • The work that shows up with no warning in the moment.
  • The work involved in defining the work that needs to be done in the first place.

 

While the first two are fairly obvious, it is the third one that we tend to overlook. John Maxwell talks about this in terms of his 17th law of leadership, which is the law of priorities: Leaders understand activity is not necessarily accomplishment. Just because I planned to do something at 10am on Tuesday or something landed on my desk at that time, does not guarantee that is the best use of my time. But it can mean I appear very busy. When I say yes to something, at the same time there are a whole load of other things that I am then saying no to.

The danger is that when we are busy we tend to think that because we are busy then we are somehow achieving. However, as someone once said, if we haven’t thought about where we are going, then being busy just means we get to the wrong place faster! Prioritising means we are continually scanning to think ahead about what is important, what is coming up soon and how everything relates to our overall vision of what we want to become and where we want to go.

What I should actually be doing next is in fact a hugely complex and multi-faceted question. And I haven’t even added in other variables such as how much energy do I have in the moment and what kind of context am I in? For example can I handle the emotions involved with that phone call or  do I even have time for that call (having access to a phone is  less of an issue for most of us)?

Here are 3 questions to help you decide what you are going to do next:

1.What is actually required? To drill this down further, “What must I do that nobody can or should do for me? If I am doing something that is not necessary, then really I should eliminate it. (For more on this see here).

2. What gives the greatest return on my effort? Money mangers talk about return on investment, but this can equally apply to my         use of time. As I become clearer about what my strengths and weaknesses are  then it makes sense to devote more of my time at what I am best at (for more on the rationale for this see The Law of the Lid). Ideally leaders should get out of their comfort zone, but stay in their strength zone. According to John Maxwell, if something can be done 80% as well by somebody else then he will delegate it.

3.What brings the greatest reward? When I say that it need not necessarily be financial (although it could be, but often that is insufficient). The key issue is that life is too short not to do the things you love. When you do something you are genuinely interested in, then it will energise you and keep you passionate. It is passion that will provide the fuel in your life to keep going and not give up (See 7 Simple Ways You Can Develop Grit). There is a sweet spot at the intersection between what you are passionate about and what people around you desperately need.

So what are you going to do next? I hope this has helped you a little on your way. Do share your comments and thoughts.

3 thoughts on “What should you actually be doing next?”

  1. If I think about what I need to do, I definitely need to do my basic job, which is pretty much planned for in advance for the whole year, and we are trained to deal with eventualities on a monthly basis, plus it allows us to fulfil our basic family needs (shelter, food); my secondary job isn’t something I need to do, but it does provide extra money, which is always needed, so perhaps I do need to do it! I have an additional unpaid duty at work, that of health & safety rep, which I don’t need to do, but it is a job that needs to be done, and I do get recognition for doing it in my appraisals, which could lead to promotion, which could lead to more money, so perhaps I also need to do that! I am also the secretary of a charities committee, something else I don’t need to do, but I think it’s good to do charitable work, especially when it really does help people, so for fulfilment purposes perhaps I also need to keep doing that!

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal situation Karl. It very helpfully illustrates how while we all have financial needs we also look for a greater purpose and fulfilment with our lives that goes beyond just caring for our own needs. Do have a look also at podcast #011 on Money and the related articles

  2. Thanks – yes – just because we are “a blur” doesn’t mean anything useful is getting done right! I continually try to separate the “urgent” (so called) from what is actually important, and I try to go on the tasks not just the person who asked me to do the task (even if its my CEO!)

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