In Action, Change, Focus

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – John Wooden

Early in my career, I worked for an individual who measured the value of those who worked for him by the number of hours those people worked.  Anybody who got there early and stayed late was, in his mind, a rock star.  Never mind what you were actually doing – it was the effort that counted.

One of the many problems with that philosophy was that once the people who worked for him figured out what he valued, they realized there was no reason to be efficient, or even to work on things that mattered.  All that mattered was that you were at your desk a long time.

Maybe you’re thinking about how wasteful and inefficient and unmotivating that was, but how often do we do the same thing?  We see somebody working long hours and say, “Wow, what a great employee, look how dedicated they are!”  Maybe they are dedicated.  Or, maybe, they aren’t any good at their job and it takes them twelve hours to do something that should take eight.

Somehow, we’ve become convinced that working hard or working lots of hours is what makes us successful.  We brag about it as though it’s an achievement in and of itself.  And I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard, or that we shouldn’t work lots of hours at times.  But what if all that time and energy is spent doing stuff of little value?

What are the most valuable things you provide to your organization?  How much of that time and energy is spent on those things?  Most leaders I know would be somewhat embarrassed to even answer the questions.  There are so many people with so much potential doing so much irrelevant stuff.

It’s time to hit the reset button.  Think about everything that goes into your role right now.  What needs to go away?  Just because you’ve been doing something for twenty years, or you’re really comfortable doing something, doesn’t mean that particular something matters.  What can come off of your plate so that you have time for what matters?

The 80/20 rule applies here for sure – 20% of what you do provides 80% of your value.  Figure out what the other 80% is and start cutting.  A lot of that can be delegated, but just as much can probably be stopped altogether.  Quit wasting time being busy and get to work doing what matters.


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