Look both ways before crossing the street, check the rearview mirror before backing up, put your blinker on before turning—these simple matters of prioritization keep people safe on the roadways. Yet as rudimentary as they are, people still get them backward. According to the National Safety Council, one-fourth of automobile accidents are caused by drivers backing up improperly. In most cases, the drivers simply neglect to carefully check the rearview mirror before putting the vehicle in reverse.

As with operating a motor vehicle, steering an organization requires keeping priorities straight. Thus, when leaders mis-prioritize their private time, productive effort, and personal relationships, they risk a crash.

The 3 “Ps” of Priorities:

Private Time

When speaking of private time, I am not referring to leisure time. Rather, I am talking about the time a leader sets aside for thinking, reflecting, and strategic planning. As leaders, we have a bias for action; we want to make things happen. Since private time feels unproductive, we skip it. In consequence, our leadership suffers from a thought-deficit. Prioritizing private time replenishes our storehouse of creative ideas and clarifies our vision, better positioning us to lead well.

Production Time

Production time is the time we set aside to do things that bring about desired results and enhance our value to the organization. Routinely ask yourself the following questions to ramp up your productivity:

1) What Are My Strengths?

The percentage of time you spend at the intersection of your aptitudes (where you excel) and affinities (where you find enjoyment) will determine the level of success you experience.

2) What Are My Opportunities?

The best opportunities match your strengths. If your ability in an area does not put you in the top 10% of the population, then search for something else to do. People don’t pay for average.

Also, realize that most opportunities don’t immediately bring results. Often, they only lead to additional opportunities. People who think that the first opportunity they encounter will take them to the top usually aren’t very successful. In fact, the first door of opportunity opens for everyone. It’s like the entrance to the supermarket—all you have to do is step on the mat and the doors slide open in front of you. However, the next door of opportunity requires some work on your part; you must turn the knob to open it. The door after that is locked and requires a key; you’ll need a gatekeeper to let you through. Each successive door of opportunity is more difficult to open than the one before. Those who go farthest in leadership are those who work the hardest to seek out and seize opportunities.

People Time

While entire books could be written about how to prioritize time with people, let’s focus on the biggest time-eater on a leader’s schedule: meetings. Most meetings are not critically important, and the majority of them are useless. If you’re in a position of leadership, practice the following to avoid getting stuck in meetings.

1) Don’t go. Instead, have someone on the team represent you. Typically, the significant content of an hour-long meeting can be summarized in five minutes.

2) Don’t go alone. If you must attend a meeting, have a teammate accompany you who can take notes, identify action items, and carry the load of responsibility after the meeting.

3) Don’t go to important meetings without having met unofficially with your top influencers beforehand. In truth, most decisions get made in informal settings and then merely made official at formal gatherings.

Thought to Ponder

A leader’s time follows her priorities. Therefore, if our priorities are disordered we will mismanage our schedule. If you’re feeling crunched for time, don’t focus on greater efficiency. Instead, re-evaluate your priorities.

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